Easy to grow, beautiful to look at, and delicious to eat – the humble basil plant is one of the gardener’s favorites. This fresh summertime herb is also one of the top flavors of the season, and can be used in a wide variety of salads, soups, pizza recipes and other dishes. Discover how to grow basil at home, and enjoy the zesty green herb well into the fall.
How to Grow Basil at Home
- Scout out the perfect location. Your basil plant will need full sun, plenty of moisture, and ample fertilizer to produce the most leaves. Most varieties will reach 12 to 24 inches, so make sure that you have enough space in your garden or container. Most amateur kitchen gardeners will need two to three plants to keep them in fresh basil for the season.
- Plant your basil. You’ll need to choose to start with seeds or seedlings. Seedlings are easiest to grow; however you may be limited on the varieties of basil that are available in seedling form. For unusual types of basil, you may need to start with seeds. Seedlings can be planted directly outdoors, however seeds will need to begin life indoors under lights, in a sterile seedling mix. If you’re a beginner, seedlings are your best bet. You can always branch out and try seeds next year.
- Battle pests. Basil usually doesn’t attract too many pests, but you might encounter the occasional Japanese beetle or aphid. If you notice that pests are eating more of your leaves than you are, treat your basil plant with natural, soap-based or plant-based product.
- Pinch the blooms. As soon as blooms appear on your basil plant, pinch them off. This encourages the plant to grow more leaves for a longer time into the season.
- Harvest. This is the fun part! Snap off stems with a few large leaves on them whenever you need them. You won’t need scissors, but you never want to pull or rip. Make a clean break with an easy snap. Basil quickly goes bad, so don’t harvest the leaves until you are ready to cook.
- Prep for cooking. Chopped basil is prone to rapid oxidization, which means that it will turn dark when exposed to air. You’ll want to cut it quickly, by using the chiffonade technique. Stack the basil leaves one on top of the other, and roll into a bundle that is tight but not squeezed. Slice your roll with a sharp knife, creating tiny slivers of basil.
- Preserve the leftovers. The first frost of the fall will kill your basil. Before that happens, harvest all the leaves and prepare them for winter use. Dry the basil leaves in an oven for one hour at 250 degrees F, or until they start to break apart and crumble. You can also just hang the stems upside down until they dry. Keep the leaves intact as much as you can, and store your dried basil in an airtight container. It should keep its flavor until spring arrives again.
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Basil image via Shutterstock