How To Grow Basil
Botanical name: Ocimum basilicum.
Basil is a leafy, fragrant annual herb with a bushy appearance. The most common type of basil is sweet basil; other types include purple basil (less sweet than common basil), Lemon basil (lemon flavor), and Thai basil (licorice flavor). Basil is easy to grow and works well in Italian dishes, ice teas, etc. Sadly it only grows in the summer, so plan accordingly. Basil can be planted from seeds or starter plants. To get a head start, start seeds indoors 6 weeks before the last frost.
Basil prefers a loamy organic rich soil. After the last frost date, plant seeds/seedlings in the ground about ¼ inch deep. Soil should be moist and well-drained. Soil temperature should be around 70 degrees for best germination and growth. Basil needs 6 to 8 hours of full sun daily. Plant seedlings 10-12 inches apart—depending on the variety plants will grow to 18-24 inches in height. After the seedlings have their first six leaves, prune to above the second set. Each time a branch has six to eight leaves, repeat pruning the branches back to their first set of leaves, this will encourage the plant to keep producing
Tomatoes and basil make good neighbors. If using as a living mulch or companion plant you can sow basil closer—the plants will be smaller. When the basil begins to flower be sure to pinch out the flower heads as soon as they appear to make sure that the leaves will continue growing.
Basil prefers cooler temperatures and likes lots of water. Use mulch around the basil plants to keep the soil moist and cool. During hot dry periods in summer water well.
If the weather is going to be cold, be sure to harvest your basil beforehand, as the cold weather will destroy your plants.
Basil attracts aphids, which makes it a good companion plant for your garden, however, the aphids can and will destroy your plant. Gently hose the basil plant to dislodge the aphids. Basil may also be affected by fungus and leaf, stem and root diseases. If a plant becomes infected cover with a plastic bag and remove from your garden and place in the dumpster.
Harvesting and storing
The best time to harvest basil is when the plant starts to bud but before the plant blooms. Basil is most pungent and flavorful when it is fresh. If pruned regularly, a basil plant will produce 2 cups of leaves per week. (Use pruned leaves for cooking or making pesto).
Basil can be dried, however, for better flavor retention, freezing is the best method for storing basil. To quick-freeze basil, dry whole springs of basil with a paper towel and package them in airtight plastic bags.
To dry basil, pinch off the leaves at the stem and place in a well-ventilated area—the drying process may take 3-4 days. Basil may also be dried on a low temperature in your oven or put into a dehydrator.
Fresh basil that is picked and placed in water in a cool location will last up to 3-4 days before using.
- Cinnamon basil, to add a hint of cinnamon to a dish
- Purple basil, to add some nice color to your garden and salads
- Thai basil, to add a sweet licorice flavor to a dish.