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I have a small basil plant similar to this one:

Basil pot

Mine's actually a bit smaller, but well.

I cut leafs off it for cooking but I try to keep the plant healthy by not using up more than can grow back. I'm under the impression (I'm no expert at all!) that the plant would die if I remove too much leafs.

However, I still want to maximise the output while keeping the plant alive and healthy. So I wonder which algorithm to use when picking which leaf to take. Should I prefer leafs from the top, from the bottom? Perhaps always pick the largest leafs? Does it even matter?

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You realise you spend too much time programming when asking for a basil-picking algorithm!!! :D (+1) –  nico Jul 7 '12 at 7:57
    
@nico: Guilty as charged. –  bitmask Jul 7 '12 at 11:06
    
Please see: gardening.stackexchange.com/questions/81/… –  nettle Jul 9 '12 at 9:14
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migrated from biology.stackexchange.com Jul 7 '12 at 11:56

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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Ask mummy (anecdotal): as long as you put the basil into a large pot you can pretty much cut all of it since basil grows back from its roots. If the ends close to the soil are kind of woody you should leave more stalk over. If it doesn't grow back then it's most likely because that kind of basil would have died anyway.

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Caveat: I utilise my father's basil rather than growing my own, because he waters more than I do, so his grows bigger, and his is grown in a (waist-high) clump in the ground.

Having said that, I harvest basil by slashing it back. In six weeks or so, I can harvest the same plant again as it resprouts. If I'm being careful, I cut just above a bud to encourage the plants, but when I'm making pesto, I rarely take less than a third of the plant and usually more. I always take off all of the flowers, pinching them out if I don't want to take the stems they're on.

Cutting this way encourages the plant(s) to produce more soft stems full of leaves, which is what you want. A basil plant that is getting leggy needs slashing.

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This is interesting to me as I have one that is nearly a foot tall but more leggy than I would like and not very full as it is still quite young. So it sounds like it is ok to chop of some of the main stalks? Do I need to pinch them or could I just use a pair of sheers? –  Kyle Hayes Aug 2 '12 at 13:20
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Use whatever gets you a cleaner cut. Sharp cutting tools are awesome, but anything is better than blunt tools which crush the stems. –  Freya Aug 4 '12 at 3:56
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