Basil – Growing & Care

Basil, the damsel! How dramatically she wilts when she decides it’s been too long since her roots were kissed with sweetness of water, only to spring back to full vigor within hours of her demands being met, as though nothing ever happened.

Such a drama queen.

A basil bush, dark purple, against a white background. The basil is in a black plastic pot.

Basics

This fair lady wants nothing to do with the cold. Keep your basil warm- only allowing outside after the nighttime temperatures stay above 50 F at the least- and give her a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight a day. More is better!

Watering

Don’t rely solely on waiting for your basil to wilt to know when to water, but don’t drown it, either. How often one waters basil changes depending on too many things to give a solid answer: if it’s growing in a pot, outdoors, what season it is, what the ambient temperature is, and so on.

The best way to find out if your basil needs water or not is to poke a finger into the soil, about two inches down. As long as the soil still feels moist, you’re good. Soil dry? Time to water.

Fertilizing

Some say basil is a heavy feeder. Others insist they’re a light one. From my experience, it’s a light feeder- either going entirely without any fertilizer at all, or only receiving a touch of fish emulsion once in a blue moon. If your basil seems to be struggling, consider seeing if a light dose of high-nitrogen fertilizer perks it up. If it seems fine without, leave it be!

Additional Care

Shaping

In order to keep your basil healthy, it’s best to regularly pinch off the tops right above the branching points. This encourages branching, which is absolutely desired- you get a nice, bushy plant, rather than a spindly, stretching strand that eventually topples over. Not sure where to pinch off at?

Fingers in the middle of pinching the top off a basil stem.
Pinch off your basil right about here. Don’t go too low, or you risk taking off the baby leaves.

Little paired baby leaves form in the join between the stem and a leaf, a pair to each side- you want to pinch off the stem above them. Since you’re removing the growth off the main stem, this sends a signal to those tiny little leaves to start growing, taking over from where the main stem stopped.

A basil stem with the top pinched off, showing the baby leaves left behind.
Basil stem, post-pinching.

If you didn’t pinch off the stem, these baby shoots would stay small, underdeveloped, and not amount to much as the plant would continue to grow straight up. By pinching off the tops above where these points form, the plant is encouraged to branch out instead, ultimately leading to a stronger, more productive plant.

Lifespan

Basil will, eventually, flower, and after that, set seed. This signals the coming end of your basil’s lifespan. Bees love the flowers, but the act of blooming changes the taste of the leaves, so some people elect to snip off any buds that begin to form. The flowers can sometimes be bitter, but are also edible.

Snipping off the buds before they can bloom can also help extend the life of a basil plant, but only for so long. Generally, expect to need to replace your basil on at least a yearly basis.

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