If you discover after reading this article that you’d like to try growing some basil, and maybe even other herbs, we’d like to help you organize that! Below are some herbal profile worksheets for brainstorming and gathering information on your chosen herbs. We hope they’re helpful to you!
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. 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!
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, The Potted Herb. 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:
Herb Plants: Basil
Here’s an excerpt about basil from our book, The Potted Herb:
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. Makes a great indoor plant!
Soil – 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.
Uses – 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.
It’s also a powerful companion plant which grows very well with tomatoes, for example. Please read “7 Steps to Creating a Plant Guild in the Veggie Garden” to learn how to effectively companion plant in your veggie garden.
Varieties of Basil to Try
- 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.
- Lettuce Leaf basil is a more mild flavor compared to Thai basil.
- Lemon basil is tart, as its name suggests.
Basil Growing Tips
You can direct sow basil seeds outside once all danger of frost has past. You can also sow them into growing containers with lids to create mini-greenhouses. These containers keep the seeds moist and warm more, often more reliably than seeds sown directly into garden beds.
Two articles might be helpful as you consider your basil planting options:
How to Grow Unusual Herbs – this article details growing hard to find herbs (which basil certainly is NOT), but it also talks about outdoor sowing in containers.
How to Direct Sow Herbs – Once the danger of frost has passed, basil is a good candidate for direct sowing.
Plan to put five to twenty plants in the ground in order to have some for pesto making to last you throughout the year.
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.
Growing Basil Indoors
You can also start basil in pots indoors at any time of year if you provide 6-8 hours of sunlight. Although it prefers to be outside, basil can be grown indoors but like all indoor plants it must be watered and fed regularly.
Throughout it’s life cycle, set the growing basil pot in a bowl of water with some compost tea once a quarter. Basil is an annual, so it will try to set seed and die eventually. 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.
Pinch off seed heads if growing basil indoors as seed development will make the leaves a bit bitter.
Getting Basil Plants
You can also buy basil plants from the nursery in the late spring and summer. The only reasons to grow your own from seed are:
- So you can get the specific variety you want which the local nursery doesn’t carry.
- You can’t get basil plants at the time of year you want them.
- Being sure your basil plants are raised without pesticides.
One More Reason to Grow Basil from Seed Yourself
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.
Here’s a quick overview by Attainable Sustainable to get you started with growing from seed.
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. 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.
Sometimes you see white flies or aphids but use a lot of diversity in your planting (remember the companion planting article?) and those should disappear.
Ways to Use Basil
Basil bunches make great gifts for neighbors!
Besides, if you have lots of basil, you can make these herbed croutons from Common Sense Home.
You can also add it to:
And so much more!
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