How to Grow Basil
Basil is a delicious annual herb that can be found in dishes all around the world. It’s also easy to grow indoors or outdoors, so long as its modest needs are met. If you’re considering growing basil, follow the steps below to learn how to grow basil successfully and to have an abundant harvest.
Basil likes a slightly tropical environment, so select a planting location that will provide the plants with at least six hours of direct sunlight per day.
Although basil will grow in most soil types it prefers, rich, moist, well-draining soil. To prepare the location, remove some soil and create a 50 percent soil and 50 percent compost mixture. Back-fill the in-ground location or container, water the soil mixture well and let it set overnight before planting basil seeds or plants. This overnight set will allow all the soil to blend and become equally moistened.
When to Plant Basil
Basil can be started from seeds and planted in the late spring or early summer, depending on your location. Whichever you choose, wait until all danger of frost has passed and that daytime temperatures remain above 21 C, and nighttime temperatures are at least 10 C.
Growing Basil Indoors
Start the seeds can be started a few weeks before the last frost date. Fill pots with sterilized potting soil. Pre-soak the soil and sow seeds no more than a 1/4 inch deep. Place the pots in a sunny, warm location with good air circulation. Proper air circulation helps prevent mould and fungi issues.
Keep the soil moist at all times. Allowing the soil to dry out will kill the seeds or seedlings. Germination will occur in approx. 5-12 days.
Starting Basil Outdoors
Choose a sunny location and amend the plant bed with a couple of inches of compost. Water the ground well before sowing the seeds. Basil seeds only need to be sown a 1/4 inch deep. The sowing depth is important because light helps to stimulate the germination process.
Seedlings can be transplanted into their permanent home after they have developed at least two sets of leaves. To transplant the seedlings, prepare the soil as described above. Gently remove the seedling from the container, keeping 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 and gently resettle it into its new permanent home. Space seedlings approximately 12-18 inches apart.
Once established, basil is a hardy plant and doesn’t require fertilizer. Adding 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.
Basil should be watered at least once a week. As a general rule, whenever the soil starts to look dry, it should be watered. Preferably, the soil should always be moist but never soggy for prolonged periods.
How to Harvest
Harvest basil after the stems reach 4-6 inches. Snip off a sprig near the base, just above a pair of leaves. Pruning the plants will promote new growth. Be sure to snip off flower stalks as soon as they appear, or the basil will develop a bitter flavour.
Harvesting Basil Seeds
To save some seeds at the end of the growing season, allow some flower stalks to remain on the plant and reach maturity. Place harvested flower stalks on a paper towel and allow them to dry out. Once they have dried, shake the dried flower stalks, and the basil seeds will fall out. The seeds can be stored in an envelope and planted the following season.
There are many different varieties of basil seeds to choose from, all with their own flavour and aroma. Some of the best garden choices include:
Sweet basil: One of the most common and boasts medium-sized, aromatic leaves.
Genovese basil: Produces 3-inch leaves that are strong and spicy in flavour.
Thai basil: Commonly used in Vietnamese and Thai cooking. The tasty leaves are uniquely anise flavoured. It also holds its flavour well when cooked.
Cinnamon Basil: Cinnamon basil has a wonderful ‘cinnamon’ flavour and aroma. The leaves still retain the spicy-sweet flavour.
Italian Large Leaf Basil: The leaves can grow up to 4″ long. Although it is similar to Genovese basil, the flavour is sweeter and milder.
Lime Basil: Has a delicious rich lime and citrus flavour. It makes a wonderful tea and adds a zesty flavour to salads.
Purple basil: Dark opal basil is a beautiful plant with purple leaves and a sweet flavour.
You can help protect your garden by growing basil as a companion plant. All varieties of basil repel flies and mosquitoes and will enhance the flavour of tomatoes when planted nearby.
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