|Genovese Basil Seeds produce a classic basil with sweet fragrance. Package (200 seeds). |
How to Grow Basil From Seeds
Basil needs 6 to 8 hours of sun; in the South and Southwest, it benefits from afternoon shade.
Basil likes rich, moist, but well-drained soil with a pH of 6 to 7. Because basil is harvested continually for lots of leaves, it needs a little fertilizer. When planting, add a coated, slow-release fertilizer such as 19-19-19 at the rate recommended on the label, or work plenty of organic nutrients from compost, blood meal, or cottonseed meal into the soil. Be sure to keep the soil moist. Dry soil stunts its growth. In containers, use a large pot to keep the plants from drying out quickly in hot weather. Also use a water-retaining polymer in the potting soil to keep the soil evenly moist and extend the time between watering.
Basil wants to bloom as summer progresses. To keep the plant lush, pinch off the blooms as they appear. Occasionally basil is bothered by aphids, slugs, or Japanese beetles. However, the biggest threat is poor drainage, so to avoid root rot, plant in a well-drained location. Also, don’t let it get too dry, or growth is severely stunted. If your plants get away from you to the point where they make seeds and stop growing, shear off the top third of the stems and fertilize with a liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion or water soluble 20-20-20. NEVER cut back too far down the stem where stems are woody, or the plant won’t sprout back. To keep blooms from forming, just pinch the growing tips every week, which will encourage branching and more great leaves to enjoy!
Harvest all your basil if frost is predicted. Use the bounty to make pesto or points with your friends. Harvest basil leaves by pinching them from the stems anytime after the young plants grow 6 to 8 inches tall. The flavor is most concentrated just before blooms appear, but plenty good anytime. At the first prediction of even the lightest frost, go ahead and harvest all your basil because it will quickly turn black in cold weather. Make easy work of this by cutting the entire plants off at ground level, then pick off the best leaves. However, never cut the plant to the ground during the growing season, or it probably will not come back. Once cut to the old, woody stems, basil does not re-sprout.
You can dry basil leaves, but freezing it or using it in vinegars best preserves basil’s flavor. It also flavors oils and pesto; keep oils refrigerated. You can also keep cut stems fresh for a few days by putting the cut ends in water just like a cut flower. They will add a fresh basil fragrance to the air.
For the fullest flavor, add fresh basil to dishes within the last 5 or 10 minutes of cooking time. Use fresh basil in tomato dishes, soups, salads, sauces, and pasta. Its flavor blends well with parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and sage. Be aware that lemon basil is different from the spicy basils and, while useful in all the above ways, its flavor is lemony, not like that of clove, anise, or cinnamon as in other basils. See all our basil varieties for more about their flavors.