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This is YOUR Date! Know When You Can Start Growing Basil Outdoors...

As we patiently await for spring to arrive, the question we are asking ourselves is when can I start planting outside? The short answer to this is as soon as we can guarantee that there will be no frost. This simple question can be challenging to answer. Without looking through 30 years of meteorological data you won’t really know when the last spring frost will occur. Right? Well… I made this answer easy for you. Me (and a team of geeks) took a look at the data that is available to the public by the NOAA National Climatic Data Center and extracted the most important bits pertaining to when you can start growing basil. I made a nice little table for each state and area showing you exactly when you can start planting your herb gardens, based on 30 years of data. We had to do some serious number crunching here to provide you with this easy-to-digest information, but we did it. Just for you. Below you can find a link with information for each state. Each state’s page will give you the following information: The county or area of interest. The first date after which there is a 90% chance of no frost occurring. The length of your basil growing season, from the point of that date. Note: Keep in mind that basil likes to be warm, so you may want to adjust your start date accordingly. Enjoy. Alabama Alaska Arizona Arkansas California Colorado Connecticut Delaware Florida Georgia Hawaii Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine Maryland Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Missouri Montana Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico New York North Carolina North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah Vermont Virginia West Virginia Wisconsin Wyoming...

How to Grow Basil Outdoors

Basil is an annual plant, and like me, it enjoys a somewhat tropical environment. Care should be taken not to plant basil outdoors until after the last spring frost has passed. It prefers full sunlight (6+ hours a day of direct light) and a warm climate, meaning more than 70 °F (21 °C) during the day and no colder than 50 °F (10 °C) at night. The herb should be planted in soil that drains well. It does best in soil that is combined with compost. Basil grows in soil that has a wide range of acidity (pH levels between 5.1 and 8.5) although levels between 5.5 and 6.5 are preferred. It is easy to test your soil pH levels and it could save you a headache later on if your soil is bad. An inexpensive  and well-rated pH tester is the Rapitest pH Soil Tester. Growing from Seed Basil seeds should be sown thinly and covered with approximately a quarter-inch (0.5 cm) of compost or fine soil. Keep the soil moist and free from weeds. Germination should occur within 5-7 days. Just so you don’t mistake it for a weed… new seedlings have two broad leaves. Once the seedlings have two pairs of leaves you can thin out the weaker seedlings. Most sources suggest thinning the plants to be 6-12 inches apart; however in my experience with common basil, I find it does well with a little more room to grow. I have had basil plants grow to be 24 inches wide. If you want to get a head start, the seeds can be started indoors 3-4 weeks before the last spring frost. You can sow the seeds ½-inch apart in flats, keep them warm and moist, and then transplant them after they have two pairs of leaves. A lot of people use the “greenhouse kits” to start their seedlings. The kits give you a covered tray with a large of number of peat pellets in which you can plant seeds. Those pellets sit nicely in the tray and are easy to transplant. A kit like the Jiffy Professional Greenhouse can be had for less than $8 USD. Some people recommend using a heating mat, such as the Hydrofarm Seedling Heat Mat, under the tray to improve your chances of germination. Also take note, some varieties, such as “Purple Ruffles”, need more time to germinate and a mat may be beneficial. See How to Grow Basil Indoors for more information on this topic. Starting from Seedlings Basil can be purchased as seedlings in plugs and pots ready for...

Basil Varieties

There are dozens of types of basil, including such unique basil varieties as purple basil and cinnamon basil, which are appreciated for their color, smell and taste. There are also a number of different species that are highly regarded for their use in cooking, medicine and for their ties to religion as well. Two such species include Thai basil and holy basil. Other types of basil are excellent choices for decorative designs…

Care and Maintenance

Basil should receive 6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day. Some suggest watering outdoor plants every 4-6 days, but I personally like to check mine every other day to determine if the soil is moist. If the soil is dry I will water them, otherwise I wait another day.  In my experience, it is hard to over-water outdoor basil, especially if the plants are in good soil that drains well. For indoor potted plants, water them until the soil is wet to a depth of about 1½ inches. The best technique for watering your basil is to do so at the base of the plant to avoid stressing the leaves and stems. Fertilizer If you are repeatedly growing in the same spot outdoors, the leaves of your plants are yellowing or you are growing basil indoors, then you may want to fertilize. You should fertilize only once or twice per growing season for outdoor plants. It is recommended, for edible herb and vegetable gardens, to use a balanced fertilizer where the nitrogen content does not exceed 20 percent. A typical fertilizer that would be recommended for edible gardens is one rated 10-10-10 (the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the mix, respectively). Stronger fertilizers should only be used when plants are being watered thoroughly and the drainage is good, to help prevent fertilizer burn. For indoor plants, a lower potency of fertilizer is recommended and it can be applied more frequently, perhaps every 3-4 weeks. Always apply fertilizer around the base of the plant and never on the leaves or stems. A practice many gardeners prefer to using  artificial fertilizer is to use composts on soil prior to planting. Compost provides nutrition to your garden but does so more slowly than artificial fertilizers. This is because compost must become biologically available or “break down”, a process which can take months or years. Another highly regarded food for your herb garden is liquid kelp spray. Kelp not only provides nutrients, but it has been found to control garden pests as well as help prepare some perennial herbs for cold winter weather. Indoor herbs sprayed with liquid kelp have been found to be more tolerant to low-light conditions as well as dry soil. Pruning Your basil plant should be pruned several times throughout the season. This will encourage new growth and is especially important if using the herb for culinary purposes. This can be done after the plants have grown at least 6-8 inches. When harvesting basil, I prefer to cut a stem just above a pair of...

