Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Beginner’s Guide to Growing Basil

Almost everyone loves to eat fresh basil and some people have a hard time growing it.  Basil can be a finicky little plant in the changeable weather that is Spring.  Don’t let the Basil get the better of you with these simple tips.

If you are planning your Spring garden, here is a Beginner’s Guide to Growing Basil to help you out.
Beginners, don’t even think about growing basil from seed. If you do, just wait for the frustration to come out after two weeks. You will be SO excited to see the little guys sprout up and then you will wait, and wait, and wait for them to grow bigger. You will keep waiting. It won’t happen. Basil seeds are susceptible to a fungus on the soil that stunts their growth. It is due to poor air circulation and not keeping the soil’s water level maintained. If you are experienced with starting plants from seed you will be okay, but if you are new, just go over to the nursery or local plant sale and pick out 1-2 basil plants in different varieties. Unless you plan on freezing and drying basil, a 6-pack of basil will produce too much.

Lemon Basil
Purple basils have a smaller more compact habit and take up less space, yet taste the same as sweet basil, so try them if your space is limited.  Lemon basil has a distinctive flavor and many uses in cooking.  If you have never tried it, you should take the plunge.  Sweet basil comes in many varieties.  If pesto is your aim try Genovese or Napaletano. For those wanting to try a basil tea, cinnamon, tulsi (holy,) or thai basil have unique flavors that are great for food or beverages.
Purple Basil

Basil is a heat lover and a cold hater.  Make sure your plants are hardened off before you leave them out overnight.  This means introducing them to the outdoors one hour or two a day for about a week then moving up the time until they stay out an entire day.  Keep them shaded for that transition period.  Once they are ready to stay outside, you still need to protect them (I bring them back indoors) if the temps dip into the 40s (Fahrenheit) at night.  The leaves will turn black if they get too cold and this can kill a young seedling. 
Basil is a heavy nutrient user. If growing them in a container, you will need at least a one gallon container for them to spread out in and you will need to feed them every month. When growing in the ground you may still need to feed them.
Since basil plants produce edible leaves, they need more nitrogen, making blood meal the perfect soil amendment (this is available at your local home and garden center.) Basil also needs a lot of water. It can handle the soil drying out in between waterings, but it really likes to be moist if possible. Basil is also a sun worshipper – give your plant at least 6-8 hours of bright sunlight a day.
Harvested Basil

You can start to harvest basil as early as 3-4 weeks after it has been able to stay out overnight, or once the plant is taller than six inches. Gently pinch all the way down the stem to the union of the next leaf set. You want to remove that stem so that new leaves will grow from that point. Pinch off as much as you need at the time or harvest full stems for freezing and drying. 
Pinching out the center above two branching leaves.
Always remove the flowers the minute that they emerge, especially in the early season. If you don’t, the leaves diminish in size and flavor as the plant sends energy to make seed.

Flowering Sweet Basil
Once the weather man predicts an overnight temp less than 45 degrees F, cut down the last of your basil and dry it or preserve it for winter use. I have several posts on making pastes and pesto with basil, that you can check out once you have enough harvest. 
Most important harvest your basil often.  If you just let it grow, you will not get a bushy plant but a single stalk that will flower early and get top heavy, so pinch and enjoy your basil as soon as it is ready!
Holy (Tulsi) Basil

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