Basil is a warm-weather, fragrant herb that tastes great in many dishes—including the beloved homemade pesto. Plant seeds or transplants after all danger of frost has passed and soil is warm, and it will yield an abundant harvest within weeks. Keep harvesting the leaves to keep the plant going strong.
Because basil is an annual, it grows extremely quickly. In fact, it can go from seed to harvest in as little as 3 to 4 weeks. This quick and easy-growing herb is an excellent choice for beginner gardeners.
Origin: Central Africa to Southeast Asia
Height: Average 2 feet
Soil: Basil does its best in well-drained, moist soil with a neutral pH. I add a rich compost to the soil at the beginning of the season. Not much more soil amendment is necessary. In fact, if the soil is too rich, basil loses some of its flavor intensity.
Sun: Basil grows well in warm environments that receive about six hours of sun each day. I have a couple of basil plants growing in an area that receives only four hours of sun, but they aren’t as prolific as the others. My best basil plants actually grow in an east-facing area that doesn’t get the scorching, midday sun.
Water: Give basil water when the soil is dry to the touch, doing your best to water the plant at its base and not all over its leaves.
Temperature and Humidity: Basil is a heat lover. Don't bother planting it until the daytime temperatures remain in the 70s and night temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Seeds can be started indoors three to four weeks before your last spring frost date.
Basil is very sensitive to frost and will be one of the first plants to go in the fall. You can extend the season slightly by covering your plants with row covers when frost is threatened. Don't let the row cover touch the leaves. Frost on the outside of the row cover is enough to damage the tender leaves and will likely turn them black.
If you live in a frost-free area, you might want to allow some basil plants to set flowers and self-seed in your garden. Not all varieties will do this successfully.
Fertilizer: Because you will be harvesting leaves from your basil plants, you may need to fertilize them often. An all-purpose fertilizer works well and helps ensure that new leaves will grow continuously.
Companion planting: Plant basil among other herbs and vegetables with similar lighting and watering needs, like tomatoes or parsley. Some even say tomatoes taste better when they neighbor basil. Plant basil alongside chamomile, lettuce, peppers, and oregano. I even like to keep a few pots of basil on my back porch to deter mosquitoes.