There is nothing better than growing your basil and picking them fresh for your pizza and pasta. You can even have home-made pesto as a gift! The first step, of course, is to learn the basics of Basil care: how to grow the herb, and grow it so well that you want to use them every day! Here is my own experience on Basil care after years of herb gardening and I hope you will find the following tips helpful.
First of all, Basil loves the sun, so please pick a nice sunny spot for them. Then, make sure the soil is well-drained – compost soil is the best; but if it is not available, you can improve the soil’s drainage ability by mixing in sand. For potted plants, you can mix in two-parts of potted soil with one-part of sand. Talking about soil, you may be tempted to enrich your soil with lots of fertilizer… don’t! Because too much feeding, especially nitrogen-heavy fertilizer, will reduce the flavor of the Basil leaves.
For water, normal watering (once a day) is usually fine. If you are not sure, it is better to under-water than over-water because too much water may lead to root rot which will almost certainly kill the plant. For outdoor garden, mulching will be a good idea because Basil prefers regular water supply.
As a Basil grower, it is important for you to know that Basil is an annual plant, which means that it does not survive a frost. In fact, they may start to wither when the temperature drops below 40F (10C). If you are lucky to live in a warm sunny place such as Florida and California, your Basil may grow so well that they can reseed and propagate themselves in your garden.
If this is not the case, don’t worry, as you can transplant your Basil in pots and care for them indoors during the winter and replant them outside next spring. If it sounds like a lot of work, you may consider collecting basil seeds from your plants during the summer, let the original batch die off, and sow the seeds in late spring.
So what are the secrets of the best Basil care? Let’s determine what makes an excellent Basil plant first. I would say, well, the herbs should have lots of leaves, and the leaves should be healthy, tender and very fragrant. So how can we achieve that? Here is the method:
How to Grow The Best Basil Leaves
Start growing your Basil from seeds or cuttings in late spring or early summer. After the first few leaves are growing healthily, pinch the center shoot to encourage side growth and prevent early flowering. Since Basil doesn’t need fertilizer and rarely attract bugs, the herbs are almost maintenance free if you have the correct light, water and soil condition in place.
Once you see the flower buds, it will be the perfect time of harvesting Basil leaves because the leaves contain the most essential oil at this stage of its life-cycle. Unless your purpose is to collect basil seeds, you should also snip the flowers away so the plant can concentrate in growing bigger, tastier leaves. Having said that, please don’t remove more than one third of foliage from each plant to ensure it continues to grow healthily.
If you follow the steps above, I am sure you will get lots of Basil leaves – so many that you probably don’t know what to do with them! Here are the various ways of preserving basil leaves:
Drying vs Freezing. As many of you may know, the most popular ways to preserve herbs are drying and freezing. From my experience, drying is NOT the preferred method for Basil in particular because its flavor tends to fade away during the process. Also, if the weather is not dry enough, the leaves will turn into a withering brown color.
However, there is a way to dry Basil quickly: the oven. Use the lowest heat and open the oven door slightly to prevent burning of the leaves.
I personally prefer the freezing method because the leaves are able to retain most of the flavor. How? Simply wash and pat dry the leaves, put them in a zip-lock bag and throw it into the freezer. The frozen Basil leaves can be kept for up to 6 months.
But here is my favorite way to preserve basil leaves: Get an air-tight container and place the leaves in neat layers, sprinkling a little bit of salt in between. When the layer reaches the top, pour in olive oil and close the lid very well. Store the container in a cool, dark place and it can be kept up to 6 months. When used, simply take out the leaves and reseal. The olive oil, now flavored, is excellent in salad dressing and pasta.
Now that you’ve learned the fool-proof Basil care technique: growing and harvesting Basil, as well as how to preserve it… what are you waiting for? Happy Herb Gardening!