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How Do You Know When the Basil Plant Leaves Are Ready for Picking?

By Jenny Harrington ; Updated July 21, 2017
Basil is ready for its first harvest within six weeks of planting.
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The fragrant and flavorful leaves of the basil herb are prized for their fresh or dried culinary use. Cooks use them to flavor many dishes, including soup, meat, vegetables, sauces and even some baked goods and liqueurs. Basil grows as an annual plant, which means it dies back completely each year. Harvesting the leaves at the right time ensures they have the most flavor and that you get an abundant crop.

Harvest basil once the plant is 1 foot tall and has at least four sets of fully unfurled leaves. Cut off the leaves near the top of the plant, leaving at least two sets of leaves near the base of the plant. Remove no more than one-half the plant's height at each harvest.

Pick basil leaves a second time three weeks later, after the plant has grown to its previous preharvest height. Continue to harvest the leaves every three weeks.

Remove any remaining foliage once the flower buds begin to swell, but before they open. Basil loses most of its flavor during blooming, then quickly dies back after flowering completes.


About the Author


Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications. Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.