Basil is a popular culinary herb that grows in a Mediterranean climate but which can grow outside annually in the garden as long as it has enough shelter, warmth and sunshine. It must be protected from harsh winds and have plenty of light. If you feel it may be difficult to get a Mediterranean climate in your garden then you may be better to grow basil inside on a warm, sunny windowsill.

Growing basil

Basil seeds should be sown in April in a propagator or on a warm windowsill. Seeds will germinate and seedlings appear within two weeks. It is best to place pots in water to keep seedlings moist, rather than watering from above. It is essential to keep the seedlings somewhere warm and with plenty of light.

Growing basil in a pot

Make sure that however you are growing the basil, it has enough space to grow without any overcrowding from its neighbours. Basil can be transplanted to a larger pot or to its final position outside when seedlings have around five 'true' leaves. It should go without saying that basil can only be planted outside well after the risk of frost has passed in your area.

Harvesting basil leaves

You can begin to harvest basil leaves when the plant has reached around 10cm tall and has plenty of leaves. You should not remove whole stems but should pinch or cut off individual leaves as and when you want to use them. Remove any flowers as soon as they appear. This will ensure that the plants are still able to concentrate their energy on leaf production.

There are several different basil varieties that give variations in taste and fragrance but the most common sort of basil grown and eaten is sweet basil. Basil, due to its requirement for high levels of sunlight, is difficult to grow in the winter, even indoors, but luckily, while this does result in it losing some of its delicious flavour, it is possible to dry basil for future use. Hang it in bunches in a dark, warm, dry place, then simply crumble fully dried leaves into jars.

Planting chamomile or anise near basil is said to increase the amounts of essential oils it contains.

Why grow basil in the garden?

Growing basil is a great way to get started with growing herbs. Basil will grow easily as long as it is given enough light and heat. It is delicious in a variety of different dishes and a must for anyone who enjoys Italian food or any other Mediterranean cuisine.

Basil as a companion plant

Basil is also a handy companion plant for tomatoes and peppers grown in a polytunnel or greenhouse. While there is little evidence that it is true, as many people suggest, that basil imparts tomatoes grown nearby with a better flavour, it has been shown that basil can increase yields. It can be used as a living mulch to suppress weeds around tomato plants and retain moisture in the soil.

Quick Facts

Latin Name
Ocimum basilcum