- Can you actually grow supermarket basil?
- How to Split Supermarket Basil into Individual Plants
- Step 1: Rip the Basil in Two
- Step 2: Plant up the Healthiest
- Step 3: Pinch out the Growing Tips
- Step 4: Water your plants well
- Growing Basil
- Ocimum basilicum
- A Brief History
- Propagation and Where to Buy
- Growing Tips, Planting, and Fertilizing
- Plant with Friends
- Pests and Diseases
- Harvesting the Bounty
- A Culinary Delight
- Need Help?
- Most Basil Plants Are Annuals
- Growing Sweet Basils
- What’s Eating My Basils?
- How Can I Keep Potted Herbs From the Supermarket Alive Longer?
- Cooking with Basil
Keep pots of basil alive by planting the strongest plants into their own pots. Grow supermarket basil this way and you’ll have dozens of plants that will thrive all year long.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The pots of herbs that you find at the supermarket are designed to die. It wasn’t your over or under watering that did it! Basil, coriander, and even the thyme aren’t meant to last more than a few weeks. It’s because each pot is seeded with dozens of plants rather than just one. There’s no space in that tiny pot for dozens of plants to live so they run out of nutrients and die. Feeling vindicated?
There’s also another secret that I want to share with you. It’s easy to beat the system and keep supermarket basil alive. All you need to do is separate out the strongest plants, pot them on individually, and grow them on. I’m going to show you how.
Pots of supermarket basil contain dozens of plants that need to be separated out
Can you actually grow supermarket basil?
Live herbs purchased from the supermarket are grown in very controlled conditions. They’re monitored from seed to shopping trolley to ensure optimum growth. Basically, they’re used to the good life but are grown in such dense plantings that the compost can’t sustain life for long.
It’s not too late to save your basil though. If you separate out the best plants and grow them on you’ll have fresh basil all throughout the growing months. I’ve grown my basil this way for years and even some of the saddest looking plants rebound.
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How to Split Supermarket Basil into Individual Plants
- Materials needed:
- 1 pot of Basil purchased from the supermarket
- Rich potting compost – multipurpose will work
- Small individual pots – toilet paper rolls are perfect
- A warm window sill, greenhouse, or conservatory
Step 1: Rip the Basil in Two
Take the Basil out of the pot and gently pull the compost/root-ball into two pieces. I say gently but in reality you’re going to have to rip through some roots. Using a slow but firm action in this step helps minimize damage. Also try your hardest to not damage the stems of your plants. When you’re separating the plants try to handle the compost and roots and not the plants themselves.
Step 2: Plant up the Healthiest
Take up one half and have a look at the cross-section of plants. You’ll see that some plants are bigger and stronger than others and these are the ones that you want to target. Gently pull and tease these larger plants out and use the smaller ones for your next meal. Take each decent basil plant and tuck it up into its own pot. Make sure that it’s not planted any deeper in the compost than it was in the original pot.
They look a bit sad don’t they? Don’t worry, they’ll perk up
Step 3: Pinch out the Growing Tips
Once all of your plants are potted up, pinch out the growing tips. This means to remove the top of the plant down to just above the last leaf node. That’s a place on the stem where leaves are growing from. This exercise is meant to remove all but a few leaves from the plant. Removing them will make the plant focus energy on developing a good root system.
The best part of this step is that you can use all of those growing tips to make a nice pesto that very day. It also encourages a stronger and bushier plant.
What the plants look like 20 days after potting them up
Step 4: Water your plants well
Now place the plants in a warm conservatory, window sill, or greenhouse and keep them well watered. Basil doesn’t like the cold or too dry so make sure to keep them cozy. Recovery time took 20 days from the day I potted them up to the day I started hardening them off.
‘Hardening off’ involves setting the plants outside in the day and then taking them back indoors at night. After a week of this, your plants should be accustomed to the outside temperature. This is an important step before planting them outside.
That’s pretty much it as far as growing on the plants on to this stage. Just keep your plants keep it in full sun with moist roots. The more you pick those growing tips the more the plant will produce. Just one of these supermarket plants should keep you in basil for the rest of the summer. Not bad for a £1.25 investment. Watch the video below to see how it’s done. The volume is a little low on this video so turn up your dial to hear what’s going on.
