Basil leaves

Basil – Grow Guide

Discover how to grow your own aromatic basil, with the help of this practical guide.

A table displaying which months are best to sow, plant and harvest.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Sow
Sow

Do not Sow in January

Do not Sow in February

Do Sow in March

Do Sow in April

Do not Sow in May

Do not Sow in June

Do not Sow in July

Do not Sow in August

Do not Sow in September

Do not Sow in October

Do not Sow in November

Do not Sow in December

Plant
Plant

Do not Plant in January

Do not Plant in February

Do not Plant in March

Do not Plant in April

Do not Plant in May

Do Plant in June

Do Plant in July

Do not Plant in August

Do not Plant in September

Do not Plant in October

Do not Plant in November

Do not Plant in December

Harvest
Harvest

Do not Harvest in January

Do not Harvest in February

Do not Harvest in March

Do not Harvest in April

Do not Harvest in May

Do not Harvest in June

Do Harvest in July

Do Harvest in August

Do Harvest in September

Do not Harvest in October

Do not Harvest in November

Do not Harvest in December

  • Average Yield

    Pick leaves as required

  • Spacing

    30cm apart

    30cm between rows

  • Depth

    0.5cm

Overview

Used in pasta sauces, pizzas, salads and Thai curries, basil is an essential ingredient in the kitchen. Sweet basil tends to dominate the supermarket shelves, but there are many more exciting types to try when you grow your own.

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Basil is a half-hardy annual, so new plants will be needed each year.

Growing basil from seed

basil-seedlings-2

Sowing and planting

Basil thrives in well-drained, fertile soil, in a warm, sheltered position out of direct midday sun. To get a quality crop that lasts from early spring to mid-autumn, it’s best to grow it in a container.

Start your seeds off in pots of moist multi-purpose compost on a warm but not sunny windowsill. When seedlings are big enough to handle, pot them on into individual pots filled with a soil-based compost. Put them outside in early summer after the last frost. To acclimatise them to conditions outdoors, stand them outside in a sheltered, lightly shaded spot during the day, and bring them back in at night. Do this daily for about two weeks.

watering-basil-seedlings-2

Tending the crop

Outdoors, basil needs protection from wind and frost. Always water with care, ideally before midday, and avoid splashing the leaves. This should help prevent botrytis (powdery mould).

Plants will grow fast in containers, so expect to pot them up a few times during the growing season.

Basil is a half-hardy annual, so new plants will be needed each year. However, in autumn, when temperatures start to dip, bring a few plants back indoors to provide a fresh supply of leaves in winter.

harvesting-basil-leaves-2

Harvesting basil

Pick the leaves and tops of basil regularly throughout the summer to use fresh. You can be quite ruthless, so long as you leave at least three pairs of side shoots so your plants can regrow. Don’t wash the leaves until you’re ready to use them as they’ll turn slimy.

Storing basil

Store leaves in the fridge for up to three days. Or, stand cut stems in a glass of water ready to use. To freeze basil, chop the leaves and place them in an ice-cube tray, cover with water and pop in the freezer. Use within five months.

Preparation and uses

For the best flavour, add fresh basil at the end of cooking. It’s said that you should tear rather than chop basil leaves to release their wonderful aroma. Use in salads, soups, stews, to make pesto and other sauces, particularly any recipe containing tomatoes.

Troubleshooting

Protect plants from snails and slugs. Basil is also prone to attack by whitefly and red spider mite, both of which can be treated with horticultural soap.

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How to grow supermarket basil

Most fresh basil sold in supermarkets is sweet basil. It takes just 22 days from seed to sale, so the rootball is underdeveloped. This is why it normally dies if you plant it in the garden. If you want to give it a go, tip the plants out of their pot and tease their roots apart to separate them. Replant individually into pots of soil-based compost. Keep them moist but not wet, and place them somewhere warm but not in direct sun. When you see roots through the drainage holes in the pot base, harden off and plant out in the garden.

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Basil varieties to try

  • ‘Cinnamon’ – olive green/brown leaves that have a very spicy flavour
  • ‘Greek’ – small leaves with a strong anise-clove flavour. Good in pots
  • ‘Red Rubin’ – produces highly aromatic, deep purple leaves
  • ‘Sweet Genovese’ – large-leaved variety with a sweet flavour