Taking Care of Your Basil
by Sam Doll
Fresh basil is one of the true treats of the garden. This sweet and savory herb can be used in anything from a fresh Caprese salad, a lovely pesto, or even chopped up as a flavor bomb on grilled meats and veggies!
However, it can be really hard to keep your basil productive, lush, and tasty throughout the summer. If you aren’t careful, your beautiful basil can become scraggly, short-lived, and bitter!
1. Sun is Basil’s Friend
Basil originated from subtropical areas of ancient India. Due to its roots, it loves a lot of sun and a lot of water. Make sure your basil is getting at least 6-8 hours of full sun every day. If you are keeping your basil in a container indoors, make sure that it is near a south-facing window.
2. Water is Basil’s 2nd Best Friend
Basil likes to be well hydrated, so make sure that you are frequently watering and that the soil is well drained. There is no set schedule you should be watering during, just keep an eye on the soil and water when it first appears dry.
3. The More You Take, the More the Plant Gives
If left to its own devices, the basil plant will grow tall and spindly. Unfortunately, a tall skinny plant does not provide many leaves for you to munch on. To make the basil bushy and bountiful, you need to consistently prune and harvest from the plant.
The key to harvesting basil is to not just pick off the leaves. You want to cut or pinch off the leaves at the stem, right above a set of two leaves or nodes, like bellow. These nodes will create two separate branches, so make sure to leave at least one or two of these below the trim spot on the stem. If you keep this up every one to two weeks, you will have a massive, bushy basil plant by late summer!
4. Flowers are Your Enemy
When a leafy plant decides to produce seeds, it is known as bolting. Bolting, which often happens when the weather turns hot, is when the plant expects a period of high heat and little water, so it tries to produce seeds as quickly as possible. You can tell when your plant is bolting because it will have a period of rapid growth and flower production.
Once a basil plant goes to seed, the plant will start to wither away, and the remaining foliage will turn bitter and can take on an anise, or liquorice, flavor. If you let your basil get away from you, this can reduce your harvest season by months.
The easiest way to manage this is to cut off or pinch off any flower structures as soon as they appear. This will prevent the plant from bolting and, like with pruning, it will encourage the plant to branch off from where you trimmed it, making your plant even more productive and bushy.