How to grow basil in the tropics
Photo by The Country Clerk
Thankfully growing basil is super easy in tropical climates. At least that’s my experience. It’s not what I expected since all other Mediterranean herbs struggle with our humid wet seasons (summers), but basil doesn’t care.
Back in the days when I did not have a clue about how to grow ANYTHING, basil was the one thing that did grow. Without fail. All year round. Like a weed.
Once I learned more about growing different food plants, herbs and spices, I learned that basil is not strictly a Mediterranean herb. Most of us know and grow sweet basil as an essential ingredient for Italian dishes. However, many other basil varieties exist and they are just as essential in Asian cooking.
Well, and Asian climates with their steamy monsoonal summers are similar to ours. That’s why basil is so happy in my garden.
Growing basil at home has many benefits.
- Basil is a wonderful culinary herb. Tomatoes and sweet basil are made for each other, pesto is something I could eat every day, and a green curry without Thai basil just wouldn’t be a green curry, would it?
- Basil is also used as a medicinal herb. (The different types of basil have different traditional uses.)
- Basil supposedly repels flies. (In my experience that is a rumour.)
- Basil repels fruit fly. (It’s not a fail proof solution but it definitely helps.)
- Basil does have a strong scent. It is pleasant to grow just for the scent it emits when you brush it as you walk through your garden. But even better, the scent also confuses bugs that find their favourite plants by smell.
- Sweet basil and tomatoes are perfect companion plants, in the garden AND in the kitchen.
- Bees love the flowers and they look pretty in the garden, too.
- Basil itself looks pretty, too. The mauve flower spikes of cinnamon basil, the deep purple leaves of opal basil, the compact purple balls of flowers on my Thai basil…
Bees on basil flowers. Photos by Beeep and Chaval
Where can you grow basil?
You can grow basil just about anywhere, though not necessarily all year round.
Basil loves hot weather, lots of sunlight, lots of food (=rich soil), lots of water and lots of space for its roots.
Basil has a very vigorous root system. If you grow basil in the garden then the basil roots will go and find what the plant needs. So even if the soil is not so great, you can still grow basil. It also copes with little water and even grows in partial shade. However, it will have a much stronger flavour if grown in full sun.
Basil does not like water logging and will not survive frost. Established plants can handle cool spells, but it needs to be hot to get basil started.
You can germinate and grow basil seeds indoors, but because of the lack of sunlight during winter they will not grow into big, healthy plants. You best harvest them very early and germinate more. Or move to a warmer climate.
In a warm climate you can grow basil all year round, in any type of soil. It may not grow equally well in all soils, but it should grow.
Get started with growing basil
There are two ways to grow basil: from seed or from cuttings. Both work well and I use both all the time.
It’s best to grow sweet basil from seed as an annual. (Sweet basil grows better in the dry season in the tropics and also likes Mediterranean climates.)
All other basil types are perennials. They are also called bush basil. Those basils are easier to grow from cuttings. (All the perennial basils do great in the true tropics all year round.)
Photo by Pizzodisevo
Photo by Sa_ku_ra
Growing basil from seed: basil seed is very fine and can take weeks to germinate. If you throw it straight on the ground the weeds may smother it before it has a chance to grow, so you may want to start it in punnets or pots.
There isn’t much of a science to it. Spread some seed very thinly and only cover with soil very lightly. Make sure the soil is neither too wet nor let it dry out. Plant your basil out when it’s big enough to handle. Basil grows better and faster in the ground.
Growing basil from cuttings: just take a tip cutting off any plant at any time of the year. Cut off all the leaves except for the tiny ones that are emerging at the top and stick the thing in a pot. Keep it in partial shade and keep it moist. Basil cuttings root very quickly. Once the little basil plant is actively growing again you can plant it out.
(If you want to grow basil in containers use the biggest possible container.)
Growing and using basil.
You can start harvesting basil very early. In fact, you should. Basil should be picked constantly. You can harvest individual leaves, but the best way to harvest basil is to take off all the tips. Start doing this when your basil is about 15 cm high. It encourages more branching and more growth, but most importantly it prevents flowering.
