Basil plants are highly sought after for their versatility and are a favourite among gardeners of all levels, from beginners to experts. These herbs thrive when cultivated outdoors during the warm summer months, making them the perfect companion for tomato plants. To successfully grow and harvest basil, it is important to understand the planting and growing process.
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About Basil Plants
The basil plant, scientifically known as Ocimum basilicum, is often hailed as the king of herbs. Native to southern Asia and the islands of the South Pacific, this herbaceous plant belongs to the mint family. Due to its lack of frost tolerance, it is predominantly grown as an annual worldwide.
Renowned for its aromatic leaves, the basil plant is widely utilized in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. Additionally, Basil seeds are highly sought after ingredients in Thai cooking.
Popular Types Of Basil
Since basil is an annual plant, it only lasts for one season, allowing you the opportunity to experiment with various varieties each year.
Genovese /Sweet Basil
If you enjoy cooking with basil, you may have encountered the well-known Genovese Basil variety. This type of basil boasts medium-green leaves that are slightly rounded in shape, and it offers a delightful combination of sweetness and a hint of spiciness in its flavour. Sweet basil leaves have a higher heat tolerance when compared to regular basil, making them a popular choice in various culinary traditions. They are perfect for enjoying in both their fresh and dried forms.
Unlike other popular basil types, Lemon basil is a cultivated selection suitable for gardening and culinary applications. Its leaves are elongated and oval-shaped, boasting a delightful combination of sweet and tangy taste. Incorporating fresh lemon basil in recipes enhances their flavours and can also infuse water or tea with its distinct essence.
Thai basil grows similarly to other varieties, but it has a distinct spicy flavor that is ideal for stir fry dishes. Indigenous to Southeast Asia, specifically Vietnam, this basil plant is identifiable by its purple-stemmed leaves with slight serrations and a delightful licorice or anise-like fragrance. Moreover, Thai basil retains its flavour remarkably well.
Holy basil, also known as Tulsi, shares similarities with Thai basil as it exudes a delightful sweet anise flavour. It is comprised of four distinct types: Rami, Krishna, Amrita, and Vana, collectively referred to as the “queen of herbs” due to their renowned healing properties. These basil varieties possess vibrant green-and-purple foliage and glossy leaves, enticing pollinators.
Spicy Globe Basil
Spicy Globe basil plants have a short and compact growth habit, which makes them a lovely addition to both sunny flower beds and herb gardens. With their attractive round shape, they add visual appeal. Unlike other basils, the ‘Spicy Globe’ herb has a unique flavor that brings a spicy kick to various dishes like pasta and pesto.
Mexican spice basil, also known as cinnamon basil, possesses a delightful spicy scent reminiscent of cinnamon. Often used in teas and baked goods, it enhances these treats with its distinctive cinnamon flavor. What sets this type of basil apart are its slender leaves, featuring reddish-purple veins.
This basil plant resembles the green basil in most aspects, except for its striking dark purple (almost black) leaves. The foliage of these plants can range in color from light red to deep purple. This basil is excellent for culinary use, serving as a flavorful herb that can be used in recipes that traditionally call for green Genovese or sweet basil.
When To Plant Basil
When you buy basil from the store, it is often smaller and has a slight bitterness, lacking the sweet flavour of garden-fresh basil. The key to successful basil growth lies in planting it at the right time of the year.
Since basil thrives in warm temperatures, it should be planted outdoors only after the last spring frost. Indoor seed starting should be done around 6 to 8 weeks prior to transplanting outside. For optimal growth, wait until the soil temperature reaches at least 50°F (10°C), with 70°F (21°C) being even better.
It is important to avoid planting basil too early, as it requires heat to grow properly.
How To Grow Basil Plants
If you want to grow basil, you have two options. You can either begin by planting your own basil seeds or by purchasing a basil plant from a nearby nursery. If you choose to seed, you have the advantage of experimenting with rare and unique varieties. On the other hand, buying transplants will provide a quick start without the need for a seed-starting setup.
Grow Basil From Cuttings
Cuttings can be taken from existing potted basil plants, such as ones purchased from a grocery store or those found in a neighbour’s front yard. It is important to choose a medium-sized basil plant that is at least 6″ tall and in good health.
To make a cutting, snip the basil stem below a leaf node, ensuring there are at least four sets of leaves on the stem. Remove the bottom two sets of leaves and place the cutting in a glass of water, allowing it to sit in a sunny location.
Once a healthy root system becomes visible, the cutting can be transferred into well-drained potting mix in a pot or planter. It should be planted in a hole and thoroughly watered. The cutting should then be placed in an area with direct sunlight, where it can grow into a new plant.
Grow Basil From Seed
To get a head start on the growing season, many gardeners prefer to start growing basil from seeds indoors in pots. Basil can be grown from seeds indoors around four to eight weeks before the last frost date. If the growing conditions remain consistent, a decorative pot indoors can yield the same successful results as growing basil outdoors.
