Originally from India, basil is now grown in many regions of the world — in ornamental landscapes, kitchen gardens, and window boxes. One of the most popular herbs and a favorite seasoning for Italian and French cuisine, basil enhances the flavors of meat, poultry, salads, and soups. In this post, I will teach you how to grow, harvest & preserve basil.
Basil goes extremely well with pasta, rice, tomato, zucchini, and eggplant. The famous fresh basil pesto highlights the flavor of crushed fresh basil in a mixture of garlic, oil, pine nuts, and cheeses.
If you have ever cooked Italian food, you are probably familiar with the wonderful scent of basil. Whether it is fresh or dried, basil is a multipurpose herb that is easy to grow. Most people are more familiar with sweet basil than any other variety.
It’s such an easy plant to grow that you will kick yourself for not trying it. It is an herb that needs 6-8 hours of sunlight each day and this amount of sun can usually be found on a windowsill. Basil grows well when potted indoors but has a very pungent smell as it flowers. I like to grow mine on my deck for easy access.
New and old favorite varieties of basil are useful to gardeners and cooks for very different reasons, so it is important to know what you need from a basil plant before you buy. With so many new varieties being introduced all the time though, it is harder than ever to choose the perfect basil plant for cooking, aroma, or size.
Red Rubin is one of my favorite varieties of basil to grow because it looks beautiful enough to fit right into your flower garden and packs a punch in the kitchen. This herb is a deep purple color that is a little more compact than other varieties so it grows well along borders and in beds, where tidiness can be an issue.
I find it interesting that most purple basils get a bad rap because I have never had a problem growing or harvesting them– and cannot complain about their taste either. For the best results, plant basil when you plant your tomatoes, keeping them on the same watering schedule as well. It is also important to gather Red Rubin basil often as the growing season for the plant is short and new growth will be encouraged.
Lemon basil is the first herb plant I ever had, so I am very loyal to the herb and use it all the time. Lemon basil grows fast and full, filling in any bare spots you have in your garden or any pot that you plant it in.
If you are looking for aromatic varieties, lemon basil is probably the most pungent variety that I have had in my own garden. If it is flowering basil that you are looking for, lemon basil does flower late in the season, and even though they are not huge blooms they look beautiful planted along a high garden border. Add the smell and flowers to the fact that lemon basil looks and tastes as good as it smells and you have one of the most versatile basil varieties for your garden.
A relatively new basil variety, Summerlong, is quickly becoming a favorite because of its compact size, making it able to work in more gardens and container gardens, and the exceptionally long growing season it experiences. Even with its smaller size, Summerlong produces almost twice as much usable basil as more traditional varieties.
I highly recommend this variety for anyone who has a very limited amount of space in their garden or for container gardens. Also, any kitchen herb gardeners would get a lot of use out of this plant because the yield is really amazing and the fact that it does not flower until late September guarantees that you will be able to get as much out of it as you can.
How To Grow Basil
The best way to grow basil is to clear a small square of earth outdoors. Outside your backdoor is a great place because you can smell the scent of basil every time you brush by the leafy stems. You should clear the earth, turn, and prepare the soil as you would for any planting, and remove any grass and weeds that are already growing. You will want to wait until about 2 weeks after the last spring frost before doing this.
Completely removing the grass by shoveling under it and lifting it up will help to prevent weeds from taking over your garden later on. The best soil pH for growing basil is 6.0-8.0. If you are concerned about the pH of your soil, you can take a sample to your local agricultural extension service for testing. Or you can just give it a shot without testing. If your soil has the wrong acidity level, you have not lost much.
To sow the seeds, you should level the soil and then draw shallow trenches with your finger or a stick. The trench should be about a quarter of an inch deep. Be sure to sow the seeds after your weatherman has predicted the last spring frost. Place the seeds in the trench about 2 inches apart, and cover them with about one-half inch of soil, lightly. The seeds should germinate in about 7 days.
How Long Does Basil Take To Grow
You can also start growing your seeds inside and then move them outdoor when the temperature permits. To grow basil indoors from seeds, you should keep in mind they take 6-8 weeks to grow from seed. They will take about 7 to 14 days to germinate.
When the plants are about 4 inches tall, you should thin the seedlings by removing the extras, leaving a space of 6 inches between plants. Basil tends to be a bushy plant so it needs room to grow on the sides. You can transplant the extra seedlings to other garden spots, or bring a small planting indoors at this time.
You can also purchase basil starts in home depot, lowes, or any local greenhouse. I like to grow mine from basil starts. Just replant your start into your garden 7-10 days past your last frost date to ensure they have enough warmth to thrive. Basil likes to grow in summer temperatures.
How Much Water Does Basil Need
Basil likes to stay fairly moist. They require about 1 inch of water per week. Water deeply at least once a week to ensure the roots are staying nice and moist. If you are growing your basil in a pot, it will require a bit more water. You will want to water 2-3 times per week in that case. Pay attention to your soil, if it is looking too dry and your leaves are looking a bit sad, water.
How To Use Basil
As the plant begins to grow leaves, you can snip the leaves and use them in your culinary masterpieces. Frequent clippings will encourage growth. Clippings can be used freshly chopped, dried, or frozen. One of the best ways to preserve fresh basil is to press it into an ice tray, fill the trays with water, and freeze it. After the water has formed ice cubes, you can crack the ice cubes and place them in a zippered bag in the freezer. You can then drop them in stews, and soups, and use them in creative other ways. We can not forget about pizza! Basil is the perfect addition to any pizza pie.
Crushing fresh basil leaves is regarded as the best way to season dishes with this herb. You can store fresh leaves in plastic bags inside the refrigerator, and also freeze crushed or pureed leaves in ice cubes that you can drop into your soups and dishes as a flavoring.
Basil is fantastic when used in sauces, soups, tomato dishes, and fish. It also goes well with chicken and can be used as a garnish for salads. And don’t forget about pesto. There is nothing better than freshly-made pesto. It’s much better than the jarred stuff that you can buy from your grocer.
How To Harvest Basil
Harvesting Basil is very easy. You can even harvest your basil in such a way to ensure that it continues to grow more basil. You will want to harvest your basil from the top in order for it to keep growing. Your basil plant consists of groups of leaves. Once your plant is between 6-8 inches tall, you will likely have 3-4 groups of leaves. You will want to cut your basil right above one of these groupings of leaves. You can remove up to half of the height of your basil plant, just. be sure to leave at least one group of leaves at the bottom. I like to leave 2 sets of leaves and clip mine right above the second set of leaves. By cutting just above a set of leaves, you are ensuring that your basil plant will continue to grow up and outward.
If you do not want to do a big harvest, you can just pick leaves as needed. Just make sure you are harvesting from the top leaves.
How To Preserve Basil
Dried or frozen basil leaves are an alternative, though not as exquisite as fresh ones. Air-dry basil stems by hanging them upside down in a dry and well-ventilated room. You can also use a herb drying rack that will make it a lot easier to dry. Store dried basil in a dark, sealed container, at room temperature to preserve its flavor. Be sure to use them within a year’s time.
You can also freeze basil in cube size portions. I blend mine in the blender with a little olive oil to help the basil leaves to free nicely in little cubes. Do not blend the leaves as much as you would if making Pesto, just enough to make them fit into ice cube trays for easier freezing. Once your basil cubes are frozen, remove them and place them in a freezer-safe bag or container in the freezer. Use those cubes for homemade sauce or many other delicious dishes.
Check out my video on how to harvest & how to preserve basil.
Most of all have fun growing your own homegrown basil. It is one of the easiest herbs to grow and I find it is the one I have the most use for.