Basil needs 6 to 8 hours of sun; in the South and Southwest, it benefits from afternoon shade. Set out plants at least 2 weeks after the last frost in spring; summer planting is okay, too. Space at the distance recommended on the label, which is generally 12 to 18 inches apart. Plants are very frost sensitive, so keep plants protected in case of a late cold spell. Basil likes rich, moist, but well-drained soil with a pH of 6 to 7. Because it is harvested continually for lots of leaves, it needs a little fertilizer. When planting, add plenty of organic nutrients from compost, blood meal, or cottonseed meal to the soil. Feed with Bonnie Herb, Vegetable & Flower Plant Food every couple of weeks to help keep tender new leaves coming on as you pinch back the stem tips.
If planting in a container, use a large pot to keep the plants from drying out quickly in hot weather. You may also want to add mulch around the plants to help keep the soil moist and extend the time between waterings.
Occasionally, basil is bothered by aphids, slugs, or Japanese beetles. However, the biggest threat is poor drainage, so to avoid root rot, plant in a well-drained location. Also, don’t let it get too dry, or growth may be stunted. If your plants get away from you to the point at which they are making seeds and have stopped growing, shear off the top third of the stems and fertilize with liquid fertilizer. Never cut the woody part of the stem, or the plant won’t sprout back.
Harvest leaves by pinching them from the stems anytime after the young plants have reached a height of 6 to 8 inches. Pinch the leaves from the tips of the stems to encourage the plant to branch and make more leaves. Try to keep the stems pinched even if you don’t use the leaves; otherwise, the plant will begin to flower and make seeds, and will stop producing leaves. At the first prediction of even the lightest frost, go ahead and harvest all your basil because it will quickly turn black in cold weather. Make easy work of this by cutting the entire plants off at ground level, then pick off the best leaves. You can dry them, but freezing them or using them in vinegar best preserves the herb’s flavor. You can also use the leaves to flavor oils and pesto, which should be kept refrigerated or frozen. (Don’t keep fresh leaves in the refrigerator, though, as they will turn brown.)
Sown in groups that need the same soil conditions
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