How to Grow Sweet Basil
Sweet basil is prized for its sweet, pungent flavor and intense fragrance. Used to season tomato dishes, oils and vinegars, this herb can be used to season vegetables, meats and poultry, in stir-fries, or simply to add flavor to salads. I enjoy fresh basil in omelets or for seasoning on the grill.
- Location: Select a sunny location that receives six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day for basil. Shade during the hottest part of the day is desired, especially in southern locations.
- Soil: Prepare the soil by tilling to a depth of eight to ten inches. Remove roots, rocks and other debris and rake the area smooth. Spread a two- to three-inch layer of compost or aged manure over the soil and work it into the top six inches. Organic matter improves the soil texture and aeration and promotes good drainage.
- Seedlings: Purchase seedlings in the spring, or start basil from seed six to eight weeks before the last expected frost in your area.
- Transplanting: Transplant the basil seedlings to the prepared garden bed when all danger of frost has passed in your area. Water thoroughly to moisten the soil to the root level to prevent transplant shock.
- Watering: Water basil once or twice a week or whenever the soil feels dry to the touch. Basil prefers moist soil, but suffers if the soil becomes soggy. The amount and frequency of watering depends on the weather conditions and rate of growth of your basil.
- Fertilizer: Unless your basil shows signs of nutrient deficiencies - such as stunted growth or yellowed leaves - fertilizer is not necessary. In fact, too much fertilizer may inhibit the flavor of basil.
- Pinching: Pinch out the growing tips on basil plants when they are four to six inches tall to encourage branching. Repeat in two to three weeks, pinching the tiny center leaves on each branch.
- Debudding: Pinch out buds as they form on basil plants to direct the plants energy to producing more foliage. Herbs that are allowed to bloom have less intense flavor and fragrance.
- Harvesting: Harvest basil leaves at any time once they are large enough to use by clipping individual leaves. Harvest mature basil in the early morning when oils are at their peak by clipping entire stems.
- Preserving: Wash and chop fresh basil and freeze in ice cubes trays with a little water. Remove the cubes and place in a zippered freezer bag. Drop the cubes into sauces or soups to add flavor. Some prefer to add chopped basil to oil and store it in the freezer. To use, simply scoop out the appropriate amount and return the unused portion to the freezer.