That’s right. Unfortunately, if you have only a few basil plants, you should prevent them from flowering for as long as possible. Once a basil plant goes to flower it puts all its energy into the blooms and seeds and does not produce any more leaves. And then it dies.
Photo by Cyancey
So, don’t let it flower. If you need a lot of basil, for example for making pesto, you can just go at your bushes with a big pair of scissors and give them a good hair cut. That’s the easiest way. If you need just a few shoots to flavour a curry you can pull off the tips with your fingers or any cutters. If there are some young flower buds in your harvest that’s not a problem. They are edible and taste no different.
Basil growing tips
Most of our culinary herbs taste best when you treat them harshly. They lose flavour if you pamper them. Not basil. You can’t feed basil too much. It will use everything you can throw at it and then ask for more. (Compost, compost tea, chook poo, fish fertiliser, mulch, anything…) Basil tastes best if well fed. If you want your basil to keep growing and producing leaves, keep feeding it.
As I already mentioned, basil is very aggressive about getting what it wants. It is also fast growing, so only plant it together with other vigorous plants that can hold their own against it. A well fed, mature sweet basil bush can easily measure three feet high and across.
Basil is indeed a good companion plant for tomatoes. The two have the same growing requirements, are both vigorous plants, and grow to about the same size. Plant seeds at the same time and the two should get along splendidly.
Also try growing basil under other fruiting plants that are prone to bug damage. It seems the strong scent either confuses the bugs or repels them.
If you have a reasonably sized garden then growing basil requires hardly any work at all once you get a few plants going. Yes, basil plants die once they flower, but they also produce seed which germinates again. There is always some basil somewhere.
The only problem with the self seeding is that the different basil varieties cross breed. To keep some pure plants just take cuttings every now and then.
Purple ruffles, Thai basil and lemon basil. Photos by HabitatGirl, Sa_ku_ra and Zoyachubby.
Growing basil in my permaculture garden
I have several bushes of basil just outside my kitchen door. (As in any good permaculture design the herbs and spices that I use on a regular basis grow right at my kitchen door.) When I cook I only need to take a few steps to get fresh basil.
I regularly take one or two cuttings of the mature basil plants and plant them right there. It’s not a scientific operation. I just pinch off a tip, pull off the leaves and stick it in the ground. I may throw some very loose, light mulch over it to protect it a bit. Most of those basil cuttings grow despite the rough treatment.
Once the old basil plant looks a bit sickly, and eventually it will, I cut it and mulch it in place. This way I always have a few young and productive plants of each basil species right there.
In the rest of my permaculture garden the basil roams wild. It cross breeds and self seeds and comes up everywhere, and it flowers and is full of bees and butterflies and is absolutely beautiful.
Oh, and I get carried away and use basil flowers as cut flowers. The white and purple spikes are gorgeous and I love the scent.
If I see basil plants growing in an unsuitable place, I pull them up. If I want to grow a new patch of basil somewhere, be it for pest control purposes or to enjoy the scent or just for looks, then I cut some dry flower spikes of an old plant, rub them and crunch them up between my hands, and throw them over the soil where I want the basil to grow. That’s it.
Growing basil isn’t hard, is it?
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Return from Growing Basil to The Tropical Permaculture Garden
Imagine giant bushes of fragrant green leaves, just begging to be layered with tomato and mozzarella, or blended with garlic, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese to make a fresh pesto…
Are you with me?
Basil is one of the most popular culinary herbs, and for good reason. Extremely versatile and widely used, it’s bursting with color and flavor. And its unique taste has been treasured and enjoyed by many cultures for centuries, as an aromatic addition to both food and drink, as well as herbal medicine.
Whether chopped up and tossed into your favorite tomato sauce and cooked to perfection, or muddled in a refreshing summertime beverage, basil is sure to serve as a flavorful enhancement to many meals.
Ready to add it to your herb garden? We share our top growing tips for a successful harvest, plus some of our favorite varieties. Let’s dig in!
A Brief History
Native to India, Iran, and other warmer regions of Asia as far east as China, basil has been cultivated for thousands of years. It was introduced to western Europe in the sixteenth century, and shortly thereafter, became a key flavoring component in Mediterranean cuisine.
