Growing basil is a rewarding endeavor for any gardener. The heady scent and flavorful punch of fresh basil makes it one of the most popular herbs to cultivate. With proper care and attention, it’s easy to keep basil thriving all season long. This guide covers the basics of planting, growing, and caring for basil. Follow these tips to enjoy a bountiful basil harvest!
Choosing a Variety of Basil
Many different basil varieties exist, each with their own unique scent and taste.
Popular options include:
- Sweet basil – This classic variety features large green leaves with a sweet, spicy flavor. Great for pesto and tomato dishes.
- Thai basil – With an anise-clove flavor, this type works well in Thai curries. The leaves are a bit smaller than sweet basil.
- Purple basil – Adding visual interest, purple basil has eye-catching dark leaves and a peppery taste.
- Lemon basil – As the name suggests, this type has a zesty lemon aroma and flavor.
- Holy basil – Used in Indian cuisine, holy basil has a spicy, peppery bite. The leaves are a bit thinner than other types.
Once you select your variety, be sure to buy plants or seeds from a reputable source for best results.
When and How to Plant Basil
Basil thrives in warm weather. Plan on planting basil outdoors after any threat of frost has passed in spring, usually late May or early June.
Basil can also be planted mid to late summer for a fall harvest before the first fall frost. Just allow sufficient time for plants to mature and grow before cold weather hits.
Start basil from seed by sowing indoors 4-6 weeks before your planned transplant date. Soak seeds overnight prior to planting for better germination. Thin seedlings to 6 inches apart.
For a head start, you can also purchase starter plants from nurseries and transplant into your garden.
- Prepare soil by mixing in compost or fertilizer to optimize drainage and nutrients. Basil likes rich, moist, well-draining soil.
- Plant in full sun. Basil thrives in at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. The morning sun is ideal.
- Space plants 12-15 inches apart in rows, or 10-12 inches apart in raised beds.
- Set seedlings at the same soil depth they were growing in containers and water well after transplant.
- Add mulch, like wood chips or straw, to help retain moisture.
Caring for Your Basil Plants
With proper care, your basil will flourish:
- Water regularly – About 1 inch per week. Allow soil to dry slightly between waterings. Avoid overwatering.
- Fertilize every 3-4 weeks during the growing season using a balanced liquid fertilizer or compost tea.
- Pinch off flowers to encourage more leaf growth.
- Harvest often – Frequent pruning boosts growth. Cut stems right above leaf nodes.
- Watch for pests like aphids. Treat organically with insecticidal soap sprays if needed.
- Weed diligently to avoid competition for nutrients. Mulching helps suppress weeds.
- Remove bolting plants that prematurely send up flower stalks, which alters flavor.
With attentive care, your basil will produce abundantly throughout the growing season!
Common Basil Growing Problems and Solutions
While basil is generally easy to grow, you may encounter some issues:
Wilting/drooping leaves – This is commonly caused by inconsistent watering. Stick to a thorough weekly watering schedule.
Yellowing leaves – Usually a sign of overwatering or poor drainage. Allow soil to dry out between waterings.
Leaf spots/discoloration – Can indicate disease like bacterial leaf spot. Avoid overhead watering and remove damaged leaves promptly.
Few leaves/leggy growth – Not enough sunlight. Make sure plant gets at least 6 hours of direct sun daily.
Flowers/bolting – Rip out flowering stems to prolong leaf production. But let a few buds bloom for pollinators before removing!
Pale growth – Apply balanced fertilizer or compost tea every 3-4 weeks during growing season.
Pest damage – Pick off bugs by hand or use insecticidal soap. Keep nearby plants debris-free.
Poor germination – Soak basil seeds overnight before sowing. Ensure soil stays evenly moist for seedlings.
With preventative care and prompt troubleshooting, you can keep basil plants healthy!
Harvesting Basil for Optimal Production
Harvesting basil frequently is key to maximizing productivity:
- Begin harvesting leaves once plants reach 6-8 inches tall.
- Always use pruners or scissors for clean cuts. Tearing leaves can damage plants.
- Cut right above leaf nodes where new growth emerges.
- Try to harvest in morning after dew dries for best flavor.
- Harvest every few weeks, leaving at least one third of plant intact.
- Rinse and pat dry basil after harvesting if needed. Better to harvest when dry.
- Preserve flavor by freezing chopped basil in ice cube trays or olive oil. Or dry leaves.
- Remove flower buds early on to prolong leaf formation. Allow some blooms for bees!
With frequent harvesting you can enjoy basil’s intense flavor at peak freshness!
Basil Companion Planting
Companion planting with basil can have beneficial effects:
- Plant with tomatoes – basil repels pests and improves tomato flavor.
- Grow near peppers, oregano, asparagus – may improve neighboring plants’ growth.
- Add by lettuces, carrots, and radishes – basil’s scent deters pests from these root veggies.
- Keep away from rue and sage – basil may negatively affect these herbs when planted nearby.
Experiment to see which neighbor plants thrive alongside your basil!
Storing Basil and Reviving Limp Plants
A few tricks can extend the life and flavor of harvested basil:
- Store freshly cut stems in water at room temperature. Change water every 2 days.
- Set leaves or stems in a cup of water in the fridge. Cover loosely with a plastic bag.
- Freeze chopped basil in olive oil in ice cube trays for easy use in cooking.
- Make pesto or other sauces to freeze. The oils help preserve flavor.
- Infuse vinegars or oils with basil leaves.
- To revive limp basil, recut stems and place in cold water for 1-2 hours. Then return to a sunny spot. Mist leaves if wilted.
With proper storage, you can enjoy garden-fresh basil flavor all year round!
Growing your own basil is a simple and rewarding way to spice up home cooking. By following these tips for planting, caring for, and harvesting basil, you can get a bountiful crop. Enjoy fresh basil pesto, tomato salads, and other savory dishes all season long!