Basil is a tender annual herb that is easy to grow indoors on a sunny windowsill, outside in the garden, or in containers on your patio. Learn how to grow basil with these tips.
Basil is an annual herb that grows as an attractive bushy plant. This herb not only adds lots of flavor to recipes, but also makes an ideal companion plant for many garden vegetables. Use these tips for growing basil and get ready for a fragrant and colorful harvest of this wonderful culinary herb.
Common Types of Basil to Consider Growing
Basil is an interesting plant and has many different flavor profiles that range from sweet to spicy. These are a few of the most common types of basil:
Italian Genovese Basil is one of the most popular basils for culinary use. It is also called “Sweet Basil” as it has a sweet and delicate flavor that blends well with tomato dishes as well as pesto. Genovese basil grows in an attractive, bushy, upright plant about 18-inches tall and 16-inches wide. The foliage is broad, smooth, and shiny with an intense flavor. Purchase Italian Genovese Basil seeds.
Cinnamon Basil is an attractive garden plant, producing reddish-purple stems and stalks with pink flowers. The spicy cinnamon essence works well in desserts and Asian recipes. Cinnamon basil grows bushy, upright, tall stems reaching 30-inches high and 18-inches wide. The leaves are dark green, slightly tapered at the tip, and have a cinnamon fragrance and flavor. Buy Cinnamon Basil seeds.
Purple Basil is a striking deep purple plant that is not only flavorful, but adds a beautiful contrast of color in the garden. There are numerous varieties of purple basil. Purple Ruffles has dark purple leaves that are slightly ruffled at the edges, and Italian Violetto features purple stems and deep red-purple glossy leaves similar to Genovese basil.
Red Rubin Basil is a compact size plant with redish-purple foliage that has an intense, spicy flavor. Depending on the variety, purple basil grows up to 24 inches high and bushes out to about 24-inches wide. The foliage has a bold flavor with a slightly anise or clove-like essence. Purchase Red Rubin Basil seeds.
Spicy Globe Basil has all the flavor of Genovese basil but grows in a compact bushy mound to about 8-inches. Its foliage is small, thin, and strongly scented. The plant is ideal for growing in containers indoors.
Lemon Basil produces the flavor and aroma of lemon and pares well with fish and poultry dishes, beverages, and desserts. Purchase Lemon Basil seeds.
Lime basil has a tangy lime flavor and is a great companion to lemon basil. Use for sauces, beverages, and desserts.
Holy basil has a sweet-spicy flavor and musky scent. It’s bitter when eaten raw but is perfect for use in Indian recipes.
African blue basil is a tall stately plant that can be used in cut flower arrangements or for enhancing the flavor of recipes. The scent and flavor of this type of basil is a mixture of pepper, mint, camphor, and cloves.
How to Grow Basil
Grow basil in an area that receives at least 6 hour of sunlight per day. Basil prefers well-drained loamy soil rich in organic matter. Keep soil evenly moist making sure water reaches the roots. Basil is extremely sensitive to frost, so wait to transplant to the garden until all danger of frost is past.
Basil loves the summer heat and is extremely frost tender. It should only be planted outdoors when there is no danger of frost. Start basil from seeds indoors or try rooting cutting in water for an early harvest.
How to Start Basil from Seed
Basil can be started from seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last predicted frost date or planted directly into garden soil in the spring after all danger of frost has passed.
To start basil seeds indoors, use soil blocks or fill seedling containers with good quality potting soil. Plant a pinch of seeds 1/4-inch deep in the center. Lightly cover with potting soil and moisten with warm water from a spray bottle. Place in a warm location and keep soil moist. Seeds will germinate in 7-10 days.
Keep basil indoors until all danger of frost is past and nighttime temperatures have warmed to at least 55˚F. Begin to harden off seedling by placing the seedlings outdoors in a sheltered location for 1-2 weeks. Plant in a larger container or in the garden after the hardening off stage after all danger of frost is past.
When direct sowing seeds in the garden, turn soil and work in 3-inches of compost. Scatter basil seeds on top of soil, cover with 1/4 of potting soil and water. Thin the plants after germination to about 12-18 inches apart.
How to Propagate Basil from Cuttings
Snip off a 4-inch stem of the basil plant, remove leaves near the cut portion, and place in a clear glass of water. Place the glass in a sunny window and change water every 3 days. When roots have grown to 2-inches, transplant into a container or outdoors in the garden. Water frequently until the plant becomes established and begins to sprout new foliage. Purple basil takes a little longer to grow roots than green basil.
Growing Basil in Containers
Basil is an attractive and fragrant herb plant that grows well in containers. Use good quality potting soil and place the container in full sun. Keep soil moist and feed basil once in spring and again in mid-summer with your favorite type of all-purpose plant food, such as fish emulsion.
Grow Basil Indoors
Basil grows best in a warm area away from drafts that receives at least 6 hours of sun each day. Grow basil in 10-12 inch containers filled with an all-purpose soilless potting mix. Basil prefers an evenly moist, but not wet soil. Water once or twice a week when the soil surface feels dry.
Expect your indoor basil plants to produce for several weeks before the stems get woody. To ensure a steady supply of basil, plant a new batch of seeds every few weeks, or root cuttings in water and pot up when the roots develop.
Basil as a Companion Plant
Tomatoes and basil make ideal companion plants and each will enhance the flavor of the other. Eggplant, potatoes, and bell peppers will also benefit from having basil planted near them in the garden. If allowed to flower, basil attracts butterflies to your garden for pollination and repels many harmful garden pests.
How to Harvest Basil
Harvest any large leaves that have two smaller leaf nodes growing under them by pinching or snipping them off the plant. Harvest basil in the morning before the sun hits the plant for best flavor. Keep the plant producing by pinching off the flower heads as they form.
How to Keep a Basil Plant from Flowering
Prevent basil from producing unwanted flowers by pinching off the flower buds. Regular harvesting and pruning usually keep flower buds from developing but if you notice some buds, just pinch them off.
Pruning basil promotes new growth and for each stem pruned off the plant will grow two new stems. Make the pruning cut where the base of a large leaf joins the stem.
Pests and Diseases that Affect Basil Plants
Japanese beetles, slugs, aphids, and leafhoppers are the typical pests that bother basil. Handpick the larger pests off of plant and blast with water from a water hose to remove smaller pests.
Create a circle of diatomaceous earth around each basil plant to prevent pests from returning.
Downy mildew, black leaf spot, fusarium wilt, and root rot are the common diseases of basil usually caused by too much moisture. No treatment will restore the basil plant back to health after infected. Pull the plants, place in the trash so as not to spread spores, and start new basil seeds in a clean area.
How to Preserve Basil
Unlike most herbs, basil doesn’t have much flavor when dried. My favorite way to preserve basil is to chop, combine with olive oil, and freeze it flat in small zipper bags. The oil helps prevent the basil from browning and freezing it flat makes it easy to snap off pieces as needed for cooking.
Simply add basil leaves to the bowl of food processor. Turn it on and drizzle in extra virgin olive oil and blend until the basil is chopped and coated evenly in oil. Place the basil into quart-sized freezer bags, squeeze out the air and flatten out evenly, label and freeze.
For pesto, simply thaw out the basil base briefly, and then blend in a food processor with garlic, Parmesan cheese, walnuts or pine nuts, salt and pepper, and extra olive oil if needed.
Basil is an attractive and versatile herb both in the garden and in the kitchen. I hope these tips for growing, harvesting, and preserving basil help you to enjoy a delicious and colorful harvest of this amazing culinary herb.