Growing Basil

Basil’s fragrant leaves add robust flavor to salads and sandwiches and of course is a basic addition to pasta and tomato sauces.

Basil_by Midwest Gardening.jpg

Sun requirement:  6 to 8 hours

Soil:  Plant in organically enriched, well drained soil to avoid root rot

Moisture:  Water weekly, more frequently in containers.  Do not allow soil to dry out as growth will be stunted.

Spacing:  12 to 18 inches apart

Feeding:  Mix organic nutrients into the planting soil.  Continue to feed lightly with a liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks to support continual harvest.  Basil grown in a container require regular feeding, as nutrients easily wash through the soil and out of the container.

Growing from seed:  Cover seed lightly with soil and gently tamp the soil.  Mist soil to keep moist and seeds should germinate in about a week.  

Problems:  Occasionally may be bothered by Japanese beetles, slugs or aphids.

Basil is an annual herb that enjoys very warm weather and will grow quickly in heat of summer.  In the warm regions of the south your basil will appreciate some afternoon shade.  Basil is highly sensitive to frost, so either cover to protect from frost or harvest all the basil.

The most commonly grown and used basil is Sweet Basil.  Try other varieties such as mildly flavored Lemon Basil or small leaved Greek Basil.  Grow your basil in edible beds, flower beds or containers.  


Harvest and prune basil by simply pinching at the stem between your thumb and forefinger.  You can also use a pruning secateurs.  Inspect a stem to find a sprouting of new leaves, and snip or pinch the stem just above the new set of leaves.  Try not to remove more than one third of a stem at a time and do not just top off the plant if you want the plant to continue to produce new growth.  Do not cut the woody base of the stem.

Always snip off every hint of flower stalk to encourage continued production for harvest.  Once the plant begins to flower, the basil sometimes becomes harsh flavored or bitter.


Cut basil stems and place cut ends in water to store at room temperature for a few days.  Storing fresh basil in the refrigerator will turn the leaves brown.  


At first hint of frost, harvest all your basil by cutting the plants down at ground level and remove all leaves to preserve.  

Dry basil by hanging in bunches to air dry for about a week.  Basil does not retain flavor well when dried, but it will freeze well other than losing its’ color.  The flavor will be preserved well by freezing.  Keep adding excess basil leaves to a zip sealed freezer bag.  Crumble the frozen leaves right into the soup pot or skillet.

Sharon Dwyer