Out of all the herbs, basil might just be the most popular. This fragrant and often sweet plant has some high needs but if you can meet them, you will be rewarded.
Where to grow basil: Basil grows once a year, in the summer. It needs lots of warmth and a fair bit of sun. You can grow basil inside or you can try growing it outside, as long as it is warm enough. Plant your basil in soil that drains well and make sure the soil is neither too dry nor too wet. You will want to wait until the daytime and nighttime temperatures are warm enough, which is usually by late May. Harvest your basil leaves as they grow and be sure to pick any leaves before the first frost in the fall.
Where does basil grow best?
Basil grows best in any area of your garden that has full sun. It is an annual plant, so it only lives for one year; therefore, you don’t have to worry about winter conditions.
How to Choose the Best Spot to Grow Basil
Step 1 – Full sun
Basil loves warmth. It thrives in full sun and if you plant it somewhere shady, you simply won’t get a healthy plant.
Pick an area in your garden where you know your basil plant will get at least six hours of full sun a day. Keep in mind structures that provide shade for parts of the day, including your house, a shed, or tall trees.
Step 2 – Wait
You may be itching to grow basil outside but there’s a good chance the weather and the soil just aren’t warm enough. Basil will only grow when it is warm enough and planting too early is one of the main reasons why it doesn’t grow.
For most areas, basil shouldn’t be planted until mid-May. Think Memorial Day for the United States or Victoria Day for Canada.
If you are too impatient and really want your supply of basil, then you are best at growing it inside where you can keep the temperature warm.
Step 3 – Start indoors
If we’ve scared you off about planting basil too early, there is a way to work around this. You can always start your basil from seed and plant it inside.
Plant your basil seeds six weeks before the last spring frost, which for most people will be early April. Then, wait until the daytime temperature is at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit before you transplant it.
However, if you are worried about nighttime temperatures still dipping, wait until it is at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
Step 4 – Make sure the soil is right
Basil can be a bit finicky and needs soil that is moist but also well-draining. Make sure the soil isn’t too compact and if need be, add a bit of sand to help with drainage.
If you are able to, plant your basil in a raised bed or a container. This will help with drainage and it will be easier to ensure your plant gets the right amount of watering.
Step 5 – Use drip irrigation
A little bit of water over a long time is preferable to a lot of water over a short time. This method allows you to keep the soil moist but not barrage the root system with too much water at one time.
Drip irrigation is the best method but not everyone is able to craft this system. If you can’t put in a drip system, aim to water your basil a little bit in the morning and evening. Always water the soil and not the plant leaves to prevent rot from setting in.
Step 6 – Leave some space
Even though your basil plants might look small at first, with proper care they can grow up to 12 to 24 inches tall. If you are planting multiple basil plants or even just other plants, give your area some space.
This will allow the root structure of the basil plants to be able to spread out and it will provide proper airflow around the leaves.
Is basil an easy plant to grow?
Those new to growing basil may indeed find it to be a difficult plant to grow. Basil does not do well in cold temperatures and many backyard gardeners are too impatient for this herb.
It’s very important not to plant or transplant your basil until temperatures warm up. While the plant can survive once the daytime temperature is at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s better to wait until it is 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Be prepared not to have too much success the first time you try growing basil. This will allow you to be pleasantly surprised if it does go well. If not, then you can learn from any mistakes and perfect for growing the following year.
Like all plants, basil has its specific needs. The more you are aware of its ideal growing conditions, the easier it is to grow basil.
Tips to Grow Basil
Tip 1 – Decide on the variety
There are many types of basil, so you first want to determine which variety you want to grow. If you aren’t sure and have the room for it, you can always plant a few different varieties at first, to see which ones you like best.
The most common variety of basil is sweet basil. This is your basic plant and the leaves are very versatile.
If you want basil that is not as sweet, you can try purple basil. Its lovely purple color also makes a bold statement in the presentation of dishes.
Another option is Thai basil, which is great for Asian cooking. It has a licorice flavor, so it might not be to everyone’s taste.
Finally, another common variety is lemon basil. As its name suggests, it has a slight lemon flavor which will infuse dishes with this taste.
Step 2 – Decide on the number of plants
For most home cooks, one or two basil plants will be plenty. They can grow to be quite large and this will even allow you to pick and store some basil for later in the year.
However, if you love basil and want to make pesto from it, then you will need plenty of plants. Pesto is a delicious sauce made from basil, pine nuts, and garlic, and it’s easier to make large batches of it and then store it than to simply make one dish and be done.
Plan accordingly and make sure you have enough space for all your basil planting.
Step 3 – Plant with tomatoes
Companion gardening is becoming all the rage recently, and for good reason. It pairs certain plants that work together to create the best ecosystem possible.
The strong aroma of basil helps to detract pests that would naturally flock to tomatoes. This symbiotic relationship has another benefit, in that you can harvest the two at the same time and make a delicious sauce or salad.
Step 4 – Prune early
You may be worried about taking too many basil leaves at first but this will actually promote more growth as time goes by. Watch your basil plant and make your first pruning when there are six leaves on the plant.
Trim the top set of the leaves, just above the second set of leaves. This will signal the plant that it should grow more stems, thus leading to a bushier basil plant.
As your basil plant continues to grow, harvest the leaves. This will encourage more and more leaves to grow so that you can have an abundance, non-stop harvest all summer long.
Step 5 – Cut off any flower growth
Eventually, your basil plant will try to grow a flower stem in the middle of the plant. If this happens, your basil leaf will stop growing new leaves.
If you see the center shoot popping up, make sure you trim this right away. This will give you more time to enjoy your plant.
However, if you forget or don’t notice the center stem right away, there is still time. If you spot any flowers growing, cut them off immediately to signal to the plant that they should keep growing.
Step 6 – Harvest before last frost
Unfortunately, there will come a time when your basil plant won’t be able to grow anymore. Once the temperature drops, or if there is a sudden frost, your basil plant will die.
As summer wanes, pay attention to the weather forecast. As soon as cold temperatures are forecasted, go out and harvest any basil leaves still on your plant.
You can then freeze the leaves in ice cube trays, by placing them in and then pouring a bit of olive oil on top. Then, when you need fresh basil, simply pop the cube in a frying pan and then cook with it.
Whether you are cooking Italian or Thai food or food from many other cultures, basil is an important ingredient. This herb can be a bit difficult to grow at first, but if you can give it well-drained soil and plenty of warmth, it will do alright.