Top 10 Questions About Basil Plants

By Bonnie Grant | May 10, 2020
Image by OlgaMiltsova
by Bonnie Grant
May 10, 2020

Here at Gardening Know How we get lots of questions, and our goal is to provide answers to those inquiries to the best of our knowledge. Basil plants are frost tender annuals grown for their delicious and aromatic leaves. The following information includes the 10 most commonly asked questions about basil herb plants.

1. How do you know when to harvest basil plants?

You can begin taking basil leaves at any time, just leave plenty on the plant so it can photosynthesize and continue to grow. When the plant is about 6 inches (15 cm.), you should start pinching it to force more branching and leaves. This will also help prevent it from flowering and going to seed, which will diminish leaf production.

2. How to grow potted basil plants indoors?

Basil indoors needs warm temperatures and plenty of light. If you have southern- or western-facing window, put the plant where it can get light. If you do not have a good light source, use a grow light. Keep the light fairly close to the plants to prevent them from getting leggy. The soil should be kept moist but not soggy. Feed with a liquid fertilizer when plants are 2 months old. For a consistent supply of leaves, practice succession planting.

3. How and when to water basil?

Basil is an annual native to Africa and Southeast Asia. It loves heat and sun, which means the soil can tend to dry out quickly. When watering basil, keep the soil moderately moist but not soggy. When starting from seed, keep flats misted to avoid disrupting seedlings. Once transplanted, containers should be watered when soil is dry to the touch. Water deeply and let water run out of drainage holes. Do not let containers sit in water. In ground plants need water at least weekly in the summer.

4. What to do with basil leaves?

Basil leaves are a powerful aromatic and flavoring. You can use them fresh or dried. Fresh leaves pureed with garlic and parmesan cheese result in pesto, a delicious sauce. They can also be torn or chopped and added to other sauces, salad, pasta salad, layered on a sandwich, and more. Dried leaves are used similarly. You may also freeze fresh leaves for later use. Basil leaves can be used in homemade soap and lotion, or potpourri.

5. How do I get a bushier basil plant?

Pinch the young herb plants when they are several inches (7.6 cm.) tall. This promotes branching and the formation of more leaves. Feed with a gentle nitrogen food to encourage branching. Pinching off top growth throughout the plant’s life continues to develop a bushier plant.

6. Can I fertilize my basil plant?

Basil needs nitrogen to encourage leafy growth, but most potting mixes have plenty of nutrients for good growth so fertilizing the herb isn’t usually necessary. Garden grown plants can benefit from organic applications of compost or other amendments. Make sure the soil has plenty of leaf litter, compost, or other amendments to keep the plant happy.

7. What causes holes in basil leaves?

Many common garden pests love to feast on basil leaves. Japanese beetles and slugs will chomp holes in the leaves. Most of their feeding will not harm the plant unless it is infested. Holes in basil leaves are primarily unsightly. Use diatomaceous earth to deter slugs, and hunt at night with a flashlight to eradicate beetles.

8. How do you transplant basil plants?

Once seedlings are a few inches (7.6 cm.) tall, it is time to move them into a container or outdoors. Harden off plants that will be transplanted into the garden. Prepare the soil by ensuring good drainage and incorporating organic material. Wait until all danger of frost has passed and soil temperatures are at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 C.). Carefully remove seedlings from flats to protect the little roots. Water in transplanted basil well and then keep the soil moderately moist.

9. Can you root basil cuttings?

You can keep basil cuttings in a glass of water and, in a few weeks, they will develop roots. Cuttings result in faster plants than seed. Take a 4-inch cutting (10 cm.) and strip leaves off the bottom half. Place in a glass of water in a sunny, warm location. Change the water every few days. Once plenty of roots are observed, plant the cutting in soil.

10. Do you have information about harvesting basil seeds?

Allow the basil to flower, which will slow leaf production but allow seed to be formed. Once the flowers are spent, let the flower head dry out on the plant. Place a plastic bag under the flowers and cut off. Shake the dried flower head into the bag to harvest the tiny black seeds. Save them in an envelope in a cool, dark location until planting time. Label and date the seeds which can be stored for up to 5 years.

We all have questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We’re always here to help.

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