Interested in growing herbs but are short on space or new to them? Start with a few basic but wonderful herbs and grow them in containers! To learn how, please consider our book, Herbs in the Bathtub. This book outlines and educates you on several basic culinary and wellness herbs, including how to grow them and use them. To learn more, click below:
An Herb Question
Recently, a reader posted this:
“HOW do you get Basil to GROW?? I buy the little basil plants at Harmons… but I eat it SO FAST, my poor plant can’t/WON’T ever grow back!? So, I bought FOUR plants… but they all look all twiggy and pathetic! :0( (It COULD be they’re not getting QUITE enough sun, as they are in my kitchen window, which doesn’t get sun till after 3pm…) Does basil grow well outside? Is it susceptible to bugs? Tell me what you KNOW, so I can actually grow enough to eat AND make pesto someday!! ”
Brilliant questions, Natalie, and I’m glad you asked them. Any time someone asks me about an herb it’s like they’ve asked me the golden question of “What can you tell me about your church?” I can run on this subject for, literally, hours so I’m going to make a concerted effort to stick to your questions. To begin, here’s a little general information about one of the best herb plants: basil.
Herb Plants: Basil
Here’s an excerpt about basil from our book, Herbs in the Bathtub:
“Beautiful Basil – Ocimum Basilicum – Once used in Indian courts to solemnize an oath. Basil is my all time favorite herb and I plant it everywhere because I think it’s lovely! There are so many yummy varieties for the kitchen. Try Thai, Genovese, Sweet Dani, Lime, Lettuce leaf, Cinnamon.
Site – Grows best in full sun in growing zones 8-10 – needs warm sun, protection from frost
Great indoor plant
Soil should be well drained and moist
Propagation – Best method is direct sow after danger of frost has passed. If starting indoors, be cautious with moisture as seedlings are prone to damping off. Germinates best at 70 degrees.
Can be used fresh, dried or frozen (brush with olive oil before freezing if drying leaf whole). Try it fresh in your next garden salad! As with most herbs, when using in the kitchen, tear up leaves – avoid cutting.”
Basil is one of my favorite all time herbs because, aside from a particular aversion to frost, it’s relatively easy to grow. It’s also beautiful anywhere in the garden. Throw it into your flower beds and it will add dimension, color and fragrance.
There are many varieties and they’re all tasty and gorgeous – for a few ideas, please click here. Try Genovese or Sweet Dani to begin with as they’re the flavors that will most likely be those you’re already familiar with. Unless you have the great privilege to have been raised eating Thai food, in which case, go for the Thai basil.
How to Grow Basil
You can start seeds outside once all danger of frost has past. You can start it in pots indoors pretty much any time you take the notion. Plan to put five to twenty plants in the ground in order to have some for pesto making to last you throughout the year.
Basil can be grown indoors but like all indoor plants it must be watered and fed regularly. It’s best to set the pot in a bowl of water with some compost tea every now and then. Terra cotta pots allow water to soak up from the root zone of the plants at the bottom of the pot. I like terra cotta pots for that reason. Well, that and I think they’re pretty.
I usually keep some solution of fish emulsion on hand to fertilize anything I have indoors in case I’m too lazy to make compost tea. My husband loves the smell. Kidding.
You want the soil to be damp but never soggy and let basil dry just a little between waterings once the plant has matured. Basil loves the sun so whether indoors or out, give it a full 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. Morning into afternoon sun is usually better than afternoon into evening.
Basil will be a reseeding annual in temperate zones (some place without harsh winters). It’s incredibly easy to save basil seed, though, if you’re not in an area where you can just expect it to pop back up in the spring.
To make garden plans and keep better track of things like re-seeding, I suggest you use a garden notebook. The one below is the one I use.
How to Choose Which Basil to Grow
Google images of basil to find varieties that look appealing. A picture won’t convey taste or smell, of course, but it can peak your interest.
You can also read seed catalog descriptions, although I hesitate to encourage people to crack open those enticing little volumes. I have an addiction problem when it comes to reading seed catalogs! And I’m so vulnerable to certain adjectives like “healthful”, “flavorful” and the worst one, “robust”. Gullible seed girl, that’s me.
Getting Basil Plants
Basil can be grown from seed for indoor use or outdoor transplanting.
You can also buy it from the nursery and there’s no shame in that. (Your secret will be safe with me.) Honestly, the only reason to start your own seed is:
- if you can’t get the variety you want at a local nursery
- you can’t get the plants you want at the time you want them – if you’re doing year round gardening, for example
To buy basil seed, try Seeds for Generations below:
One More Reason
Actually, there’s another reason to plant basil from seed and that’s the volume of plants you need. If you need a lot of one kind of plant, it can work out to be cheaper to start the seeds yourself.
Basil grows readily from seed as long as you can keep the soil warm enough inside. If you’re planting outside, the soil the soil should be about 70F/21C degrees for basil seeds to germinate. Keep the seed bed moist throughout germination and maturation time.
To get you started with seed starting, here’s a quick overview by Attainable Sustainable – please click here.
Possible Basil Problems
One last little note, basil can be prone to a fungal disease called damping off. To prevent that, make sure you have good air circulation and sprinkle some powdered cinnamon over your seed bed after you plant your seed. Cinnamon is an anti-fungal and it works like a charm.
Bugs rarely bother herbs, particularly what we consider culinary herbs, because they have such a high concentration of volatile oils the bugs would just rather not mess with. Sometimes you see white flies or aphids but usually only if your natural bug systems are out of whack.
This is one of the reasons I like to encourage people to incorporate herbs into their landscaping, not just chuck them in with their veggies – they’re lovely and useful plants anywhere.
Ways to Use Basil
Besides, if you have lots of basil, you can make these herbed croutons from Common Sense Home – click here.
Basil bunches make great gifts for neighbors! You can also add it to:
Oh, wait, here’s a strawberry shortcake with basil. Hmm…maybe you should plant thirty basil plants instead of five…
Or, learn how to incorporate basil into your soap making ventures. Need to learn how to make soap? Click below:
Learning More About Herb Plants
If you’re interested in learning more about herbs in general and specifically herbs as medicine, be sure to visit The Herbal Academy. Their online courses can be taken at your own pace and include all kinds of materials. There are also several different levels of learning to suit your current needs.
To get a glimpse of a preview lesson, just click here: Preview Lesson from the Introductory Herbal Course
You can also click on the picture below. Let me know if you have questions!