The '1, 2, 3' basil harvesting hack promises to be a foolproof way to guarantee a bushy plant all summer long – here's what you need to know

 A potted basil and mint plants.
Credit: Future PLC/Barry Marsden

If you’ve ever owned a basil plant, you’ll know it’s surprisingly difficult to keep it looking its best and bushiest with large leaves rather than tiny ones that lack in flavour. Pruning and correct harvesting is crucial for this – but doing this the proper way is not as straightforward as one would hope, especially for beginner gardeners. Which is where the 1, 2, 3 basil harvesting hack comes in.

This Instagram hack for how to harvest basil comes courtesy of @back_yard_bountiful. Their Instagram reel has attracted over 42,000 likes and it’s meant to provide a foolproof guide to the correct way to harvest basil by counting the number of nodes on the plant’s flowering stems and cutting above the third node.

This method promises to keep your plant bushy and thriving for the whole summer, while also simplifying the pruning process. But does it actually work? That’s the question we’ve asked our gardening experts. And these are their thoughts.

An outdoor kitchen with a BBQ and a basil plant
An outdoor kitchen with a BBQ and a basil plant

The Instagram 1, 2, 3 basil harvesting hack

‘So many people mess up their basil plant by harvesting incorrectly,’ the reel in question states before pointing out. ‘This plant has a flower - it’s time to prune.’

Indeed, if you know how to prune basil, you’ll be aware that basil flowers are not good for the leaves’ flavour, turning them bitter and the plant is due a prune as soon as the blooms start appearing.

‘If your basil plant has started to flower, you definitely need to snip the stem or handpick it,’ says Radek Babicek, Fantastic Gardeners' gardening expert. ‘It’s also important for the flavour of the basil when you put it in your meal afterwards.’

The reel continues to outline the technique of this herb garden idea, ‘From the bottom, count three nodes up. Snip above the third node.’

Herb plants potted in repurposed tins
Herb plants potted in repurposed tins

What you'll need

What the experts say

While this is not necessarily a herb garden mistake, gardening pros agree that this “one size fits all” approach might not work everytime.

‘I’d say that this is correct. However, it’s also not necessary to be so specific, in my opinion. The proper picking isn’t just plucking out individual leaves but you also don’t necessarily have to count the nodes. You can just remove a bigger top section of the plant’s stem. Or you can just pick the flower bud with your hand instead,’ Radek says.

John Clifford, gardening expert from Gardenstone, continues, ‘It's important to remember that you shouldn’t remove more than one third of a basil plant's height at a time as this can stunt growth. The 1, 2, 3 harvesting technique requires you to cut after the third node. However, this may be more than one third of the plant, meaning that if you’re not careful this technique can hinder growth rather than aid it.’

A potted basil and mint plants
A potted basil and mint plants

But he points out that the cutting technique in the video gets his stamp of approval, ‘The cutting shown in the 1, 2, 3 basil harvesting technique remains effective as you should always cut your basil around a quarter of an inch above the leaf buds to ensure the growth of new nodes.’

So while this method will more likely than not work, so will pruning up to one third of your basil plant, cutting from the top and every four weeks. But if flowers appear, snip away immediately!