Tips & Techniques
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Basil: The Ultimate Guide to Growing Fresh Basil


Basil is a fragrant, versatile, wildly popular herb. It’s a warm-weather plant that is easy to grow and delicious to eat. A nice addition to any number of culinary dishes, it is just about synonymous with summer time salads and pastas. It does well in both container and in-ground gardens. Basil smells wonderful and tastes even better.

Read on for everything you need to know about growing basil.

What is Basil?

Despite its popularity in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, basil is actually native to the South Pacific islands and southern Asia. It is a member of the mint family and grows as an annual. It is also quick-growing – from seed to harvest in just about 3 – 4 weeks – which makes this a rewarding herb to grow! If you haven’t grown herbs before, basil is a great one to start with.

There are multiple varieties of basil – each with its own unique characteristic and flavor.

Planting Basil

Learning how to plant basil is simple as it is one of the easiest herbs to grow. Basil is not the least bit finicky, and with proper planting, care and harvesting, you can enjoy it all summer long!

  1. When to plant basil – The earliest time to plant basil is about 2 weeks after the last frost, once the soil is between 50° – 70° F – the warmer the better. It can also be planted during summer.
  2. Where to plant basil – Plant basil in a spot that gets plenty of sun. 6 – 8 hours a day is ideal.
  3. Growing basil from root propagation – Basil can easily be propagated simply by snipping a small section off an existing plant. Simply place the cutting, cut side down, in a clear glass of water and set it in a sunny spot. Change the water every other day, and soon there will be root growth. Once the roots are 2 inches or more, the basil is ready to be planted.
  4. Growing in containers – If planting basil in a container, be sure to use a very large pot. Hot summer days can dry out small pots of soil, which will hurt a growing basil plant. The smaller the pot, the more often the plant will need water.
  5. Soil selection – Basil loves moist, rich, well-drained soil with a pH of 6 – 7. Add a healthy amount of organic nutrients by adding compost, cottonseed meal or blood meal to the soil.
  6. Spacing – If planting more than one, space the basil plants about 12 – 18 inches apart to allow for growth.
  7. Watering – Large beds or planter boxes may only need water every 3 – 4 days or so. Extreme heat or summer rains may require you to adjust how often you are watering.
  8. Fertilizer – Basil should be regularly harvested, and that means you don’t need to worry too much about fertilizing.

Harvesting Basil

One of the beauties of basil is there isn’t a real, definitive harvest time – just pick what you need as you need it. And the best part is the more you harvest, the more a basil plant will produce. Regular harvesting will keep plants full and round. Harvest before the plant goes to seed, or “bolts.” When basil goes to seed, the leaves will often have a bitter flavor.

Basil Plant Care

Tip 1. Water consistently and regularly. Keep soil moist for optimal growth. Water early in the mornings for best results. If you are in a hotter region or having a heat wave, adding mulch around the plant can help keep moisture in.

Tip 2. Harvest often to encourage new growth.

Tip 3. If a basil plant starts to flower, the basil leaves will start losing flavor and the plant will stop growing. Removing the flowers will do the trick though, and that sweet basil flavor will return in a couple of days.

Common Questions About Growing Basil

How long does a basil plant last?

If properly cared for, basil can last for anywhere from 4 – 6 months. Typically, plants in posts will live closer to 4 months, whereas plants in the ground could live up to 6 months.

Does basil need direct sunlight?

Basil is a warm-weather plant that thrives on full sun.

Why is my basil plant drooping?

The most common cause of a drooping basil plant is not enough water. Basil loves evenly moist soil.

Are basil flowers edible?

Basil flowers are edible and have a milder flavor than the leaves. Though sometimes a bit bitter, they can be used in salads, pastas or on anything else that basil complements. Another option is to infuse oil with the flowers or make basil flower vinegar for salad dressing. Basil flowers even make a great tea.

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