Basil is quite easy to grow, in fact the hardest part of growing basil is choosing which variety to grow. There are hundreds of basil varieties all with their own fragrance and flavors. Basil is grown for it’s tender tasty leaves, which can be used raw in sandwiches and salads, or cooked in dishes such as the popular pasta with tomato basil sauce. Not many people know that you can use to flowers from the basil plant in the same way you would the leaves.
Basil is considered a tender annual for two reasons; frost will most definitely kill your basil, and once it flowers and sets seeds the plant will die shortly after. You can prevent your basil plant from dying simply by cutting off the flower buds before they open, and protecting it from frost.
You can grow basil out in the garden or in containers on the patio or in the house. There is an old wives tale that you should plant your basil along side of your tomato plants because they help each other grow. I don’t know if that is true, but they are good companion plants. Basil does not only need to be limited to the garden or inside in containers, the shorter purple varieties, like Spicy Globe, make excellent border plants in your landscaping or ornamental garden.
You can start your basil indoors before the last frost, or you can sow seeds directly in the garden after the last frost. Basil is also easy to propagate from stem cuttings.
You want a soil that is well draining with lots of organic matter and a pH range of 5.5 – 6.5. If you are growing in containers you can use a good potting mix, soilless potting mixes, perlite, vermiculite, or coco peat. Because basil seeds are so tiny it is easier to sprinkle the seeds down a straight line and thin the plants out once they’ve reached 2 – 3 inches tall. Thin the plants leaving the strongest plants to grow with 9 – 12 inches in between each plant.
Although basil grows best outdoors in full sun, it will grow well in a sunny window indoors and does okay under standard fluorescent lights.
Water basil regularly being careful not to overwater. Allowing the soil to completely dry between watering will be beneficial to your basil plants.
Leaf production will slow or completely stop on any stem that flowers, so it is important to pinch off any flower stems to keep the plant producing. Once you let the plant flower it will produce seed pods containing small black seeds that you can save and plant the following year. Pinching off leaves or stems will also help the keep the plant continue production, the plant responds to this by converting pairs of leaflets next to the topmost leaves into new stems.
As stated earlier basil is considered an annual plant, but it can be kept in production for many years by keeping it indoors through the cold seasons and preventing it from flowering. I have heard of people that have kept basil plants producing for almost ten years.
It is said that planting basil near tomatoes, peppers, oregano, asparagus, and petunias can help these plants repel or distract asparagus beetles, mosquitoes, thrips, and flies.
Many people believe planting chamomile or anise near basil will increase the essential oils of the basil.
Basil is known to attract bees and butterflies and has very aromatic foliage.