Fragrant, tasty, and a necessity in many types of cooking, having basil on hand is a time and energy saver when it comes to cooking. So often we just need a few leaves and if you head to the grocery store this is both time-consuming and expensive.
Learn how to plant basil so you can use it to enhance your favorite dishes.
When to plant basil? Basil loves warm temperatures. It should be planted in the spring but not until the soil is warm enough. Aim for the soil to be 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night. If you are worried about the growing season, you can always start your seedlings inside. Plant basil in full sun and give it plenty of water to keep the leaves alive.
After about four weeks, your basil may be ready to harvest. Pick off leaves when you need them and more will grow back throughout the summer.
Then, before the weather turns cold for good, pick any remaining leaves. Once it gets too cold, your basil plant will be done.
Planting Basil in Different Climates
A tropical climate should support the growth of basil. There is enough moisture in the air and the temperatures are quite warm.
The biggest factor in a tropical climate is adequate soil drainage. Be sure to plant in a container so that there isn’t too much moisture in the soil.
Basil needs a lot of moisture to grow and a dry climate is usually too dry. However, if you do live in a dry climate you could try to plant basil in a container. This way, you have better control over how moist its soil can get.
A temperate climate will usually support basil growing. While this climate provides enough moisture, be sure that the soil is able to drain properly. Also, wait until it warms up enough before planting your basil outside.
While the cold winters of a continental climate mean a shorter growing season, basil can grow in this climate. Start your seedlings inside to get a jumpstart on growth. Then, once all threat of frost is over, you can transplant them outside.
Just make sure to harvest your basil before frost sets in during the fall as this can happen early in a continental climate.
It is too cold in a polar climate to support a basil plant.
Choosing Basil Seeds
There are many varieties of basil to consider, and to start, think about what kind of dishes you plan on using your basil in.
If you cook a lot of Italian dishes, consider Sweet Basil. This is also one of the more common varieties and is quite versatile. It is readily available at most gardening centers.
Basil is also often used in Thai cooking, so you may want to consider the Thai Basil variety. It has a spicy, licorice flavor to it.
Furthermore, if you want a pop of color, you can also try Purple Basil. In addition to having a vivid color and a spicy taste to it, it is great if you want to preserve it in olive oil or vinegar.
How to Plant Basil Seeds
Basil loves warm weather so you definitely don’t want to plant it too early. If you are worried about a shorter growing season, you can always plant your seedlings inside.
Start six weeks before the last frost of the spring to plant your seedlings inside. If you decide to plant them directly in your vegetable garden, wait until the soil is warm and reaches at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, don’t be too hasty. Ideally, the daytime soil temperature should be 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the nighttime soil temperature 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If you plant too early, your seeds won’t grow and you will have wasted the effort.
Basil should be planted in an area that receives full sun. Aim for a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. However, if you are in a warmer climate, partial sun will be ok for basil.
As for soil, make sure it is well-drained but still has a good moisture content. While you can plant basil into a garden bed in the ground, drainage can often be an issue.
For this reason, basil does better in raised garden beds and is quite happy to be in a balcony container. The more you can control the drainage and water, the better your basil will survive. Many people even grow basil on their window sill.
Most basil is used for cooking and often as a garnish. To this end, make sure the soil is free from pesticides. Moreover, plant your basil away from busy roads so that the pollution doesn’t stick to its leaves.
Once you have a spot for your basil, it’s time to start planting. Make a small row that is about ¼ inch deep. Basil seeds are tiny and don’t need to be planted too deep.
For spacing, aim to plant the seeds about 8 to 10 inches apart. You can always thin them out once they start growing. Depending on the variety, basil can grow to be 18 to 24 inches in height, so make sure there is adequate space around them.
How to Water Basil
Basil is a bit tricky to grow because of its water needs. It requires moist soil that is also able to drain well. If you don’t find much success with it in your garden, try moving it to a container. This way, the water will drain better and it is easier to give it water throughout the day.
Even though basil likes warm weather, make sure that the soil doesn’t dry out. Otherwise your basil will wilt and won’t grow.
How to Grow Basil
Once you have planted your basil and it starts to grow, you can help it out by spreading mulch around the plants. Mulch prevents weeds from growing and keeps moisture around the plants, which basil especially likes.
In about 10 days your basil will pop out of the ground and begin to really grow. However, it is quite the hands-on plant.
Monitor your basil and once it has six leaves, you will need to prune the plant back. The leaves should grow in pairs, so snip off the top four leaves.
The result of this early pruning is that the basil plant will start to grow branches, making it a much larger plant.
Once a new branch has six or eight leaves, continue the same pruning pattern. Eventually, you will have a large, bushy basil plant.
One important aspect of basil to note is that you don’t want it to start flowering. Once it does, you won’t be able to harvest any of its leaves.
After your basil has been growing for about 6 weeks, cut off the center shoot. This will prevent early flowering. Then, if flowers do grow later, you can again cut them off so that the whole plant doesn’t go to seed.
Finally, as basil does not like cold weather, pay attention to any shifting weather patterns. If frost is approaching or there is a cold snap, harvest all your basil. Once the cold snap happens, your whole plant will be lost.
How long does basil take to grow?
Basil is ready for harvest about three to four weeks after your plant it. You should regularly pinch off leaves that you want to use as this will encourage more growth from your basil plant.
After about four weeks, check to see how tall your basil plant is. Once it is between 6 and 8 inches tall, it is ready to harvest.
It’s best to pick basil leaves in the morning as they will be the juiciest. As it is cooler at night, the moisture in the air will attach to the plant, resulting in fuller leaves.
Even if don’t have any plans for your basil, it’s still best to pick a few leaves every week. This way new leaves will continue to grow and when you do need basil, it will be fresh and not old.
Basil plants are great because you can pick what you need and use them right away. However, if you don’t have plans for your basil, you can store it for future use.
For a simple method, pick your basil, give it a good clean, and then place the leaves in an airtight container. Then, store it in the freezer for up to a year to be used when ready.
Alternatively, you can also dry your basil. Pick the leaves and store them in a cool, dry area for three to four days. Then, store the dried leaves in an airtight container and use them in sauces.
While basil is not the easiest plant to grow, once you understand its needs, you will be able to create a thriving plant. The key is to have moist but well-drained soil and to constantly pick your basil leaves to continue new growth.