How to grow basil
The best growing conditions for basil are warm climates, basil doesn’t fare well in cold, damp weather and frosts. Fun fact: butterflies love basil so don’t be surprised if you see them fluttering near your basil bush.
Wondering how much sun basil needs? Basil needs a spot with full sun and a little afternoon shade in hot climates but you can also grow basil in pots indoors, window sills are the perfect spot. As basil stems aren’t very strong it doesn’t fare well in windy conditions so it is best to keep it protected.
Plant in well-drained soil, enriched with compost. Use a good-quality potting mix if planting in a pot.
You need to water in well when planting. Once established, water regularly, but check that the soil drains freely, as these plants don't like wet feet. During heatwaves, water often as the thin leaves can wilt in the hot sun.
Feed basil regularly with a water-soluble nitrogen fertiliser.
To prolong the life of your plants, harvest leaves when the stems have become woody and pinch out flowers to encourage leaf growth. Frost can kill plants, so harvest well beforehand.
You can grow basil relatively easily from cuttings. Simply take a few cuttings and place in a glass of water in a sunny spot until roots develop.
How to plant
Planting basil is relatively easy, you can grow basil from seeds which you can buy from Bunnings or your local hardware or from a small shrub, even the ones you buy in coles and Woolworths will work.
Basil needs moist, well-drained soil. If you have some compost or fertiliser handy add some to the soil to give your basil a boost. If you are growing basil in a pot remember to turn your pot every couple of weeks for even growth.
How to harvest
The more basil you eat the more basil you’ll grow as picking leaves encourages new growth. Picking basil isn’t an art, simply pick leaves as you need them by pressing your nail against your thumb to avoid bruising.
If your basil starts to flower, simply pinch the flowers off the top to keep your basil bushy and not too tall.
Care & Troubleshooting
Struggling to keep your basil alive? Here’s a couple of common troubleshooting problems to help keep your plant from dying.
Not sure how to prune basil? Simply picking leaves from the top of the plant should be enough to keep your basil under control. If you notice any dead leaves snip them off but aside from that it needs little attention.
The best companion plants for basil are tomatoes, eggplants, beans and oregano.
Types of basil
Next time you're cooking up a dish to impress, try one of these other exciting varieties. Each has a unique colour, flavour and fragrance - just as for them at your local nursery and plant up!
You can find over ten varieties of basil in Australia but the two most popular varieties are Sweet and Thai.
- Sweet Basil - most commonly used basil. Sweet aromatic flavour. Typically used in Italian cuisine.
- Thai Basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora) - has a distinct liquorice aroma and narrower leaves. It is most commonly used in Thai soups and dishes.
- Bush Basil - grows in a neat compact mound. It's tiny leaves pack a peppery punch - great for tomato dishes, sauces and pesto.
- Lime Basil - features zesty lime notes and goes well in soups, salads and fish dishes.
- Dark Opal Basil - features gorgeous purple foliage and adds milk peppery notes to soups, salads and sauces.
- Lemon Basil - has a strong lemon scent and is a favourite in Asian-style soups, curries and stir-fries.
- Cinnamon Basil - features pretty, lavender-pink flowers and violet stems. Its spicy cinnamon flavours can be used to enhance all kinds of desserts, fruits, salads and teas.
Name varieties of basil
- Pesto Perpetuo: Lime green with thing white margins, its taste comes with a hint of lemon.
- Amethyst: Dark purple, almost black leaves with a sweet fragrance and taste.
- Mrs Burns Lemon: The strongest scent and flavour of all of the lemon basils, plus undertones of cinnamon and mint. Slow to bolt, tolerates heat and drought well.
- Tuscany: Big, puckered leaves with a mild flavour that comes with just a hint of anise.
- Aromatto: Purple and green foliage present a spicy yet sweet flavour with a hint of cinnamon.
- Spicy Globe: An ornamental edible, with tiny bright green clustered leaves that produce a rich, sweet, spicy flavour. A hint of mint and cloves can be found as well.
- Holy Green: Lots of flower spikes very early in the season, plus very strong minty and musky-scented leaves on purple stems.
- Purple Ball: Small, dark, plum purple leaves that are highly aromatic and zesty to taste.
Tips for growing basil
- Most basil varieties in Australia are annuals and you will need to grow from seed or plant a seedling every year. This should be done in spring after frost finishes.
- Regularly pinching off the leaves of basil keeps growth more compact and encourages it to grow more leaves.
- Pinching off the flower heads helps extend the leaf harvesting period, but you can leave the flowers be if a purple basil plant is part of your ornamental garden. The leaves may lose flavour and taste bitter if you do choose to leave the flower heads on.