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Basil, The Perfect Summer Herb

by a Friendly Gardener

As we head toward warmer weather, one can’t help but think about the perfect summer herb for so many delicious dishes. Which you might ask? Why Basil! A delightful fresh herb to add to summer salads, summer pasta dishes, a Caprese salad of fresh mozzarella and homegrown tomatoes, homemade pizza, and my list could go on.

But what’s even better about Basil is that rather than spending on bundles of fresh-cut basil at your local market, you can grow your own and harvest it as you need it. It doesn’t get any fresher than when you snip it and add it to a dish. And if you don’t have an outdoor herb garden, you can grow your supply in a container on any sunny windowsill. You’ll benefit from a bright spot of greenery, a lovely fragrance, and fresh herbs for your home-prepared cuisine.


All About Basil

Basil growing in a mug

Basil is an annual and is quite sensitive to cold weather, so plan on growing your basil toward the end of April or the beginning of May. The most common and well-known basil variety is Genovese basil. Identified with the Italian city of Genoa, it’s very famous in Italian cuisine as the basis of pesto.


Basil Varieties

  • Genovese basil (sweet)
  • Lemon basil (features a lemon taste)
  • Purple basil (less sweet variety)
  • Thai basil (licorice tasting)


How to Plant Basil

Basil growing in a garden bed

Basil can be planted both indoors and outdoors. It’s the perfect addition to an indoor kitchen container garden. When considering how to plant basil indoors, select a nice container with a sufficient number of drainage holes, fill it with well-draining potting soil, and find a sunny spot in your kitchen or home. You might want to keep it on a deck or patio as some people swear that it keeps mosquitoes at bay.

Outdoors, basil can be planted in your vegetable garden and makes the perfect partner when planted alongside your tomatoes or next to parsley which has similar needs. It can also be planted near lettuce, oregano, peppers, and even chamomile. Basil companion plants are also very easy to grow.


Planting Basil from Seed

Basil growing in pots

This is an easy herb to grow directly from seed and it germinates quickly. Semination outdoors should be planted approximately six weeks before the final frost in your area. Because of this herb’s sensitivity to cold, keep an eye on temperatures and consider covering it if the temperatures drop.

When planting either seeds or seedlings, plant approximately ¼-inch deep into the soil bed. When spacing your basil plants, if you have selected one of the larger varieties, plan on positioning them 12 to 16 inches apart. Smaller varieties can be planted 10 to 12 inches apart.


Planting a Cutting or Seedling

If you decide to plant cuttings or transplant seedlings, never move them into the garden bed until the soil bed temperature hits at least 70° F. Evening temperatures should not dip below 50°F.

When planting your basil outdoors, the amount of space needed will depend on the variety you select to cultivate. Generally speaking, basil will grow from 12 to 24 inches tall.

If you choose to grow basil in a pot, try the spicy globe basil cultivar which grows in small mounds and may be more conducive to container growing.

Basil with pepper and heart shapped pasta

Tip: When planning on using your basil for cooking, plant your basil in clean soil, do not use pesticides, and grow them far away from sources of pollution such as car exhausts or similar.


How to Grow Basil

Basil thrives in moist soil that is well-draining with a neutral pH. Soil should be kept moist but not wet. Add compost to your soil at the beginning of the growing season. Nothing more should be needed as basil does better in soil that is not excessively rich. If you live in a warmer climate, consider mulch to keep in moisture and prevent weeds.

This herb needs approximately six to eight hours of sun daily and does very well in warm climates. The more sun, the more prolific your basil plant will be. Avoid, however planting your basil in a position that receives scorching sun at midday.

Basil needs water as soon as the soil bed is dry to the touch. Water basil at the plant base and avoid getting the foliage wet. In the summer, water freely.


Basil Care



Whenever your basil seedling has grown its initial six leaves, prune the stem to just above the second set of leaves. This will stimulate the plant to develop branches translating into more leaves in the future.

Every time an individual branch grows eight or even six leaves, prune it back to just above the first set of leaves. If flowers appear, pinch them off.

If you live in an area at risk for a drop in temperatures, make sure to harvest basil leaves before it turns cold. The cold destroys this plant.


Harvesting Your Homegrown Basil

One of the great satisfactions of growing your herbs and produce is the moment you harvest them.


How to Harvest Your Basil

One great aspect of growing basil is that you can harvest only what you need. Pinch the leaves you want off between two fingers or snip your basil stem just above where two good-sized leaves meet. If you trim your plant regularly it will encourage fuller growth and avoid the leggy look that is so common with this herb.

Basil leaves should be harvested before the plant begins to bloom. If Flowering begins, pinch off flowering sections. When harvesting, never harvest more than 2/3 of an individual plant so that production is stimulated and continues.

You can pick leaves once the plant grows from six to eight inches in height. You’ll notice that when the temperatures in your area rise to approximately 80°F, your plant will increase production. Picking leaves in the morning hours is recommended when they are juicier.

It’s important to harvest regularly so that your plant is stimulated to continue producing.

Basil growing in a pot


Storing Basil

If your plant is a prolific producer and you can’t use all of the leaves, you can store your leaves for later use. The ideal method for the storage of fresh basil is freezing. This ensures that the leaves maintain their flavor. Leaves can be packaged and frozen whole or you can chop leaves before freezing. Place them in an airtight plastic bag that is resealable.

Another method is to chop your leaves very finely and place them in ice cube trays. Once your basil ice cubes have been formed, place them in a plastic bag and use one or two cubes when cooking for added flavor.


When Basil Falls Ill

The most common basil disease is Fusarium wilt which may be in the soil or in the seeds of infected plants. There is no cure so plants should be disposed of. If these sick plants were in a garden bed, avoid replanting basil or mint in that area for three years.

The bacteria Pseudomonas cichorii will cause bacterial leaf spots with brown and black spots appearing on the leaves. This generally happens because infected soil has gotten onto leaves.  There is no cure.

Downy mildew will appear as yellow leaves with grey patches on leaf undersides. Avoid overhead watering.

Other problems that can afflict Basil include

  • Aphids
  • Lack of nitrogen
  • Root rot
  • Slugs
  • Thrips


Basil Propagation

Basil and tomatoes

Luckily, basil is easy to propagate because it not only grows from seed, but basil cuttings easily develop roots when placed in a jar of water. Take a cutting that is approximately four inches in length, and that has not flowered, and place it in water. Within a week you should see the formation of roots. Once the roots have appeared, transplant your new plantlet into your garden bed or container.

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