How to Cut Basil for a Full Harvest All Season Long

Learn how to cut basil so you’ll have full luscious plants to harvest all season long. Use this technique when you need basil in a recipe or you’re pruning your plant for optimum growth.

cut basil finished
Instead of cutting leaves here and there, cut the entire top off the end of a branch/stem to encourage further growth.

The key is to trim or cut your basil early and keep at it throughout the season. This will force the plant to grow extra stems – one cut stem will be replaced by two new stems. And, in a few weeks you’ll be able to trim those back and double your stems again. See where this is going?! By forcing the plant to focus on producing new stems and leaves, it won’t produce flowers or seeds as quickly. More branches and less flowers equals more basil for you!

basil plant mid summer
By early mid summer, your basil plant will have several branches. See how each one has a crown that you can cut.
three basil plants end of summer
By end of summer, your basil should be as wide as it is tall with lots of branches to harvest from. These are three plants, from those little plants transplanted in late spring. That’s going to make a lot of pesto!

Learn More: How to Split and Transplant Basil, How to Prune Basil, How to Dry Basil

How to Cut Basil

Start from the top of the stem and work your way down until you find a spot where two sets of new leaves are growing. Just above this intersection is where you cut using scissors or gardening shears. Later in the season, when you have more branches, repeat this process on each branch. Always cutting the top crown.

Be sure to leave some large leaves toward the bottom of the plant, at least two sets of leaves. These are the plant’s solar panels and are necessary for the plant to convert the sun’s rays into the energy it needs to continue to grow.

Here’s a short video showing you exactly how to do it. Followed by some photos.

see where to cut basil
Leave two to three layers of growth (leaf intersections) and cut just above.

See how the stem has a clean cut right above two new sets of leaves.

after the cut basil
Those little leaflets on either side of the cut will grow into new branches that will grow new crowns for you to harvest.

If you try to pinch the stem with your fingers, you risk injuring the plant, like I foolishly did here. It really is best to use scissors!

injured basil plant
Using your fingers to pinch basil may risk stem damage, like on this plant. It is best to use scissors or garden shears.

When to Cut Basil

Ideally, you should start to cut basil early in the season, when the plant is about 6 inches tall or has at least 6 leaves. In fact, great greenhouses will prune their basil plants before they put them out for sale. Those are the plants you want to buy. Short and bushy is better than tall and spindly.

Basil can be cut back every two to three weeks throughout the season as needed.

pruning basil in the green house

However, if you do have a tall plant, just cut it back by following the steps above.

tall basil plant

What Not To Do

Don’t just pull a leaf from here and there. When you pluck one leaf at a time from random spots you are just depleting the plant without encouraging regrowth. Eventually, if you pluck too many leaves, especially the nice big ones – your basil will not be able to capture enough sunlight to continue to grow and it will be done. Or it will grow tall, spindly and send out a flower at which time it stops leaf production.

When you cut it from the top as demonstrated above, you’ll encourage branches to extend from the sides. Each of those branches will grow crowns that you can harvest just like shown above. Then those branches will grow into more branches and so on. See how that goes! By the end of the summer you’ll have sooo much basil you’ll have enough to make your own pesto just like you see everyone else on social media doing!

More Basil Tid Bits

  • Basil is very sensitive to cold and frost, at any hint of frost be sure to cover your basil plants or be ready for basil season to be over.
  • Basil leaves are quite sensitive and will bruise quite easily, use a gentle hand when handling.
  • Basil prefers to be watered from the bottom, those sensitive leaves prefer not to have water poured over them.
  • Cut any flower blossoms to encourage continued growth.

How to Store, Preserve and Use Basil

That was easy, right. Now that you have some lovely basil tops, here are some options for what to do with them.

How to Store Fresh Basil

Six Ways to Preserve Basil

How to Dry Basil in Microwave

How to Dry Basil in Dehydrator

How to Air Dry Basil – Hang Dry

Basil Pesto

Bruschetta

Bread Salad with Basil and Veggies – Panzanella 

Basil and Bean Salad

Green Bean, Basil, Tomato and Feta Salad

As I write this, it’s early in the season. I just planted my basil and cut them back. I think I’ll take those trimmings for tonight’s pizza! Yum!

What’s your favorite way to enjoy fresh basil?

Getty Stewart is an engaging speaker and writer providing tasty recipes, time-saving tips, and helpful kitchen ideas to make home cooking easy and enjoyable. She is a Professional Home Economist, author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, mom and veggie gardener.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the cutting tips. One recipe I LOVE with basil is a basil and feta pesto. I mix fressh basil leaves, feta cheese (I love the real Greek one), olive oil and plenty of frensh garlic. I but everything in the blender, starting with the basil leaves and oil, the Inadd the garlic clove and finish by the feta chese that I crumble and throw in, a little bit at the time so it mixes well with the other ingredients. It’s delicious on crusty bread as an appetiser or on frsshly cooked and warm pasta. YUM!

    1. Claude, this sounds delicious! I bet it’s fabulous on pasta. I’ll have to try this next time I’m cutting some basil!

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