When it comes to herbs, basil is one of the most widely used and popular among 5-star chefs and home chefs alike. It’s a fragrant herb with a distinct taste and is used in dishes ranging from poultry and fish meals to authentic Italian pasta. Basil is simple to grow and versatile, growing well when planted directly in the ground or when planted in a container.
So, when should you plant basil? At the earliest, basil should be planted about 2 weeks to a month after the last frost of the season when the soil is between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (with soil temperatures near the warmer end of the spectrum being ideal). Alternatively, you can plant basil at any point during late spring or summer.
In the following sections, we’ll dive more into how to plant basil, cover which types of basil are commonly used for home growing and go over basic basil harvesting and care tips.
Basil Growing Guide
Here you’ll learn how to plant basil properly to ensure that you can enjoy the fruits of your labor all summer long! Once you’ve established your basil garden, you’ll come to find just how hardy these little herbs are.
Where to Plant Basil
Basil is a sun-loving plant and should receive 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. If you live in a particularly hot climate where summers are brutal, you may want to plant basil in a spot in your yard that receives sun in midmorning, shade midday, and additional sun in the evening.
Overdrying of the soil due to overexposure to drying temperatures can be detrimental to the health of growing basil plants.
Soil Conditions of Basil
Before you plant basil, it’s a good idea to add nutrients to the soil via organic compost or garden bed meal (blood meal or cottonwood meal) to the soil. This will ensure that you’ve replenished any lost nutrients from previous plantings and have given the soil top-notch nutrient density for the betterment of your to-be basil plants.
- If you add organic or homemade compost to the soil, make sure that all organic components have successfully been integrated, and there are no diseased aspects that may negatively impact the basil.
- If you add the proper nutrients to the soil before planting your basil, you will not have to add any additional fertilizer to the pot or garden bed after planting — especially since basil is harvest frequently.
Basil grows best in soil that is moist and well-drained. These herbs do love adequate amounts of water but do not do well in soil that gets muddied or pools easily. The soil should have a pH level between 6 and 7.
Depending on how much rain you’re getting and how intense the temperatures are during the summer, basil that is planted in a large bed or container may only need to be watered every 3 or 4 days.
However, if you notice that the soil becomes dry quickly, increase the number of times you water your basil plants. Basil prefers moist soil and may wilt if left too long in dried dirt.
Spacing Your Basil Plants
Basil plants do need room to grow and spread out, so if you plan on planting more than one, space each plant 12 to 18 inches apart. That way, they don’t overlap and begin competing for sunlight and room.
Growing Basil in Containers
If you plan on growing basil in pots, you’ll want to use quite a large container. While small pots may be adequate for smaller backyards or less deck space, they’re not so great for holding moisture on hot summer days — meaning you’ll have to water and babysit your basil more often, which wouldn’t be necessary if you use a large pot.
Unlike most garden produce, there isn’t necessarily a specific harvesting time for basil plants. Once the basil is mature, you can simply harvest as often as the plant is needed. You won’t run out of basil anytime soon, because the more you harvest, the more you encourage the basil to continue to fruit and remain full and lush.
Despite there being no definitive time for harvesting, you will need to harvest before the plant begins to seed. At this point, the basil leaves will have become bitter and will no longer add the desired taste to dishes.
Once your basil plant has reached about 8 inches tall, you can begin harvesting. Basil should be snipped directly above where two large leaves meet. Harvest evenly around the basil plant to ensure even regrowth.
Storing Basil After Harvesting
Generally, basil will only keep in the fridge for around 3 days before it begins to discolor. You can add the stem to a container with shallow water and set it out on the counter at room temperature to keep it longer.
If you plan on using fresh basil in your dishes, we recommend that you use the basil right off of the plant to avoid any wilting. Alternatively, you can dry the basil, preserve it in a vinegar mixture, or freeze the leaves for later use.
Varieties of Basil
As with any plant, there is quite a variety of basil to choose from, each with a distinct flavor, color, and culinary use.
Though not the most commonly used basil in the past, Lemon Basil has grown wildly popular in recent years. It has quite strong notes of lemon flavor, making it a wonderful selection for poultry or fish dishes, or when used in a lemony salad dressing.
Lemon Basil is long, narrow, oval leaves and is light green in color. It gives off a citrusy scent and, during late summer, will bloom white flowers with the same lemony smell.
The most popular variety of basil, Sweet Basil is the main basil type found in Italian dishes. Sweet Basil is great for pestos, traditional Italian pasta sauces, tomato soups, and other tomato dishes; and can also be dried to add flavoring to dishes. It’s medium green in color and has rounded cupped leaves.
Cinnamon Basil is incredibly fragrant and mildly flavored with warm, cinnamon aspects. Its small, serrated leaves look gorgeous against the deep purple blooms; it sprouts, making it a delicious and beautiful addition to any home garden.
Cinnamon Basil is best used in Asian dishes, added to grilled vegetables, or used as an alternative to dried, ground cinnamon in desserts. Add fresh Cinnamon Basil (chopped) to pumpkin pie filling or in a heavy cream topping.
Unlike the majority of basil varieties, Purple Basil is just that — purple in color. It has a somewhat clove taste to it and is best used in bottles of vinegar, dressings, and flavored oils. You can also use Purple Basil in tomato sauces, dishes, and pasta.
Tips for Rearing and Keeping Basil
In this section, we’ll give you a few tips to keep your Basil looking, growing, and tasting the best.
- Water regularly and in the morning. This will keep the soil moist, preventing overdrying and excess evaporation from the sun. Watering when the sun is at its hottest is a surefire way to dry out your basil.
- Add mulch around the basil if you’re experiencing a heatwave or live in a particularly arid climate. This will lock in moisture.
- Remove any flowers. Removing the flowers as they bloom will prevent the basil leaves from becoming sour. If you allow the flowers to bloom, the basil will stop reproducing leaves, and the existing leaves will lose the flavor you were growing them for.
The trick to keeping basil is the moist (yet well-drained) soil, frequent harvesting, adequate sun exposure, and preventing flower growth. Just as long as you keep these things in mind, your basil garden should thrive with no problems.