Growing Crops: Basil

Basil is an annual herb that is widely used in Mediterranean cuisine – you would be hard-pressed to find a pasta sauce that doesn’t have basil in it. Not to mention it is one of the staple ingredients in pesto (the others being garlic, olive oil, and pinons or walnuts).

There are a number of basil varieties you can grow, including Broadleaf, Cinnamon, Dark Opal, Genovese, Greek Mini, Green Ruffles, Lemon, Licorice, Lime, Mammoth, Napoletano, Piccolo/Fine Green, Purple Petra, Purple Ruffles, Spicy Globe, and Thai.

Nature Hills Nursery offers a number of these varieties for purchase; click on their banner at the top of the page to see your choices. If you’re still not sure which kind you’d like to grow, try this Dolce Vita packet below – it contains seeds for Cinnamon, Genovese, Lemon, Mammoth, and Purple Petra varieties:

Be sure to read Growing Herbs 101 in conjunction with this post.

Best Climate to Grow: The warmer and sunnier the better. Basil is not frost-hardy, nor does it thrive in overly cold, gray, or wet climates.

Light Requirements: Full sun, or under grow lights if you are sun-deprived.

Soil Requirements: Light soil that drains well, with a wide-ranging pH level from 5 through 8.

Feeding and Water Requirements: Avoid organic fertilizers that are heavy in nitrogen, as too much nitrogen will negatively affect the flavor. An application of compost or hydrolyzed fish during the summer is most likely all you will need for feeding purposes. The soil must be kept moist at all times, so drip irrigation and mulching are highly recommended.

When to Plant: If sowing directly into the garden, wait until the low temperature at night is at 50 degrees F in the Spring to avoid all chances of frost damage, as basil will not survive frost. If you are planting seeds indoors to be hardened off and transplanted later, start the seeds about 6 weeks prior to the last frost date in the Spring.

Planting Depth and Spacing: Plant seeds ½ inch deep and about 8 inches apart in rows that are 12 inches apart. If broadcasting seeds over a block of garden space, you will need to thin the seedlings to 8 inches apart all around.

Container Requirements: Basil will flourish in a container that is at least 3 inches deep and placed in a sunny window or a sunny area of the porch or deck. Take extra care to keep the soil moist and well-mulched, as container plants (particularly those in smaller containers) tend to dry out very quickly. Feed once or twice during the growing season with compost or hydrolyzed fish.

Harvesting and Storage: Basil will grow woody if it is not picked regularly, so make sure to harvest leaves frequently during the growing season, never allowing more than 4 pairs of leaves to form on a stem (it will flower when there are 6 pairs) and pinching off the flowers to keep it from bolting and turning bitter. The leaves are easily bruised, so using a pair of garden shears will help avoid trauma during harvesting. If you have a bumper crop of basil, you can always harvest some to use fresh, and some to dry and use in the future.

Harvesting Seeds: To harvest seeds, stop irrigating and harvesting the leaves, and let the basil flower. When the plants are dry, carefully remove the flowers into a small dish or paper bag. Shake the flowers to remove the seeds from them, and store the seeds in a cool, dry place until planting time next season.

Pests to Monitor: Aphids, Flea and Japanese Beetles, Slugs, and Snails. Visit our pest control beneficials, barriers, scare tactics, homemade organic pesticide, and commercial organic pesticide pages to see your options and choose your weapons.

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