To prepare the starter pots, add seed starter mix that is slightly moistened, leaving about ½ to 1 inch of space below the top of the container. Ensure the soil is moist, then plant 2-3 seeds in each cell. Use a clear dome, such as any clear plastic container, to aid in germination. It is important to provide heat for the basil as it prefers warmth. In addition, placing a low-speed fan nearby can help prevent damping off.
When you plant seeds directly in the ground, make sure to sow them no deeper than a quarter of an inch. Give them a spacing of around 10 to 12 inches apart. The seeds should start germinating within 5 to 7 days. Once they have grown 2 to 3 pairs of true leaves, it is time to transplant them.
As they continue to grow, it is necessary to thin them out. You can safely transplant them outdoors once the danger of frost has passed.
Transplanting The Basil
It is crucial to acclimate basil seedlings to colder outdoor temperatures and lower their water intake before transplanting them. Providing some form of protection during this period can prevent any abrupt shocks caused by environmental changes.
To begin the planting process, start by preparing the garden beds. Add a generous amount of compost to the soil and use a broad or digging fork to loosen it up. Make the surface flat by raking it and then mark holes in rows 18″ apart, with the holes being 4-8 inches.
When planting basil seedlings, handle them gently at the base and carefully remove them from their containers without disturbing the roots. Create a slightly larger hole than the rootball using your hands or a digging trowel. Place the seedling at the soil line and lightly refill the hole with soil without packing it too tightly. Afterward, give the seedling a thorough watering using a diluted fish solution. This will help reduce transplant shock and promote early growth.
How To Harvest Basil Plants
Harvesting basil leaves can begin once the plants reach a height of 6 to 8 inches. Even if you have no immediate use for the leaves, regularly picking them will contribute to the overall health of the plant. To gather a sufficient amount of leaves, trim the stems as needed.
It is advisable to cut just above a node, which is the point where the main stem meets two side stems. This will yield the most appealing leaves for salads, sandwiches, and pizzas. Lower leaves can be removed for drying and cooking purposes.
Remember, harvesting regularly will help maintain the basil plant’s compact shape and prevent it from becoming excessively thin and spindly.
Freezing is the most effective way to store basil as it helps retain its flavor. To freeze basil, simply place whole or chopped basil in airtight plastic bags and store in the freezer.
Alternatively, you can dry basil, though some of its flavor may diminish. Pluck the leaves from the stems and let them air dry in a cool and shaded location. If they are not completely dry after 3 to 4 days, you can use the oven’s lowest heat setting with the door slightly ajar to finish the drying process.
Tips For Growing Basil
Basil is easy to grow when provided with its preferred conditions, which include sunlight, warmth, consistent hydration, and soil that drains well.
Basil thrives in soil that is moist, nutrient-rich, and well-draining. Instead of using purchased topsoil, which may contain weed seeds and potentially worsen your soil, it is advisable to enhance your soil with compost or other mulch that is high in nutrients. In case you decide to buy soil, seek out a mixture of topsoil and compost.
Water & Mulch
Ensure that the soil remains adequately hydrated. Although basil plants thrive in moisture, they do not prefer waterlogged soil. If you reside in a warm region, apply mulch around the plants to retain moisture and prevent weed growth. In dry summer spells, water basil plants generously. While they do not require excessive watering, they are not drought-resistant either.
To ensure healthy growth, basil requires a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of daily sunlight. Monitoring the sun’s patterns in the specific growing location is a crucial aspect of basil care. In hot climates, shielding this aromatic herb from intense afternoon heat might be necessary. Nonetheless, basil thrives in warm weather, so it is advisable not to expose it to outdoor conditions too early in the season when nighttime temperatures can still drop significantly.
Once you have planted your basil seedlings, make sure to mix in a slow-release organic fertilizer with the soil to provide a continuous supply of nutrients throughout the entire season. Doing this, promote robust and healthy growth for an abundant supply of homegrown basil.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
When growing basil indoors, aphids are the most troublesome pest, while beetles and slugs can cause damage to the leaves when grown outdoors. To get rid of these pests, you can cover your entire plant by using a solution of 2 teaspoons of dishwashing liquid mixed with a gallon of water.
Powdery mildew is a common issue affecting basil, but it can be managed by ensuring enough space between plants to allow for better air circulation. Additionally, it is important to avoid watering from overhead, as this can cause fungal spores to splash onto the plants. If leaves are severely affected, they should be removed and discarded.
Basil Is An Easy-To Grow Plant
For any gardener, this herb is an essential ingredient. Even in the coldest months, you can cultivate basil indoors, granted you have sufficient light and heat in your home or greenhouse. It offers ongoing harvests and significantly superior leaf quality compared to basil found in grocery stores. The delightful scent of freshly picked basil from your own garden adds a special touch to any summer meal.
Ready to start growing your own fresh basil?