A member of the Lamiaceae family, basil is closely related to mint, rosemary, lavender, and thyme.
Sweet basil is the most common variety, especially favored in Italian cuisine. Other species and cultivars that you may already be familiar with include Thai (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora), lemon (O. x citriodorum), and even holy basil, a slightly more distant member of the Ocimum genus known botanically as O. tenuiflorum.
Whereas sweet basil is renowned first and foremost for its culinary use, O. tenuiflorum or tulsi is known for its medicinal applications. Originally recognized as a sacred herb in India, it is still grown today for its essential oil, and is used commonly in herbal teas.
Various other Ocimum species and hybrid cultivars are grown commonly throughout Africa, South America, and elsewhere. For the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on the sweet and Thai varieties that make a tasty addition to the culinary garden.
Today, this herb is cultivated in countries across the globe, and is used widely as both a medicinal and culinary plant.
Propagation and Where to Buy
Seedlings can be purchased from some garden stores in the springtime, but most herbs are easy to start from seed.
New plants can also be started from leaf cuttings that are a few inches long, taken below a leaf node.
Some gardeners are very successful from year to year with starting new plants by taking cuttings from overwintered potted specimens, as long as the original plants weren’t allowed to flower. These can be rooted in water, and then planted in soil.
Learn more about how to propagate basil here.
Italian large leaf is one of our favorite varieties, and seeds are available online from True Leaf Market.
Italian Large Leaf Seeds
With enough sun and warm temperatures, you can expect huge harvests from this easy-to-grow herb.
Genovese basil requires about 60-69 days to reach maturity, and you will love the flavorful green leaves that this cultivar provides.
Seeds are available in several quantities from True Leaf Market.
Thai basil makes a tasty addition to so many Asian-style recipes, with its sweet scent, overtones of anise, and deep green leaves.
Thai Basil Seeds
Expect 60-90 days of growth until harvest. Seeds are available from True Leaf Market.
Looking for something a little different? Try lemon basil, a hybrid of sweet and African varieties of Ocimum. What it lacks in leaf size, it makes up for with its unique citrusy flavor, thanks to concentrations of limonene and citral.
Lemon Basil Seeds
Like other cultivars, this type does well in full sun, but it can tolerate partial shade. Seeds are available from True Leaf Market.
For a nice touch of color in the herb garden (and on your plate!) try Red Rubin, a dark purple cultivar that produces large leaves similar in size to that of the Italian large leaf.
Red Rubin Seeds
This variety is also excellent for growing microgreens, and they make an attractive garnish. Expect about 68 days to maturity. Seeds are available from True Leaf Market.
Looking for a gift for the cocktail-lover in your life? Try this Basil Gold Rush craft cocktail growing kit from Urban Agriculture.
Urban Agriculture Basil Gold Rush Kit
It includes a recipe from master mixologist Harry Chin, seeds, soil, and a container, plus a wooden muddler, straining spoon, and mason jar cocktail shaker. You can order yours online from Nature Hills Nursery.
Growing Tips, Planting, and Fertilizing
Basil can be grown in containers or planted outside directly in the soil, as long as it is not highly acidic. Well-drained and warm soil is best – try a mixture of compost, vermiculite, and peat to amend it.
For more on peat moss and available alternatives, you might enjoy this article.
Ideally, soil temperature should be at least 50-55°F, which usually happens when the outdoor ambient temperature reaches consistent highs in the 70s. The warmer the weather, the better your plants will do in terms of leaf production, as long as they have enough moisture.
Summertime is best for growing and harvesting basil, and if you live in the extreme south, year-round harvests may be possible.
This is an annual herb, and you will get the best flavor if you replace your plants each year. But it can be grown as a perennial in USDA hardiness zones 10 and up. This herb is frost tender, meaning plants growing in the ground in cooler climates will generally die back with the arrival of the first frost.
Basil also needs plenty of sunlight, and requires upwards of eight hours of full sun per day to thrive.
It can be grown indoors in colder climates under grow lights, or in a warm and sunny window that is protected from the cold.
