Have you ever had trouble growing basil?
It seems so simple and always looks perfect when purchased from a nursery or garden centre?
How do they grow it to such perfection, yet when we try at home, it’s not always consistent?
Basil is simple to grow when you follow a few simple steps. Then once ready for harvest, it needs to be picked in a specific way to encourage continuous growth and a bushy habit.
In this post, I’ll describe the best way to harvest basil and provide you with some other tips.
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Basil is an herb from the mint family, Lamiaceae, that originated in the southern areas from Central Africa to Southeast Asia. It prefers to grow in full sun, during the warmer days of summer. It grows best when the sun is strongest in the afternoon and requires a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. Basil prefers well draining, loamy soil, and consistent moisture.
The Best Way to Harvest Basil and other tips:
Seeds may be started indoors, at a minimum of 6 weeks before the final frost date or planted directly in the soil 1 week before the final frost date. Continue to plant basil seeds in the garden every 2 to 3 weeks, for a continuous supply of fresh basil leaves.
Basil may be grown directly in the garden or in a pot or container. Place your pots in full sunlight, but be sure to water them daily, since the soil will dry throughout the day and basil will not thrive in dry soil.
Transplant your basil plants approximately 1 – 1.5 feet (12 – 18 inches) apart in the garden. Depending on the variety, most basil plants will grow to a maximum height of 2 feet, with a width of 1 foot or less.
Once you see a strong central stem emerge from your basil plant, followed by a cluster of leaves at the plant tip, you know that your basil has started going to seed. Remove this stem and any other stems that will emerge, in order to slow down bolting. Unfortunately, once bolting begins it is impossible to stop it and flower stem removal only slows down the process. That’s where continuous seed sowing throughout the season, will guarantee fresh leaves.
Basil leaves taste different before and after your plant begins to go to seed. Prior to bolting, your basil will have that familiar fresh taste and smell, that is associated with basil pesto or fresh basil leaves on tomatoes in a delicious Caprese Salad. Once your basil plant begins to bolt, you will find that the flavour becomes weaker and the smell resembles that of dry basil sold in glass jars in the grocery store. If you like that smell and flavour, great! But if you prefer your basil leaves young, then continue to sow seeds to enjoy all summer.
In order to have a continuous supply of fresh basil, be sure to regularly harvest basil leaves from your plant. The more you harvest, the more fresh leaves that will be produced, which will delay bolting.
When harvesting basil, be sure to pinch off your basil from the top, along the stem, directly above a set of leaves. If you look closely, you will see tiny leaves emerging in the joint, where the basil leaf connects to the stem. Pinch directly above this point and your basil will begin to develop those tiny leaves into larger leaves and will also branch out and produce new stems at this point. This harvesting method will produce a bushier plant.
Begin harvesting your basil when it has developed its second set of true leaves. Then continue harvesting regularly to encourage ongoing leaf production. If you wait and your plants grow their third and fourth sets of leaves, then cut the stem just above the second set of true leaves.
Tip #9 – What not to do!:
Don’t pick leaves here and there along the stem. By harvesting this way, you will strip your plant of it’s leaves, producing lanky, empty stems, with leaves only at the top. If you see a large leaf along the stem, feel free to pick that leaf. However, don’t harvest like this on a regular basis, or your plant will not produce more stems and will eventually have stunted growth and stop producing more leaves. By cutting back, or pinching your stems, you are encouraging your plant to produce more stems, a bushier well balanced plant and subsequently more growth.
If your basil plants are growing quicker than your needs, harvest the leaves anyway. Any unused leaves may be easily frozen whole. Wrap the leaves in parchment paper, then wrap the parchment paper in foil. Lay your basil packages flat in the freezer, and use them to make pesto, tomato sauce, etc.
Basil flowers attract pollinators. Plant your basil alongside your flowering vegetable crops. They’re small and compact and won’t take up a lot of space. Then when your basil begins to flower, leave it in the soil and it will attract pollinator friendly bugs, like bumble bees and honey bees, which will also help to pollinate your flowering vegetable crops.
Basil is very easy to save seeds from. After your basil has finished flowering and matured into seed heads, cut the seed filled stems and place them upside down into a paper bag. Once the seeds are completely dry, you will find that will have slipped out of the chaff and into the paper bag. At this point, you may rub the seeds from the chaff and remove the flower stems from the bag. Each seed head will produce a large quantity of seeds, which will be ready for planting next year.
I hope these 12 tips have given you a good foundation and a confidence for growing basil in your garden. Overall, basil is fairly simple to grow, as long as you give the plant what it needs.