Basil is one of the most popular herbs around. As an annual, it must be re-planted every year. If you allow basil to go to seed, many times basil will seed itself and the planting will be minimal. I usually start basil indoors and transplant once the weather warmer, as I live in a cold climate. Learning how to grow and harvest basil is fairly easy.
Basil is part of the mint family. There are many different types of basil, but the Italian Large Leaf Basil is probably to most recognizable.
Growing and Harvesting Basil
Remember when growing anything, it’s important to understand the Zone in which you are growing. Please check out the zone map, which outlines when and what time of year you can grow. Basil likes warm climates and sunshine, although it will also grow in colder climates, but only if it has full sun.
Growing Basil Outdoors
Basil thrives outdoors, in warm climates. It needs moist and well-drained soil. Basil will do best with at minimum 6-8 hours of full sun daily.
When and How to Plant Basil
To plant seeds or seedlings, be sure they are planted 1/4 inch deep and about a foot a part from one another. Basil an grow up to 24 inches in height.
Seeds and seedlings need an average soil temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit in order to germinate and thrive (although they prefer at least 70 degrees). Basil enjoys being planted in nutrient-rich, slightly acidic soil. This herb also enjoys being planted near tomatoes, chamomile, lettuce, peppers and oregano. It is said that tomatoes taste sweeter when planted with basil.
Basil is fairly low maintenance, although it can benefit from organic plant food or fertilizer, many times it doesn’t need much to grow well.
Growing Basil Indoors
If you live in a cold climate (like I do), you’ll need to start your seeds indoors. Basil seeds need to be started 6 weeks before the last frost.
Planting and Germination
You’ll want to water from the bottom of the tray instead of from the top. This will ensure that the seeds are not displaced. It takes about 5-10 days for Basil seeds to sprout. Basil seeds need to be warm in order to germinate. To be sure that it’s warm enough, use a seedling heat mat underneath your seeds. This will not only help them germinate, but will also help the seedlings thrive.
Once the seeds have germinated, be sure to add a grow light a few inches above your seedlings. This will prevent them from becoming leggy and help them grow faster. Basil needs 14-16 hours of light a day.
Be sure to keep them moist constantly, but not soggy. Basil roots will rot in soggy soil. If growing conditions are good, basil will easily outgrow the pellet cells and need to be transplanted into larger pots before being planted outdoors.
At this step you can transplant into a larger pot and keep indoors always, or you can plant in a seedling pot and prepare them for transplanting outdoors once the weather allows.
Seedlings can be planted outdoors once the temperature of the soil consistently reaches 50 degrees Fahrenheit. However, before planting seedlings, they must be hardened off. If your seedlings are not hardened, they will most likely die from transplant shock.
As stated above be sure to plant them 12 inches (one foot) a part from one another. This will allow enough room for air flow and growth.
Basil plants, when grown correctly, will give you more basil than you could possibly use in a season. To maintain your plants during the season, be sure to pinch of any flowers and the two leaves that emerge under them. This will prevent your basil plant from bolting. Flowering ends the life of the perennial sooner, and creates more bitter basil because of a hormonal change in the plant.
When and How To Harvest Basil
Basil can be used both fresh and dried (as well as frozen). Pesto is one of it’s most common uses, as well as its many uses in Italian cuisine. However, basil is used in all types of foods around the world.
Pinch off the large leaves at the top of the basil throughout the season. Fresh basil can be used just like dried or frozen basil. Pinching off the tops of the basil will encourage the basil plant to grow bushy and large.
Do not take leaves from the bottom of the plant. This will keep your basil from thriving.
Rinse your basil will cool water and use as you wish. Store fresh basil in the refrigerator. I usually wrap them in a paper towel or tea towel and place them in a closed jar in the fridge. This will help them stay fresher for longer. Although you’ll need to use them within a week.
Drying basil is a great option for preserving them. Simply set your leaves out in a dark, dry area and leave them be for a couple weeks. Once dried, crunch them up into small pieces and place them in a jar. Use as you would store-bought basil. For more detailed instructions, please feel free to read my guide on preserving herbs.
Basil is such a great herb, it’s easy to grow, and is a main herb in many common recipes. Adding it to your garden this year is a great option to consider. Learning to grow and harvest basil is a skill you won’t regret.