How to Grow Your Own Basil (and Save Money at the Store)
We’ve all been there: A recipe calls for fresh basil. So you navigate to the supermarket produce aisle, reach for that tiny package, and jerk back in horror at the preposterous price.
“Maybe I’ll just substitute dried…” you think.
But there’s a better way! You can easily grow your own fresh bounty of basil with Tower Garden. And in this guide, you’ll learn how.
Hailing from the mint family, basil is one of the most popular culinary herbs. It’s found all over the world — most famously in Mediterranean (e.g., Italian) and Asian cuisine.
In addition to its versatility in the kitchen, basil offers anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and cardiovascular benefits.
And — perhaps most importantly — basil is among the easiest plants you can grow, making it an excellent choice for new gardeners.
Basil varieties differ in taste, growth habits, and even color.
Selecting a Basil Variety
Due to basil’s popularity, you have many varieties to choose from.
- Sweet basil (e.g., Genovese, Italian Large Leaf) is highly aromatic and perfect for making pesto and other Italian dishes. Every Tower Garden ships with sweet basil seeds.
- Lemon basil combines the traditional basil taste with a citrusy flair reminiscent of a lemon or lime.
- Purple basil is typically grown for its unique appearance rather than for flavor. You can use purple basil just like sweet basil. (But we recommend using a little more, as the taste is typically less potent.)
- Thai basil is known for its sweet licorice-like flavor. It’s commonly found in — you guessed it — Thai food.
For the bold and curious, there are many other varieties — from cinnamon basil to fine leaf basil — to explore.
Grow basil in warm conditions with no risk of frost.
Planting Basil Seeds
Though basil will grow from spring to fall in most areas, it prefers the warm days of summer — when nighttime temperatures stay above 55˚F. (It won’t tolerate frost.)
Basil is most productive and resistant to disease when it receives six or more hours of sun (or at least 14 hours under grow lights if you’re gardening indoors) every day.
The ideal temperature range for germination is 65–70˚F. The warmer end of that spectrum will cause seeds to sprout more quickly, but grow in a spindly fashion. Cooler conditions, on the other hand, will yield stouter, more resilient seedlings.
Tower Tip: Page seven of the Tower Garden Growing Guide covers important seed-starting information, such as preparing your rockwool cubes, transplanting seedlings, and more.
We recommend planting about six basil seeds per rockwool cube. They should germinate within a week.
After this happens, place the seedlings outside in the sun or under a grow light to increase their hardiness. They should be ready to transplant two weeks after sprouting.
We recommend planting basil near the top of your Tower Garden, where it can comfortably grow upward and outward — which it will do rapidly.
Flowering signals the end of basil’s growing cycle.
Once your basil has six leaves, you should start pruning. (In the case of most herbs, “pruning” is synonymous with “harvesting.”) Pruning will give your plant a stronger, more manageable stature, encourage new growth, and delay bolting — the flowering process that ends basil’s growing cycle.
Tower Tip: If you notice your basil is beginning to flower, simply pinch off the buds to interrupt the process.
To prune basil, pinch (or snip) the main stem just above a pair of leaves. You’ll likely see small leaves sprouting in the axil of the stem and mature leaf. After you prune, these little leaves will develop into new branches.
And that bit of basil you just pinched off? Enjoy it as the final touch in your tomato sauce, grilled cheese sandwich, or another dish.
Regularly prune basil to delay bolting and encourage new growth.
Basil Pests and Diseases
Like most herbs, basil is naturally resistant to garden pests. In fact, it can help protect your other plants by repelling many bad bugs.
But the following pests and diseases have been known to affect basil — particularly in cool, wet weather.
- Leaf spot
Cooking with basil? Add it last — high heat can destroy its flavor.
Harvesting and Using Basil
As a fast-growing crop, basil will be ready to harvest soon after planting. And like most herbs, it will allow for continuous (likely weekly) harvesting throughout the season, provided you keep the following in mind:
- Always use clean harvesting utensils to reduce the risk of introducing or spreading a plant disease.
- In addition to harvesting by the pruning method described above, you can pick the lower mature leaves of the plant.
- To ensure your basil keeps growing, never harvest more than one-third of the plant at a time.
Need ideas for how to use your basil harvests? Many recipes in the Tower Gardener Cookbook use basil. (Download the cookbook PDF for free here.)
Basil is most flavorful when fresh. But if you harvest more than you can use, don’t refrigerate it.
It will turn into unappetizing brown mush.
Preserve it using one of these methods instead:
- Place stems in water. As long as you change the water daily, this will keep your harvest fresh for several days.
- Wash, process, and freeze. To preserve the rich flavor of fresh basil for a longer period of time, wash, pat dry, and process your harvest. Then add the processed basil to an ice cube tray, drizzle olive oil over each cube, and place the tray in the freezer. Once frozen, you can transfer the cubes to freezer bags and simply pull one out whenever a recipe calls for basil.
- Hang up to dry. Much of basil’s flavor is lost when it’s dried. But drying is arguably the easiest way to preserve it. Simply hang your harvest in a well-ventilated, warm area until the leaves easily crumble.
Have a question we didn’t cover in this guide? Please leave a comment below, and we’ll be glad to help.
Otherwise, happy growing!
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