Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a popular aromatic herb widely used in culinary dishes and revered for its medicinal properties. In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about planting, growing, harvesting, and storing basil to enjoy its fresh, vibrant flavour all year long.
|Days to Grow||60-80 days (from seed to harvest)|
|Square Foot Garden Spacing||1 plant per square foot|
|Gardening Effort||Low to Moderate|
|When to Plant||6-8 weeks before last frost (indoors) or after the last frost (outdoors)|
|Yield||Variable depends on the variety and plant care|
|Frost Tolerance||Not frost-tolerant|
|Hours of Light Needed||6-8 hours of direct sunlight|
|Soil Conditions||Well-draining, fertile, pH 6.0-7.0|
|Days to Maturity||60-80 days|
Selecting the Right Basil Variety
There are numerous basil varieties to choose from, each offering unique flavours and characteristics. Some popular options include:
- Sweet basil: The most common variety, with a sweet, mild flavour perfect for Italian dishes.
- Thai basil: With a robust and anise-like flavour, it’s ideal for Asian cuisine.
- Lemon basil: A citrusy, fragrant variety that adds a zesty twist to dishes.
- Purple basil is a beautiful addition to your garden and a hint of spiciness to your meals.
Planting Basil: From Seed to Seedling
To grow basil successfully, follow these steps:
- Choose the right time: Basil thrives in warm temperatures, so start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost or plant directly outdoors when nighttime temperatures consistently stay above 50°F (10°C).
- Prepare the soil: Basil prefers well-draining, fertile soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Amend your garden bed with compost or aged manure to improve its nutrient content and structure.
- Sow the seeds: Plant basil seeds ¼ inch deep and 10-12 inches apart, then lightly cover with soil. Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged.
- Provide ample sunlight: Ensure your basil seedlings receive at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Supplement with artificial light if needed.
- Transplant seedlings: Once your basil seedlings have 2-4 sets of true leaves and the risk of frost has passed, transplant them outdoors, maintaining the 10-12 inch spacing.
Caring for Your Growing Basil Plants
Proper care is crucial for strong, healthy basil plants. Follow these tips:
- Water consistently: Basil requires evenly moist soil. Water deeply and consistently, allowing the top inch of soil to dry out between watering.
- Fertilize sparingly: Basil benefits from light feeding. Apply a balanced, organic liquid fertilizer every 4-6 weeks during the growing season.
- Prune regularly: Encourage bushier growth and prevent flowering by pinching off the tips of the main stem and side branches when they reach 6-8 inches tall. Remove any flower buds that form.
- Combat pests and diseases: Basil is susceptible to pests like aphids and diseases like downy mildew. Inspect plants regularly and employ organic control methods, such as insecticidal soap, if necessary.
Harvesting Basil for Maximum Flavor and Yield
To enjoy the best flavour and yield from your basil plants, follow these harvesting tips:
- Harvest in the morning: Basil’s essential oils are at their peak in the cool morning hours, resulting in the most flavorful leaves.
- Pick leaves regularly: Regularly harvesting leaves encourages new growth. Pick from the top of the plant, leaving at least two sets of leaves below the cut.
- Avoid over-harvesting: Never remove more than one-third of a plant at once, as this can weaken it and reduce future yields.
Storing Basil for Long-lasting Freshness
Preserve your basil’s freshness with these effective storage methods:
Refrigerate fresh basil:
Place basil leaves in a slightly damp paper towel and store them in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Freeze basil leaves: Arrange clean, dry basil leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze them. Once frozen, transfer the leaves to a freezer-safe container or bag for long-term storage. Alternatively, chop basil leaves and mix them with a small amount of water or olive oil, then freeze the mixture in ice cube trays.
Dry basil: Hang small bunches of basil upside-down in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated area until the leaves are completely dry. Alternatively, use a food dehydrator or an oven set to the lowest temperature. Once dry, crumble the leaves and store them in an airtight container away from direct sunlight.
Make basil-infused oil: Combine fresh basil leaves with high-quality olive oil in a glass jar, ensuring the leaves are fully submerged. Seal the jar and store it in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks, shaking it occasionally. After the infusion period, strain the oil and discard the leaves. Store the infused oil in a clean, airtight container.
Preserve in vinegar: Add fresh basil leaves to a jar of white wine or apple cider vinegar and let the mixture sit for 2-4 weeks. Strain the vinegar, then store it in a clean bottle for use in salad dressings, marinades, and other recipes.
Growing Basil Year-round Indoors
To enjoy fresh basil all year round, consider growing it indoors. Follow these steps to cultivate basil in your home successfully:
- Select a suitable container: Choose a pot with drainage holes at least 8 inches deep and wide to accommodate the basil’s root system.
- Use high-quality potting mix: Fill the container with a well-draining, nutrient-rich potting mix specifically designed for growing herbs.
- Plant seeds or transplant seedlings: Sow basil seeds ¼ inch deep or transplant established seedlings into the prepared container, ensuring proper spacing.
- Ensure proper lighting: Basil requires 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Place your container in a south-facing window or supplement with artificial lighting if natural sunlight is insufficient.
- Monitor temperature and humidity: Indoor basil thrives between 65-75°F (18-24°C) and moderate humidity. If needed, use a humidifier or mist the leaves regularly to maintain ideal conditions.
- Water and fertilize appropriately: Keep the potting mix moist but not waterlogged, and apply a balanced, liquid fertilizer every 4-6 weeks.
By following these steps and caring for your indoor basil plants as you would for outdoor ones, you can enjoy the fresh, aromatic flavours of basil throughout the year.
In summary, planting, growing, harvesting, and storing basil can be a rewarding experience for novice and experienced gardeners. With proper care and attention, you can enjoy the exceptional taste and aroma of this versatile herb in your dishes all year.
Seeds and planting
Links and Resources
(These are some of what I use)
These nursery bags
These Grow bags
mybackyard.ca Seeds Page
Get a Head Start on Spring: The Benefits of Starting Your Seeds Indoors
Saving Vegetable Seeds: A Comprehensive Guide to Gardening Success
myBackyard.ca Planting Guide
Pollock Tomatoes (North hardy Tomato variety)
Tomatoes (Useful information on starting tomatoes from seed)
When to start planting seeds
Germination testing your seeds
Looking for sources for seeds?
Chitting your way to more potatoes
So it's before the first frost; what can I plant?
Individual seed and plant information is available in the "Gardening Shortcut Links" above under "North Hardy Plants to grow". I have successfully grown all of these, and most I grow year to year.