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I have a small basil plant that I use for the occasional pasta and salad.

I was wondering if there is an "optimal" way to harvest the plant so that it can keep growing as much as possible, despite me harvesting it's leaves.

For example; Should I pick the larger leaves or the smaller ones? Should I pick the ones closer to the end of the stem, or perhaps closer to the root? Or maybe the ones higher up rather than lower down?

Also, is there an ideal time to pick the leaves, for example before/after watering? During night or day?

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I have some problem with your "small basil plant", but you also say that it has large leaves.

What I do:

I cut the flowers, so basil will continue to grow the leaves and new branches. When I do it, I cut down with few leaves (I keep the leaves for me). By doing this, the basil will create new branches blow the cut, so with season (and Sun) I get more leaves. Sometime I cut some branches, not to have dense basil (and usually when I need many leaves).

The beginning of season is more tricky.I buy basil when they have just few leaves. Usually I wait when basil seems healthy and it is growing. In such case I may take some leaves (maybe cutting the top branch) on one plant (note: I have few plants, so hopefully one can growth better, for next time I need basil). Possibly this is your case with "small basil". Just before taking leaves next time, I would wait that basil will have more leaves then last time.

I never use the large leaves (the bottom ones), always the top one. And I tend to cut them late afternoon or evening (ev. before midday). It is about the use: to have fresh leaves. I do not think it matter for the basil.

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