Basil plants are one of the most popular herbs used in cooking. They have been grown for centuries in Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey. There are many varieties of basil with different tastes and uses. Some types include: sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), hot pepper basil (Ocimum vernicifluum) or even bitter garlic (Allium sativum).
Basil is native to Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa. The species Ocimum basilicum was first described in 1679 by the Italian botanist Giovanni Battista Marcantonio.
It is named after its habitat – the Basil River in southern Italy. Other names for it include Spanish basil, Turkish basil or Italian basil.
The genus Allium includes over 50 species of wild relatives, all of which are members of the mint family. Many of these species are cultivated for their culinary use and some are considered medicinal.
The most commonly used herbs in food preparation today include: oregano (Allium sativum), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), marjoram (Origanum majorana) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis).
How to grow basil plants
How to grow fresh basil starts off with a simple seedling. Any good garden center will carry a wide variety of seeds, including basil.
The best time to start them is in the Spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. This vegetable can also be started inside around month before the last frost, and at least eight weeks before the plant is to be transplanted outdoors.
The soil for basil should be fertile and light. A good all-purpose fertilizer or manure tea should be added before planting the seeds.
The pots or seedling trays should have drainage holes and be filled with sterile potting soil or seedling starter mix.
The seeds can be planted about ¼ inch deep and watered carefully so as not to wash them away. The soil should be kept evenly moist but not wet.
Basil is a sun-loving plant that grows best when the soil is kept consistently warm. It will not survive freezing temperatures but can handle light frosts.
It is a great plant to grow indoors.
Once the seedlings are a few inches high, they can be transplanted into individual pots. Most varieties of basil are fairly small and compact, so they should not need more than a 12-inch pot.
When planting outside, the plants should be set out in early spring.
The soil for growing basil should be fertilized regularly with a diluted solution of nitrogen, such as fish emulsion or Miracle-Gro. During the summer months, the plants will need to be watered every three or four days.
In the fall and winter, watering can be decreased as the plant goes into a semi-dormant state.
How to grow basil indoors
How to grow basil indoors is fairly easy. It is a great plant for window boxes.
There are also special basil growing kits available that contain everything you need to start your own plant. You can buy them at most garden centers or online.
These kits come with a decorative container, with an embedded plastic pot that has the soil and fertilizer already inside it. All you have to do is add water and the seeds of your choice.
If you are more of a traditionalist, you can start your basil plants in peat pots or other small containers and transplant them later. You can even start your plants directly in the final planting container.
Just be sure to give them enough time to become well-rooted before moving them outside.
If you are going to grow basil indoors, be sure that the place where you are growing it gets at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. Also, make sure the room temperature stays above 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Use a thermometer to make sure.
How to grow basil indoors is easy as long as you have the right location. If you are growing them on a windowsill, the sunlight should be able to reach all the leaves.
If there isn’t enough light, you can also try placing a grow light near the plants. These lights can also help even out the temperature.
When planting outside, choose a spot in full sun and with rich, well-draining soil. Sow the seeds in spring and once they come up, thin them out so there is about 2 to 3 inches between the plants.
Once they are a few inches high, you can start giving them a light feeding every two weeks with a liquid fertilizer. Also, make sure to water them frequently as they tend to dry out quickly.
When growing basil, you should harvest the leaves as you need them. To encourage more blooming and growth, cut the stems every few days.
When growing basil, it is a good idea to pinch off the flower buds as soon as you see them. This will promote leaf growth and keep the plant producing longer.
It will also keep the plant from expending energy on producing seeds, which will decrease the final size of the plant and keep it closer to the ground, making it easier to harvest.
If you want to get more than one harvest from your plants, you should start taking some cuttings in early summer. After a few weeks, these cuttings can be rooted in soil and grown until the next growing season.
Harvesting basil is easy. Just pinch or cut off the leaves as you need them.
Cut at the base when harvesting for drying, which should be done as soon as possible after picking. Even though it loses some of its flavor when dried, it is still better than having none at all.