To plant outdoors, you can start the seeds inside or in your greenhouse about 3-6 weeks before the anticipated last frost, depending on the variety. Keep your seeds warm and moist, leaving them in a sunny window or under grow lights to aid germination.
Once germinated, water your seedlings one or two times a day, making sure they get enough water and sunlight. The seedlings need to stay moist in order to grow.
When they are about three to four inches tall and you can clearly see mature – or true – leaves forming, transplant them into larger containers, such as these three-inch peat pots, available on Amazon. These can be planted directly into the soil when it’s time to transplant them into the garden.
3-Inch Round Peat Pots for Seedlings, Pack of 100
If seeding outside in warmer climates, plant directly into the soil, scattering the seeds and then lightly covering with dirt, and gently patting them down. Be sure to water the seeds daily, sometimes twice daily if your location gets an ample amount of direct sunlight.
Whether seeding indoors first and then transplanting into your garden or direct seeding outdoors, be sure to leave at least 4-6 inches of space between each plant. Letting seeds sprout and then thinning them back, or thinning before you transplant, is recommended.
Successive plantings can also help to extend the harvest. Just plant a few sets of new seeds every two weeks in the late spring or early summer.
Basil will grow to be 10-18 inches in height, or much taller for some varieties, and can get relatively bushy, so it needs plenty of space.
This herb loves moist soil, so be sure to keep mature plants watered well, and cover them up with mulch if you need to, for extra protection during dry seasons.
Neptune’s Harvest Liquid Seaweed Plant Food, 1 Qt.
Basil is known to be a heavy feeder, or a plant that requires more nutrients than others. Use an organic fertilizer, such as Neptune’s Harvest Liquid Seaweed Plant Food, available on Amazon.
Fertilize once every two weeks initially. When your plants reach maturity, cut back the feedings to once every four weeks.
Plant with Friends
Tomatoes make a great companion to basil in the garden – a perfect pairing since they’re delicious together as well! The herb is said to improve the flavor of the vegetable – er, fruit – and vice versa.
Basil also does well planted alongside other nightshades, so you could do well to plant it with bell peppers, hot peppers, potatoes, or eggplant.
Planting chamomile near basil is also said improve the health of the plants. Avoid growing basil near culinary sage. Some gardeners say to avoid planting it near rue or anise as well.
Pests and Diseases
Though some say basil helps to repel aphids, in our experience, it often actually attracts them.
Will planting basil help to keep aphids off of other plants, like your rose bushes? If this is your first line of defense, there are probably better methods out there. The plant’s aromatic oils do help to repel some pests more reliably, like flies and mosquitoes.
Slugs and Japanese beetles will also happily munch on the leaves if they aren’t given a better option. Keep an eye out for any signs of damage and remove these bugs from your plants by hand.
A good, hard spray with the hose may knock some unwanted visitors loose, but this may also bruise the leaves and otherwise damage your carefully cultivated herbs.
Japanese beetles may enjoy munching on your plants.
Check out our article on banishing snails and slugs from the garden for some more tried-and-true suggestions.
Keep an eye out for fungal diseases as well, which can attack the leaves, stems, and roots of plants. This is a more common complaint than insect attack.
To help prevent the onset of fungal disease, you want your basil to be well watered, but not waterlogged. Soil should be well draining, especially in containers, and you don’t want your herbs to sit in standing water.
Water at the base of the plants, avoid getting the leaves wet, and be sure to grow plants in full sun.
If fungus has already taken over, you can try disposing of the diseased leaves, but you will likely lose the plant. In this case, if it’s still early in the season, it’s best to start over and plant new seeds. Otherwise, better luck next year!
Harvesting the Bounty
Once your plants are mature and are producing large, vibrant, and aromatic leaves, it’s time to harvest!
Pinch or cut the topmost leaves of the plants off and use as desired. By clipping the tops, you encourage growth throughout the rest of the plant and reduce the risk of early flowering, encouraging plants to leaf out and become bushier and more productive as well.
As long as the plant keeps producing, continue clipping or pinching in this manner and enjoy delicious, aromatic leaves all season long!
And do use clippers, or wear gloves if you’ll be picking in any great quantity. Though it isn’t harmful, the juices of this plant can stain your fingers.
