Out of all the herbs that I grow each year in my herb garden, basil has to be one of my favorites.
There really is nothing like a few fresh basil leaves tucked inside a BLT sandwich on a summer day or a quick tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes picked from the garden or bought at a road side farmers stand simmered with some fresh cut basil.
And then there is of course pesto sauce. I ADORE pesto sauce and I make batches upon batches of it each summer and freeze it. Because it ends up costing me about $1.00 to make up a batch of homemade pesto versus the $4.00 + I would pay for it in the stores.
Do you want to learn how to make pesto at home? Check out my recipe for Frugal Homemade Pesto…it has a secret ingredient in it that adds extra nutrition and saves you money!
My Tips For Growing Basil Like A BOSS!
Basil is actually a rather easy herb to grow at home. Even up here in zone 4 in Wyoming (ie. super short growing season) I have never had a problem growing it and getting a healthy harvest of fresh basil for my kitchen.
There are several varieties of basil (Latin –Ocimum basilicum) that you can grow, from the classic sweet basil, which is what most of us know and love as the yummy Italian herb in pasta sauces, pesto, bruschetta, etc.) to lemon basil, Thai basil, purple basil (adds some interesting color to your plate for sure!).
Basil is considered an annual, meaning that you usually have to replant your plants each year because they eventually die off when the weather gets cold. Some folks have been able to grow basil perennially (meaning it comes back year after year), but that is mostly for folks in very warm locations. Even when I lived in hot and sunny California my basil plants eventually bit the dust and I had to plant new plants each year.
Regardless of which type of basil you decide to grow they all require the same sort of care.
Start From Seed Or Plant Started Plants:
Depending on your level of gardening expertise you can either plant your basil from seed or plant already started plants. There are pros and cons for each.
- Pro – Cheapest way to go with a packet of seeds costing about a buck at home home and garden type stores.
- Con – Unless you live in the warmest of warm locations you have to start your seeds several week (6 – 8 weeks to be exact) before your areas last frost date.
- Pro – You will get way more basil plants out of 1 packet of seeds. More basil plants equals more fresh pesto in the freezer!
- Con – Starting seeds takes time, space and effort. It is do-able but it is not always easy.
- Pro – Instant herb garden, just dig a hole, remove the plant from the pot and plant it in some dirt and voilà you have an herb garden.
- Con – More expensive. Started herbs can cost anywhere from $1 to $3 per plant.
- Pro – No need to think ahead…if your garden is ready and it is warm enough to plant, you are ready to go!
- Con – Less plants, unless your budget is out there you are not going to get as many plants as you would if you started them by seed.
I personally have done it both ways, but these days, because I am busy and have limited space to start seeds indoors I usually opt for the started plants. I know it is not the most frugal option, but when I can turn a $2 plant into $30 worth of pesto it is still a frugal option for me!
Plant Basil In Full Sun:
Basil requires a good 6 or more hours of full sun. So find a nice sunny spot in your garden to plant your plants. My back yard is mostly shaded by the house so I actually plant my herbs in the front yard which faces west and gets the most sunlight.
Give Your Basil Plants Plenty Of Water:
Regardless if you start your basil plants from seed or plant already started plants from the nursery your basil plants are going to need a lot of water to begin with. When I first plant my basil in the spring I give them a good soaking every day in the early morning. This helps ensure that they are well hydrated throughout the day and gives them plenty of time to dry out and prevent any fungus or mold growing on them like you might experience if you water in the evening.
Water daily for the first 2 weeks or so until your plants are established and then you can let up on your watering schedule to every 2 to 3 days. If your plants are looking droopy in the hottest of summer days you may want to increase your watering to every 1 to 2 days so that you plants stay luscious and do not melt in the summer heat.
Focus your watering to just the base and root area of the plants to avoid getting too much water on the leaves. This also helps with mold and fungus. A drip irrigation system is ideal, however, you can also just water by hand and just focus your hose or watering can at the base of the plants. My kids love to take over watering duties and as long as I show them how first, they do an excellent job at this easy gardening task.
Mulch Your Basil To Conserve Water And Prevent Weeds:
Weeding the herb garden is never my idea of a good time. So to help prevent weeds from taking hold in our garden we apply mulch pretty liberally around all our of garden plants. In our city the city waste department allows you to buy mulch that they have made from ground up tree branches collected in our parks and throughout the city. The cost is about $10 for 100 yards of mulch. It might be a good idea to see if your city or county offers a similar program where you live. Otherwise you can purchase mulch in bags at any home and garden center for a couple of dollars a bag.
In my neck of the woods we have a big problem with Canadian Thistle which has long tap roots and stickers all over it. I hate these weeds with a passion because once they take hold in the garden they are extremely difficult to get rid of. So as an extra measure of precaution I recycle cardboard boxes but cutting or tearing them into chucks (be sure to remove all packing tape, staples or stickers from the cardboard first) and placing those chunks around our plants in a nice thick layer before topping them off with the more decorative garden mulch. This really works for me in keeping those nasty Canadian Thistles and other pervasive weeds from growing in the garden.
Not only does mulch help prevent weeds, it also helps you conserve water by slowing down the evaporation process from the soil to the air. Meaning you may be able to water your basil plants a little less often. And that ends up saving precious resources, time and energy…a win, win, win all around!
Fertilize Your Basil Plants To Give Them Food To Grow:
Everything that is living and grows needs to be fed and your basil plants are no exception. Make sure your plants are fertilized and fed with a good organic fertilizer. I really and honestly think that if you are going to grow your own food at home you might as well try to use organic products whenever possible. I mean organic produce is expensive at the grocery store…so why not grow your own at a fraction of the cost for almost zero extra effort?
I personally like to use a liquid organic fertilizer such as Miracle Grow brand, simply because a. it is easy to find where I live and b. plants absorb it both through their roots and their leaves. But you can also use a granulated organic fertilizer too. Most garden centers are carrying this stuff these days and the price is compatible to their non-organic counterparts. When shopping for a fertilizer look for one that is neutral in PH – a 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 should do the trick. That just means that there is the same ratio of nitrogen, potassium and
phosphate. If you use a granular fertilizer be sprinkle it around the plants in the soil, but be sure to avoid getting any on the leaves as this will cause them to burn.
Pinch Your Basil Plants For Bushy Growth:
I have saved the best tip for last folks! They key to getting big luscious basil plants is to pinch your basil plants. The process is simple. Once you basil plants get to be about 6 inches tall, pinch off the plant at the stem right above where there are two leaves growing. You can pinch the tips of your plants off with your fingers or use a pair of scissors or gardening sheers. Either way snip the tops off right above a two-leaf bud and the plant will then grow more stems and leaves. You should pinch your plants at least once a week during the peak growing season, your basil plants will get bushier and bushier creating more delicious leaves. If you skip a week or two it will be OK but you should really try to keep on top of it. If your basil plants start to flower be sure to snip those flowers off too because the plant will put all it’s energy into creating seeds from those flowers and the quality and flavor in the leaves will be diluted.
Of course, while you are pinching and snipping off those basil stems you are essentially harvesting your basil. Turn those leaves into pesto, dry them in your oven or food dehydrator or toss a bunch into your favorite pasta sauce!
As long as you give your basil plants plenty of water and sunshine, feed them regularly and pinch them off you should end up with beautiful plants that will supply your family with fresh basil all summer long!
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