Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
About this Herb
Basil is a one of the most popular herbs gardeners grow because of its many uses in the kitchen, either fresh or dried. A tender annual in our region, basil can be a short-lived perennial in naturally hot and humid regions, like Asia where it originated. There are a number of different leaf shapes, sizes and colors to plant including Italian, Greek and frilly-leaved Purple.
How to Grow Basil
Basil is an easy-to-grow and adaptable herb. It can be planted from seeds or transplants, in vegetable or flower beds and in containers. The aromatic leaves grow on plants that can reach 18 or more inches tall.
Select a sunny to partial shady spot to grow basil, because in our region it does well with morning sun and afternoon shade. Full sun at our altitude can burn the tender leaves. Protect from areas with strong winds.
Amend the soil with compost to create a rich well-drained soil that can hold some moisture. As an alternative, plant in containers filled with potting soil. A granular slow-release fertilizer mixed into the soil will give container plants a healthy start.
Plant basil after the danger of frost has passed and night-time temperatures are a reliable 55 degrees. Basil is one of the easiest herbs to start from seeds or buy and plant transplants.
Sow seeds according to package instructions, typically ¼ inch deep and about 12 inches apart. Seeds will sprout in about 8-10 days.
If planting basil plants, dig a hole as deep as the container, remove from the pot, place in the planting hole and firm soil around it.
Basil is easy to maintain by making sure plants don’t wilt from dry soil. Keep up with fertilizing with a water soluble fertilizer every few weeks throughout the summer.
The plant will grow and flower on tall spikes. To make the most of the basil plant, pinch off the seed pods before they form flowers to keep the plant compact. Another method is to trim back the entire plant to about 6 inches and it will regrow.
(Be sure to use the clippings to top salads, make pesto or mix into scrambled eggs.)
Basil planted from seeds will have leaves ready to pick or snip from the plant about six weeks after planting. Transplanted basil will be ready as soon as the leaves are large enough for using in recipes.
Basil will easily sprout roots if a cutting is placed in water. This method helps stretch out the basil harvest. Another way to extend the life of basil is to harvest it fresh, let it dry indoors and store in a tightly covered jar.
How to use Basil in the Kitchen
The flavor of recipes will change depending on the type of fresh basil. Large-leafed Italian sweet basil is a favorite for all kinds of tomato dishes, pasta recipes and in fresh green or Caprese salads. Purple basil makes a beautiful garnish or can be used to flavor vinegar and liqueurs.
Companion Plants for Basil
Plant basil with these companions:
- Most vegetables, especially lettuce and tomatoes
- Most herbs, except rue
Materials for Basil Success
- High-quality compost
- Potting soil
- Granular slow-release fertilizer
- Water soluble fertilizer
- Assorted varieties of basil seeds or transplants