If you ask gardeners about their favorite herb, basil is nearly always on the top of the list. Why? It’s easy to grow and adds a subtle but distinctive flavor to a number of foods, including meat dishes, soups, sauces, salads, pasta and even herb butter or basil vinegar.
Basil requires rich, fertile, well-drained soil and full sunlight. This Mediterranean herb doesn’t do well in temperatures below 60 F. (15 C.), and may be damaged below 50 F.(10 C.).
Dig or till the soil to a depth of at least 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm.), then work in a generous amount of compost or well-rotted manure before planting, along with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer.
Sow basil seeds directly in the garden after the soil has warmed and all danger of frost has passed. Cover the seeds with no more than ¼ inch (.5 cm.) of soil. Alternatively, plant seeds indoors three to four weeks before the last expected frost.
Tips on Caring for Basil
- Thin basil to a spacing of 3 to 4 inches (8-10 cm.) when the seedlings have two to three pairs of leaves, not counting the tiny seedling leaves. Continue to thin the plants as they grow. By the time the basil is mature, the plants should be spaced about 12 inches (30 cm.) apart.
- Pinch growing tips regularly to encourage healthy, bushy growth.
- Remove flower buds as soon as they form. Allowing flowers to remain on the plant will diminish the flavor.
- Water basil deeply every seven to 10 days. If you’re growing basil in containers, you’ll need to water more often – possibly every day if the weather is hot and dry.
- Provide a light application of balanced, general-purpose fertilizer once or twice during the growing season. If you’re growing in containers, use a water-soluble fertilizer diluted to half strength every three to four weeks.
- Remove weeds as soon as they appear by scraping the soil carefully with a hoe. Don’t allow weeds to remain because they will draw water and nutrients from the plant.
Harvest a few individual basil leaves from small plants as needed. Thereafter, harvest whole leaves and stems, using scissors or a knife to cut just above a set of leaves. You should see new growth emerge from the cut place in about a week.
Cut the plant to the ground at the end of the season.