Growing a basil plant

How To Grow Basil Plants

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is often referred to as the king of herbs. Basil plants are certainly one of the most popular herbs grown in the home garden. Growing basil outdoors or in a container is very easy to do if you follow these simple steps for how to grow basil.

Tips for Growing Basil

Choose a location with great drainage. Whether you’re growing basil outdoors in the ground or in a container, the drainage needs to be excellent.

Choose a location with good sun. Another important thing to remember for basil plant care is to choose a spot where the basil plants will get plenty of good sunlight.

Choose growing basil seeds or plants. Will you start by growing basil seeds or basil plants? Either option is very easy to do when growing basil outdoors.

  • If you choose growing basil seeds, scatter the seeds over the location that you have chosen and lightly cover with dirt. Water thoroughly. Thin to 6 inches apart once the seedling come up.
  • If you choose growing basil plants, dig a small hole, tease out the root ball some and plant the basil plant in the ground. Water thoroughly.

Wait till the temperature is right. When growing basil outdoors, it is very important to remember that basil is very sensitive to cold and even a light frost will kill it. Do not plant seeds or basil plants until all danger of frost has passed.

Harvest often. The trick to how to grow basil that is large and abundant is to harvest often. The more you harvest basil, the more the plant will grow. When harvesting, pinch off the stem right above where a pair of leaves are growing. After you harvest, two more stems will start to grow, which means twice the leaves next time you harvest!

Remove flowers. Once a basil plant flowers, the leaves start to lose their good flavor. If you remove any flowers, the leaves will get their good flavor back in just a day or so.

As you can see, proper basil plant care is easy. Knowing how to grow basil will provide you with large amounts of this tasty herb.

Quick Guide to Growing Basil

  • Plant basil 2 weeks after the last spring frost. This flavorful herb is perfect for raised garden beds, containers, and in-ground gardens.
  • Space basil according to label recommendations, usually 12 to 18 inches apart. Grow in fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Consider a premium bagged potting mix for growing in containers.
  • Give your garden a great foundation by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter into your native soil.
  • Basil thrives in moist soil, so check moisture levels often and water deeply once the top inch becomes dry.
  • As basil plants grow to 4 to 6 inches tall, pinch off the topmost branches to promote more side shoots and a taller plant overall. Be sure to pinch off blooms to prevent your plant from going to seed.
  • Encourage excellent leaf production by keeping basil fed with a water-soluble plant food.
  • Once basil grows to 6 to 8 inches tall, harvest leaves anytime by pinching them off.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Basil needs 6 to 8 hours of sun; in the South and Southwest, it benefits from afternoon shade. Start with strong young basil plants from Bonnie Plants® for best results, and set them out at least 2 weeks after the last frost in spring. (Summer planting is okay, too.) Space at the distance recommended on the label, which is generally 12 to 18 inches apart. Plants are very frost sensitive, so keep plants protected in case of a late cold spell.

Basil likes rich, moist, but well-drained soil with a pH of 6 to 7. Test your soil, or simply improve it by adding plenty of organic nutrients from compost, blood meal, or cottonseed meal. Or, just add a few inches of aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil to the top layer of your native soil. If planting in a container, use a large pot to keep the plants from drying out quickly in hot weather. Fill the pot with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix, which also contains compost but is lighter and fluffier than in-ground soil, perfect for growing in pots.

While rich, nutritious soil is a great starting point for growing basil, you’ll get even better results if you also feed your plants regularly—especially because basil is harvested heavily for lots of leaves. Fertilize your basil with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition to help keep tender new leaves coming on as you pinch back the stem tips. It goes beyond just feeding your plants, also nourishing the beneficial microbes in the soil that help those plants take up all the nutrients they need.

Water deeply and thoroughly whenever the top inch of soil is dry. Keep in mind that pots tend to dry out faster than in-ground gardens, and that no matter where you plant, you’ll probably need to water more often as temperatures rise. You may also want to add mulch around your basil plants to help keep the soil moist and extend the time between waterings.

Want to grow basil indoors? Read our How to Grow Herbs Indoors article for tips on growing in pots, or consider planting basil in a water-based (aka hydroponic) growing system like the Miracle-Gro® Twelve™ Indoor Growing System. Here’s how it works: Plants grow directly in water that is circulated around the roots, delivering all the air, moisture, and nutrition they need, while an LED grow light provides the “sunlight”. It’s an excellent environment for growing!

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?
  • Popular Types of Basil
  • Planting Basil
  • Harvesting Basil
  • Basil Plant Care
  • Common Questions 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.

Popular Types of Basil

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

  • Sweet Basil – Sweet basil is one of the most common varieties. Popular in salads, pastas, pestos and more, most of the basil you will find in a grocery store is sweet basil. It has a rounded leaf that is cup-shaped and medium green in color.
  • Purple Basil – The gorgeous hue of purple basil is what makes it special. More of a deep burgundy than a bright purple, it is not as sweet as other varieties. It has somewhat of a clove taste to it and is great to steep in oil or vinegar. Purple basil adds a striking contrast as a garnish in prepared dishes.
  • Thai Sweet Basil – Dark, smaller leaves with a hint of a licorice flavor, Thai sweet basil keeps its flavor even after cooked. It is often used in Asian dishes.
  • Lemon Basil – An increasingly popular variety, lemon basil is easily found in nurseries. A wonderful addition to poultry and fish dishes, it is also nice with veggies or as a tea.
  • Spicy Globe Basil – A dwarf basil variety, spicy globe basil has a peppery, strong flavor with leaves small enough to use whole. It is great for containers, as it forms a tight, small clump when growing.
  • Cinnamon Basil – Fragrant and full of spice, cinnamon basil has thin, small serrated leaves and tight, contrasting dark purplish flowers. It is as pretty as it is fun to use in the kitchen. With its mild flavor, it pairs nicely in Asian meals and with fruit or grilled vegetables.

