How to Grow Basil
Basil is an annual herb plant that provides a favorite flavor in many dishes. It’s an herb that is easy to grow and does well when grown indoor or outdoors, as long as its modest needs are met. If you’re considering growing basil, follow these tips for success and an abundant harvest.
Basil likes a slightly tropical environment, so select a planting location that will provide the herb plants with at least six hours of direct sun per day. A planting location that is close to a water source will also make it convenient for you to provide the plants with their needed moisture to keep the humidity level around the plants high for optimum growth.
Soil and Drainage
Basil is not picky about soil and will grow well in most any soil as long as the soil has been amended with compost. Remove soil from selected planting location and create a mixture that is 50 percent soil and 50 percent compost. Back-fill the in-ground location or container, water the soil mixture well, then let set overnight before planting basil seeds or plants. This overnight set will allow all the soil components to blend together, nutrients to leach throughout the soil and the soil become thoroughly moistened.
The compost will provide good soil drainage the plants require and needed nutrients for the herbs during the growing season.
When to Plant Basil
Basil can be started from seeds or plants and planted in the late spring. Whichever you choose, wait until all danger of frost has past and the daytime temperatures remain above 70 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures do not dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for three consecutive days prior to planting.
How to Grow Basil from Seed
Basil seeds can be started indoors 3-4 weeks before the last spring frost. Sow the seeds ½ inch apart in flats or containers that are filled with a good quality potting soil mix. Keep them warm and moist during the germination process. Since basil enjoys a tropical climate, placing the seed containers on a heating pad set on low will help promote faster and better germination.
Germination will occur in 5-7 days. Seedlings can be transplanted into their permanent home after they have developed two sets of leaves.
To transplant, prepare the soil as described above. Gently remove seedling from the container, being careful to keep as much soil intact around the root system as possible. This can be done by using a large spoon to scoop out the soil and seedling from its starting home and gently resetting it into its permanent home. Set seedlings out at 12-18 inches apart. Mature plants will be 18-24 inches wide and equally as tall.
Purchased basil plants will be larger than seedlings, but care is still needed when planting them. Gently transplant them into prepared soil, 18-24 inches apart. Cover roots with soil, firm gently and water plants well.
Water plants any time the top of soil become dry. Apply water at plant base to prevent leaf stress.
Add a two inch layer of organic mulch around the plants to prevent weed growth and help retain soil moisture. As the mulch decomposes, it will also add nutrients to the soil to feed the plants.
Harvest basil after the stems reach 4-6 inches. Snip off a sprig near the base, just above a pair of leaves.
Keep plants pruned to promote new growth.
Snip off flower stalks as soon as they appear or the basil will develop a bitter flavor. If seeds are desired at the end of the growing season, allow some flowers stalks to remain on the plant and reach maturity. Harvest flowers stalks, place on a paper towel and allow to dry out. Shake dried flower stalks and the basil seeds will fall out. Store seeds in an envelop and plant next season.
There are many different varieties of basil, all with their own flavor and aroma. Some of the best garden choices include –
Sweet basil, which is the most common and boasts large, aromatic leaves.
Genovese basil produces 3 inch leaves that are strong and spicy in flavor.
Thai basil has pointy leaves and a licorice flavor.
Purple basil (dark opal basil) is a beautiful plant with purple leaves and sweet flavor.
Growing basil as a companion plant in the garden is also a good choice. All varieties of basil repel flies and mosquitos, and will enhance the flavor of tomatoes when planted near them.