How to Grow Basil Successfully

by Deltagardener
2 Materials
3 Months
Basil is one of the most popular herbs to grow. I will give you some tips to keep your plants healthy from starting seeds to bringing in the harvest.
Choose basil seeds from your local seed growers as most seeds produced locally are suited to your climate. Basil requires bottom heat if starting it from seed. I like to use a heat mat under my plant pots as it provides an even heat and speeds up seed germination. Once germination occurs your plants can be moved off the heat. Heat mats come in all sizes starting with ones that fit a windowsill to ones that are 2'-4' wide. The mat above will hold four trays of plants.
When planting basil, plant only what your family will eat. The bed featured above contains 70 plants and four varieties of basil. You will have to give it away if you overplant or be like me with three years worth of pesto in the freezer. Sweet basil seems to be the most popular basil grown so its a good one to start with. In the bed above there is cinnamon, sweet, holy and red rubin basil.
Using clean potting containers with drainage holes, add a seed starter mix and moisten with water. Watering first means your seeds will stay in place after planting. Sprinkle a few seeds on the top of the soil. Basil seeds are tiny and are planted with just a light covering of seed starter mix on top. Water your newly planted seeds as they need it. If the top of the soil looks dry give them a bit of water. Do not overwater. In about 7-10 days you should see signs of germination,when the seeds are sending new growth through the soil surface. Once the seedlings have their first leaf you can remove them from the heat mat. Make sure you always have your seedlings growing in full sun near a window or in a greenhouse. If growing in the house you may need to add supplemental lighting to prevent leggy seedlings. Once your plants produce a second set of leaves it's time to pot them up into 4" pots to support the root system of the plant. Carefully lift each seedling holding onto the leaf, not the stem and pot up using new potting soil and a pinch of organic fertlizer. Water after potting up.
Seedlings cannot go outside until the night time temperatures reach a consistent 60F or 15C at night. Prepare the soil for your plants by adding an organic fertlizer or compost to the beds. Plant each basil plant 12" apart in the garden. Water well after transplanting and for the next few days until they are established. Be sure to plant your basil in an area with at least 6-8 hours of sun each day. Check every couple of days with your finger to see how damp the soil is underneath the surface. If it feels dry it's time to water. Try to always have your basil plants go into the night dry. It's a good way of preventing fungal diseases in the garden.
Soon your basil plants will be showing enough growth for you to be able to harvest. If you look closely you will see that basil will start to form flower buds. This is not what we want if we want a good harvest. All annuals produce flowers and seed and then die. If you let the basil plants flower and go to seed, your plant will die.
This is a closeup of a flowering stem on basil. The flowers are loved by bees so you can sacrifice a plant to attract them to the garden. To keep harvesting all season long the flowering stems must be cut back on the rest of your plants.
In this photo I have scissors right above a set of leaves below the flowering stem. Cut the stem off here to promote side shoots into growth. Pinching can be done with your fingers throughout the growing season. By starting to pinch the stems back you promote healthy new side shoots resulting in a bushier plant and a bigger harvest. Harvest your basil plants in the same way by removing the flowering stems. Store your harvested basil stems in a vase of water on the kitchen counter for best results. Use within the week in sauces, dressings, pesto or fresh in salads.
Basil is such a great herb to grow. Lightly wash your harvested basil and leave to dry for 20 minutes before using. Basil can also be frozen in airtight freezer bags and crumbled onto pizza or in sauces at any time.
Suggested materials:
  • Basil seeds   (garden centre)
  • Seed starter mix   (garden centre)
Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!
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