Basil is a very popular and versatile herb for home gardeners. It has a beautiful leafy appearance, a sweet, pleasant smell, and can be used in a variety of recipes. When grown indoors, basil can help discourage fruit flies.
Basil can be grown from seed or from small plants. Both will be available at most garden stores, nurseries, and some chain hardware stores.
Basil can be grown in containers either indoors or out. It can also be grown in the ground in a garden bed. In the ground, soil should be weeded, watered, and thoroughly dug over before planting. Containers should be filled with a good quality planting soil and provide adequate drainage so that the basil does not become over watered.
Basil requires full sun, six to eight hours of sunlight a day. Outdoors, this means planting in a sunny area that is somewhat sheltered from strong winds. Indoors, this typically means placing containers in a south-facing window on the windowsill
Basil is sensitive to the cold. If the basil will be outdoors, seeds should be planted in late March or after the last frost. Alternatively, basil can be started indoors in February and moved outside when the temperature is right. Soil around the basil plant should be fertile with good air circulation.
Evenly space the small basil plants in containers or in the ground. Most varieties tend to spread out a bit as well as grow vertically. Basil can also thrive planted in a container with other herbs or small vegetable plants. For seeds, cover with about a quarter inch of soil and pack down firmly. The seeds should germinate in about a week and may need to be thinned out after a few weeks of growth.
A small amount of fertilizer each month should be plenty to help basil grow. It is also important to clip basil regularly so that it will continue to put off new growth. Basil should not be allowed to flower as this will give it a bitter taste and prevent further growth. Clipping regularly from various areas of the plant is usually enough to prevent flowering.
Basil should always be watered at the base and not over the leaves. Outdoor plants may need to be weeded occasionally whereas indoor plants will not have this problem. Indoors, the most critical point is to be sure that basil gets plenty of sunlight.
Basil can be used immediately, dried and stored, or frozen and stored. Use fresh basil to make caprese, homemade pesto, or in a variety of other recipes. Dried basil will store in airtight containers for up to one year.