If flowers emerge at the top of the plant, be sure to clip them as well, to encourage continual growth.
Pollinators do love flowering basil, so you may opt to let a few plants go to seed if you like.
The flowers are also edible, and they can make a subtle garnish for salads and appetizer plates – these aren’t showstoppers like chive flowers, but they do get white or pink blooms, sometimes with touches of purple as well.
Once a plant does flower and go to seed, the leaves will be of a lesser quality, since the plant’s energy is no longer being put into leaf production. Some varieties are self-seeding, so you may have some luck with starting a new crop for next year if you allow them to go to seed naturally.
A Culinary Delight
Basil is extremely aromatic and lends itself well to recipes with tomatoes and garlic, as well as lemon and olive oil.
Another amazing culinary combination is basil with various hard or soft cheeses, such as mozzarella or chevre. Simply pinch off some leaves and place atop the cheese. Pair with a cracker or a piece of fresh bread, and you have a flavor explosion that’s ready to go!
Basil can be used fresh or dried. It can even be frozen and kept in the freezer for up to six months to be used whenever the need arises.
Just keep in mind that if frozen, basil will turn brown and will have a mushier texture when it’s defrosted. I prefer to freeze whole leaves in oil, or whizz up a few cups of herbs with some water and a shot of lemon juice in the blender before freezing in ice cube trays for individually portioned herb cubes.
Despite the color change, freezing is the best way to retain the flavor of this herb if you need to store it. Premade pesto freezes well, and texture isn’t an issue if you plan to toss your herbs into a sauce, soup, or stew.
For best results, wait to pick basil until you’re ready to use it. Place it in a glass of water on the counter for short-term storage rather than in the refrigerator.
Love homemade pesto? .
For a hearty meal, make a big pot of summer garden chicken stew from The Domestic Dietitian. Or, if you’re in the mood for lighter fare, these sesame and lime roasted shrimp summer rolls with mango and avocado from Feast in Thyme are not to be missed.
Product photos via South Slope Garden Supply, Nature Hills Nursery, True Leaf Market, and Neptune’s Harvest. Uncredited photos: . With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.
About Leslie M.G.
Leslie M.G. is a lifelong lover of all things natural. She lives in rural southern Vermont with her wife, two dogs named Charlie and Ruby, and one sneaky little cat named Max. She is a grower, a farmer, a forager, and a writer who loves to combine all of these things to eke out a life in her little corner of the world. When the growing season comes to New England, her favorite thing to do is put on her overalls and head out to the garden, where she can plunge her hands into the rocky and fertile Vermont soil and get dirty. Her second-favorite thing to do? Pluck juicy ripe tomatoes from the vine and gobble them up, one by one.
Basil – Purple Ruffles is a dark red leaf variety with a similar flavor as
Sweet Basil but with a touch more of a cinnamon taste. It grows the similar to Sweet Basil and can be used
interchangeably. Purple Basil also makes a wonderful garnish or coloring for herb vinegars.
Thai Basil has a strong licorice flavor, gorgeous purplish stems, and a cluster of flowers that are extremely fragrant. Use Thai Basil in any kind of Thai cooking or stir-fry. To use Basil in cooking, add fresh leaves to anything and everything; there are no rules at all when it comes to basil.
Most Basil Plants Are Annuals
Most Basil plants are annuals which means that the plants produce leaves, then they will flower, and then generally are done with their life cycle although a few more leaves will still grow through the flowering process.
From start to finish, this cycle takes about 3-4 months, depending on your local climate. Basil plants can grow to 1-2 feet tall and over 3 feet around. Outdoors, basil plants prefer temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees. Anything above or below those temperatures cause the plants to stop growing leaves, they will flower profusely (in the case of above 90 degrees temperatures), and eventually die. Using mulch can help insulate the soil from the heat of the day and improves their longevity. Shop for Basil plants
Growing Sweet Basils
To grow Sweet Basils, daytime temperatures must be warm, but not too warm (around 75 to 90 degrees during the day), and the plants must get at least three to four hours of sunlight a day. Sweet Basils can be grown easily with filtered light (such as under a tree or next to a bright window indoors).