If you want to preserve your basil so that you can enjoy the flavors of summer all year long, you can make a simple basil vinegar. Just place the basil leaves in a glass jar (you can use the stems too), cover with white or apple cider vinegar and let it infuse for two weeks.
Strain out the leaves and store the vinegar in the refrigerator for up to six months. Use it in salad dressings, as a marinade or with other dishes to give them a fresh basil flavor.
When growing basil, you can start using the above techniques right away. If you want to learn more and do more, keep reading.
If you are a real basil lover or want to grow basil for the fresh taste of summer all year long, then you can take your basil growing to the next level. This will allow you to have fresh basil all year round and will provide enough for you to give away to your friends and family so they can enjoy it too.
One way to do this is by rooting and growing basil cuttings. You can take a basil cutting and root it in water.
Once the roots form, you can transplant it into soil and it should take right away. This is the easiest way to start multiple basil plants. You can even root the tops of the stems in water. Once again, once the roots form, you can plant them in soil or even divide the stem plants to make more plants.
You can also start your plants from seed. This will take a little longer but it is very easy to do.
Sow the seeds in a container filled with a seed starting mixture. Keep the seeds lightly moist and maintain a temperature of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Once they come up, thin them out so they are 2 to 3 inches apart. Transplant the seedlings into larger containers or directly into the ground after the risk of frost has passed.
There are also a variety of different types of basil you can try. If you like the flavor of cinnamon, you can try a cinnamon basil.
It has a flavor reminiscent of baked goods and is often used in tea. For a subtler flavor, you may prefer an apple or licorice basil. If you want something spicy, you could try a hot basil. Other types of basil include lemon, holy and opal varieties. You can even get a combination. The choice is completely up to you and your garden space.
Whatever types of basil you want to grow, some general tips apply. The first is that they prefer a lot of sun.
If planted in rich soil and given enough sunlight, basil will grow quite large. Make sure it has plenty of space.
Another tip is to not over water. The soil should drain well and only be watered when it feels dry at a couple inches deep.
Keep in mind that the soil will dry out faster when the temperature is hot. Also, don’t overwater as this can cause the plant to rot.
One more tip is to keep the plants weeded and free of pests. You can also place a barrier around them so that the plants are off the ground by a couple of inches.
This will help prevent rotting due to dampness and pests.
With a bit of effort and some attention, your basil plants will thrive all year long. You will be able to cook with them and use them for medicinal reasons.
If you want to take things even further, you can even propagate new plants from cuttings or seeds so that you will have enough basil to share with family and friends.
Whether you are a professional chef or just like to cook at home, growing your own basil can be a great addition to your home garden. It is easy to do and provides with fresh ingredients all year long!
Sources & references used in this article:
Systemic spread of downy mildew in basil plants and detection of the pathogen in seed and plant samples by RD Farahani-Kofoet, P Römer, R Grosch – Mycological Progress, 2012 – Springer
Organic fertilization of fresh market sweet basil in a greenhouse by CE Succop, SE Newman – HortTechnology, 2004 – journals.ashs.org
Effect of explants source and different hormonal combinations on direct regeneration of basil plants (Ocimum basilicum L.) by F Asghari, B Hossieni, A Hassani… – Australian Journal of …, 2012 – search.informit.com.au
Growth rate of sweet basil and lemon balm plants grown under fluorescent lamps and LED modules by B Frąszczak, A Golcz… – Acta Sci. Pol …, 2014 – hortorumcultus.actapol.net
Basil plants grown under intermittent light stress in a small-scale indoor environment: Introducing energy demand reduction intelligent technologies by DD Avgoustaki, J Li, G Xydis – Food Control, 2020 – Elsevier
Enhanced UV-B radiation alters basil (Ocimum basilicum L.) growth and stimulates the synthesis of volatile oils by X Chang, PG Alderson… – Journal of Horticulture and …, 2009 – academicjournals.org