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.

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.

  • How to harvest basil – Once the basil plant is about 6 – 8 inches tall, begin to harvest as needed. Snip as much basil as you want, right above the point where two bigger leaves meet. Harvesting evenly around the entire plant will ensure even growth.
  • How to store basil – Basil can be used right off the plant. It can also be stored for later use. Drying the leaves, freezing them or preserving them in vinegar are all options for storing basil. Flavoring oil is another wonderful use. And, of course, don’t forget about making pesto! Fresh basil leaves will last a few days in water if they are stored in the refrigerator.

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.

  • Exposure: Full sun with afternoon shade recommended in hot climates
  • When to plant: Late spring, about two weeks after the last expected frost date
  • Recommended varieties: Genovese, Thai, and Red Rubin
  • Pests and diseases to watch out for: Aphids, whitefly, fusarium wilt, leaf spot

How to Plant Basil

Most people have better luck with transplants, but you can start seeds indoors about eight weeks before the final frost date in your area if you want to try your hand at growing it yourself. Barely cover seeds with soil, and keep moist (not soggy) until germination, then transplant outdoors after risk of frost is past. You can sow directly into the garden, too. For transplants, set plants in the ground about a foot apart at the same depth as they are in the pot.

How to Care for Basil

Don’t set basil out too early, as it has zero tolerance for cold spells. Basil is a light feeder, so you don’t need to fertilize it in the garden. It doesn’t need a lot of water, but if it hasn’t rained in a week or so, give it a drink in the morning, not late in the day because that encourages fungal diseases to develop.

Can you grow basil in containers?

Absolutely. But don’t combine it with other herbs as it needs space for good air circulation to lessen the risk of disease development. Feed it once a month with a balanced liquid organic fertilizer.

Can you grow basil indoors?

Yes, though it can be finicky and may not grow as vigorously as outdoors. Give it bright light, but don’t set it too close to the window or it may get sunburned or too cold up against the glass. Feed it with a liquid organic fertilizer once a month.

Why is my basil plant wilting?

Fungal diseases are common, especially with humid weather. Basil infected with fusarium wilt, one of the most common diseases, has brown streaks, twisted stems, and sudden leaf drop. For plants that become infected with this disease which lives in the soil, toss them (Sorry, there’s no cure!) and don’t plant any basil or mint in that same spot for several years to make sure you don’t infect new plants.

Can I still eat my basil if it starts flowering?

Yes, you can. But to prolong your plant’s life, trim off tips of the plants (called “pinching”), which will help it become fuller and prevent flowering in the first place.

“Allowing basil to become tall and scraggly makes it more susceptible to diseases and pests,” says Tammi Hartung, author of Homegrown Herbs and co-owner of Desert Canyon Farm. “Pinching off the tips regularly keeps your basil plants sturdy, bushy and strong so you can keep harvesting. The more you pinch, the more your plant produces.”

Arricca SanSone Arricca SanSone writes for CountryLiving.com, WomansDay.com, Family Circle, MarthaStewart.com, Cooking Light, Parents.com, and many others.

Trimming Basil Leaves: Tips For Cutting Back Basil Plants

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a member of the Lamiaceae family, known for outstanding aromas, and basil is no exception. The leaves of this annual herb have a high concentration of essential oils, making it a piquant addition to many various cuisines around the globe. What is the best way of trimming or pruning back basil plant leaves?

How to Trim a Basil Plant

Basil is grown for its flavorful leaves, which can be used fresh or dried. However, there is no comparison and fresh is better than dried. There are a number of different varieties of basil, with the most common being Sweet Basil used to make magnificent pesto sauce.

Basil is a very easy herb to grow and can be started indoors in flats or outside in the garden after the danger of the last frost has passed. Plant the seed no deeper than twice the length of the seed in a sunny exposure. Basil seedlings will emerge within five to seven days and can be thinned when they have two leaves. Transplant them 12 inches apart and keep the plants consistently moist.

Basil leaves are quite delicate and barely bruising the leaf releases the aroma of the essential oils, which quickly begin to dissipate. Therefore, pruning basil leaves with care is a necessity.

You don’t need to prune basil plants when they are still small; wait until the herb is about 6 inches tall before trimming basil leaves. The more often you prune the basil plant, the bushier and leafier it becomes.

As soon as flowers become evident, pinch them off so the energy in the plant stays diverted to foliage growth. If the basil plant is growing vertically, pinch the leaves from the top to encourage lateral growth. Use the pinched leaves or dry them, so there’s no waste. Basil grows quickly, so even if you don’t want to use the leaves right away (gasp!), keep trimming back the plant when it gets large and bushy.

To harvest basil, cut the herb back about ¼-inch above a node, 3 inches from the base of the plant. Leave a few inches of leaves on the plant after pruning. You can be quite aggressive when pruning basil plants since, as already mentioned, they are rapid growers. Even after a major cutting back, the herb will be ready for pruning again in a few weeks.

Pinching or cutting back basil plants regularly encourages full, bushy plants. There is no mystery or exact science to cutting back basil plants. Trim a basil plant every two to three weeks and pinch off the flower buds as soon as you see them. Trust me, the plant loves this and it will only encourage more vigorous growth while providing you with plenty of fresh basil leaves to stretch those culinary wings.

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