If it gets too hot, or too dry, or if the roots become pot bound, (or over crowded), the plant will begin its flowering process, which signals the end of its life. Once flowers are covering most of the plant, Basil rarely produces any more tasty leaves.
It is important to keep the soil moist and somewhat cool and to plant the Basil in a large pot; and to pinch off the flowers that begin to form as frequently as you can. Under perfect conditions, Basil plants can grow for up to 6 months in the ground, and up to four months in a pot.
To harvest Basil, always cut the branches or tops of the Basil off of the stems, only about a third of the way down, at an intersection of new leaves. Harvesting in this manner prompts the plant to start growing its tiny new leaves into branches of more leaves.
Pulling leaves off the stem without cutting the branch back stunts its growth. Your plant will begin flowering and you will get no new leaf growth. Once your plants start flowering, if they are left untrimmed, they will make seeds from the flowers and die soon after.
So, even if you are not ready to make pesto, prune your plants regularly, (you can store the leaves in the refrigerator for about a week or so, wrapped in a moist paper towel or chopped up with little olive oil over them), and your plants will be healthier and happier.
What’s Eating My Basils?
It is likely caterpillars and may possibly be grasshoppers or even snails or slugs. The easiest way to get rid of the caterpillars is by looking for them and removing them by hand. Look under all the leaves and see if you find any droppings they have left behind. If so, then it is definitely caterpillars eating your plants.
If you find no “evidence” of caterpillars, then could also be grasshoppers, which are generally easy to see and when you disturb the plant, they jump up. Slugs and snails come out only at night so you will rarely see them yourself although their trails can be seen sometimes in the sunlight.
A natural method of preventing them is to make a circle barrier of crushed eggshells around the soil at the base of the plant and that should stop them from climbing up the stalks. We also recommend a product called “Sluggo” as a great way to keep slugs and snails from devouring your plants.
How Can I Keep Potted Herbs From the Supermarket Alive Longer?
Throughout the year, it’s not uncommon to find potted herbs for sale at the supermarket. These often draw the attention of those who enjoy cooking with fresh culinary herbs, myself included. Anyone who has purchased a live basil plant in the produce department has probably experienced the disappointment of their plant failing after just a few short weeks. Hopes of having fresh basil on hand for many weeks or months quickly evaporate. So what went wrong? It may seem to make sense to purchase live plants since fresh herbs are expensive and must be used within a few days. The catch is that most herbs have specific growing requirements which may necessitate special care.
How To Water Your Potted Herbs
Overwatering is undoubtedly the number one reason most herbs don’t last long. When potting soil remains saturated for extended periods of time, plants begin to suffer. Leaves may begin to yellow and drop, or the entire plant may wilt. Although wilting is often regarded as a drought indicator, it can also be a symptom of root damage from excess soil water. Thus, it is essential to feel the soil with your fingers for dampness before watering and only watering when the top inch of soil is dry. And, don’t forget about proper drainage. Water should be allowed to flow freely from the bottom of pots, and herbs should never be left sitting in standing water for long. If plants come sleeved in plastic, remove it before watering, and if saucers are used beneath plants to collect drips, empty them quickly.
Humidity Requirements For Your Potted Herbs
Herbs also require a fair amount of humidity in order to thrive, something that most homes lack in the winter months. A humid environment can be created with a humidifier, by spraying plants periodically with a misting bottle, or by filling a pan with moist pebbles and placing the herb container on top, making sure that the bottom of the pot is not submerged in water. Grouping plants close together will also increase humidity, but it can limit air circulation and encourage disease development. A fan placed nearby can mitigate this issue.
Providing Proper Light For Your Potted Herbs
Light is also incredibly important, because most herbs need a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight a day. An unobstructed south facing window may provide enough light, but if you don’t have one of those, consider purchasing a full spectrum grow light and placing your plants beneath it for 14 to 16 hours a day. You’ll know if your herbs aren’t getting enough light if their stems become thin and spindly. Basil, parsley, cilantro, chives, and oregano require a high amount of direct light to grow properly, while mint, bay, and rosemary can handle indirect light.
Minimum Temperature Needs For Your Potted Herbs
Most herbs need a warmth in order to grow. Keep them in rooms that are at least 65-75°F during the day, and no less than 55-60°F at night. Even though many herbs can survive at lower temperatures, they are unlikely to produce much growth under those conditions. Some tender herbs will fail entirely if they are exposed to temperatures lower than 50°F for an extended period of time, such as basil.
How Far Apart To Space Your Potted Herbs
In addition, supermarket herbs are often planted too densely. A small pot that is only large enough to support one healthy herb may be packed with a dozen or more. Though this may give the pot a nice full look when purchased, this is not a recipe for long-term success. If you hope to keep your herbs growing throughout the winter, you’ll either need to thin the plants or divide and transplant them into separate containers. Thinning the plants can become a part of harvesting. Avoid disturbing the roots of other plants by snipping stems at the base with scissors. Once you’re down to only a couple of individual plants, harvest herbs only when they reach a height of six inches and remove no more than a third of the plant at a time.
Growing herbs indoors is not without challenges, but it can be rewarding to have fresh herbs available year-round. Once the danger of frost has passed in the spring, herbs can be planted outside in the garden or moved into larger containers.
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If you grow nothing else, you should grow basil. After all, nothing tastes quite as delicious as a homemade pesto — and buying those individual packs of basil leaves to make it sure can add up in cost. You can even grow inside year round.
Sweet basil, the most common variety with a subtle anise flavor, is a busy annual that grows 1 to 2 feet high with glossy leaves and spikes of white flowers. Many cultivars are available with different nuances of taste, size, and appearance, including cultivars with cinnamon, clove, lemon, and lime overtones, as well as purple-leaved types such as Dark Opal and Red Rubin.
One of the most popular herbs in the garden, basil adds fine flavor to tomato dishes, salads, and pesto. Here’s everything you need to know to grow your own basil.
Start indoors in individual pots, plant seeds outdoors when frosts are over and the ground is warm, or buy bedding plants. If you start plants indoors, heating cables are helpful, since this is a tropical plant that doesn’t take kindly to cold. Plant in full sun, in well-drained soil enriched with compost, aged manure, or other organic materials.
Space large-leaved cultivars, such as Lettuce Leaf, 1½ feet apart and small-leaved types such as Spicy Globe 1 foot apart. Basil needs ample water. Mulch your basil plants to retain moisture after the soil has warmed. Pinch plants frequently to encourage bushy growth, and pick off flower heads regularly so plants put their energy into foliage production.
Grow a few basil plants in containers so you can bring them indoors before fall frost. Or make a second sowing outdoors in June in order to have small plants to pot up and bring indoors for winter. As frost nears, you can also cut off some end shoots of the plants in the garden and root them in water, to be potted later.
Basil can be subject to various fungal diseases, including Fusarium wilt, gray mold, and black spot, as well as damping-off in seedlings. Avoid these problems by waiting to plant outside until the soil has warmed and by not overcrowding plants. Japanese beetles may skeletonize plant leaves; control pests by hand picking.
Begin using the leaves as soon as the plant is large enough to spare some. Collect from the tops of the branches, cutting off several inches. Handle basil delicately so as not to bruise and blacken the leaves.
You can air-dry basil in small, loose bunches, but it keeps most flavorfully when frozen. To freeze basil, puree washed leaves in a blender or food processor, adding water as needed to make a thick but pourable puree. Pour the puree into ice-cube trays and freeze, then pop them out and store them in labeled freezer bags to use as needed in sauces, soups, and pesto.
Pesto (a creamy mixture of pureed basil, garlic, grated cheese, and olive oil) will keep for a long time in the refrigerator with a layer of olive oil on top.
Cooking with Basil
This widely used herb enhances the flavor of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. It is great in spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and ratatouille. It’s also excellent for fish or meat dishes, combining well with lemon thyme, parsley, chives, or garlic. Try it in stir-fries or in vegetable casserole dishes.
Fresh basil leaves are delicious in salads. Try the lemon-and lime-scented cultivars in fresh fruit salads and compotes. Basil is also a staple ingredient in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine; cultivars such as Siam Queen give the most authentic flavor to these dishes. Basil vinegars are good for salad dressings; those made with purple basils are colorful as well as tasty.