Harvesting and Preserving Basil

Once your basil plant has reached 6-8 inches in height you can begin harvesting leaves. This involves exactly the same process as “pruning” which I covered in the article Care and Maintenance.  Harvesting basil is important, not only to promote the growth of new stems but to ensure that the plant does not flower too early. Once the herb starts to flower it will stop producing new leaves and the existing leaves may become slightly bitter to taste. If you are growing basil outdoors make sure to harvest all the leaves before the first frost, or transplant it indoors so that your crop is not lost. Preserving the Herb After Cutting There are many ways to preserve basil. This means that you can have basil available all year round, especially if you are growing basil indoors as well. Now let me break down the various ways that basil can be preserved. Keeping Fresh Cut Basil Fresh Basil loves warm weather, and furthermore it does not like your refrigerator. Putting basil in the fridge will cause it to wilt and turn brown. To keep basil fresh for several days after cutting it, put the basil into a glass of water with the stems down. Make sure the leaves are not in the water and sit it out on the counter-top or somewhere close by. If you insist on using the refrigerator, cover the basil with a plastic bag while it is in its container or glass to help protect it. Freezing Basil This is a great method for preserving basil if you do a lot of cooking and you want to have relatively fresh basil all year long. Take the basil from your harvest and, after washing it, put it in a food processor. You can even use the stems if you wish. Puree the herb, pour it into ice cube trays and put it in the freezer. I recommend using a little extra virgin olive oil in the puree, especially if you are going to be making pesto with it. After the cubes are frozen you can pop them out and store them in zip-lock bags. When you are ready to cook, it’s as easy as tossing a few cubes in the pan. Drying Basil There is an art to drying basil and there are a variety of methods people use for doing so. One caveat to drying basil is that it turns brown, and this is a turn off for many people. This is why many people prefer to use fresh basil or freeze it instead. If you...

How to Grow Basil Indoors

In contrast to growing basil outdoors, you will need to pay careful attention to providing proper levels of light, hydration and nourishment for the plant. Mother nature provides most of what a healthy herb needs naturally. However, if you are growing indoors then you should follow our suggestions below to ensure an abundant harvest. The Soil If you are growing basil indoors then you are going to be using a pot or other container, which can make maintaining proper moisture levels a challenge. Basil thrives in soil that drains well, so you will want to use soil that prevents standing water.  So, rather than using soil from your garden in your pots, it may be better to buy a coarse-textured growing mix at the store.  If you use soil that is too heavy or dense, you run the risk of having poor drainage. Contrary to popular belief, lining the bottom of your pot with gravel or rocks will not improve drainage but it will certainly inhibit plant growth. The side-effect of having good drainage is that you will need to water container-bound herbs more frequently. So how often and how much should you water? Water when the soil is dry. If you can stick your finger a half inch into the soil and it feels dry, it is time to water. What is the best way to determine how much water to use? When planting, if you leave about a quarter-inch or half-inch of space between the top of the soil and the rim of the pot you can water to the top of the pot and that will be roughly the right amount. If you don’t want to worry about watering it consistently, you can use a special container such as the EarthBox which uses a reservoir to water your plants gradually over time. Supplying your basil plant with proper nutrition is another challenge when growing in pots. Compost releases nutrients over months and years, more slowly than synthetic fertilizers, and may not provide all the nourishment desired for your container-bound plant. If you do use a fertilizer, we recommend using a relatively weaker mix or a diluted solution, and you can apply this every 3-4 weeks if needed. Please see the fertilizer section of care and maintenance where this topic is further discussed. Pots and Containers There are many types of pots and containers that you can use for growing basil indoors.Clay pots are porous and so you will likely be watering more often if you use these but the soil stays cooler in hot climates. Plastic...

Artificial Lighting for Growing Basil

After experiencing the joys of harvesting fresh basil during the summertime, many people find that they want fresh basil all year round. While growing basil indoors is not terribly difficult, many people often find that their plants do not thrive as they would when grown outdoors. This is often a combination of several factors. First, the duration of light or quality of light that a plant receives in the wintertime is often lacking. Placing a basil plant in a southern-facing window is ideal (if you are in the northern hemisphere), however it may not always be sufficient. Secondly, basil thrives in warm weather. Most homes are not heated to be as warm as basil requires. Also consider that window plants may receive a chill from being seated next to a cold window. Many of these issues can be overcome by using artificial light for growing indoors during the winter. In the following sections I will attempt to explain the basics of container growing using artificial light and make suggestions for good and bad approaches. The Basics There are many types of grow lights that can be used for growing basil. Each type has its own characteristics and these should be considered before making a decision on which light system to use. The first point you must understand is that light is emitted in different wavelengths. By “wavelengths” I mean colors. If an object reflects all wavelengths of light it appears as white light to our eyes. Plants use different wavelengths of light during different phases of their life and for different purposes. One particular study on how light affects aroma and antioxidant content of sweet basil suggests that red light produces the largest leaves with the most moisture content. Yellow and green light produces leaves with the most phenolic compounds–this is where you get antioxidants and essential oils from. Yellow and green also produces the most monoterpenoid and aliphatic compounds which give the herb its aroma as well as its anti-inflammatory medicinal properties. Blue light is often used for the beginning stages of growth and facilitates the vegetative growth of a plant. Red light is useful for flowering and fruit bearing. Since we don’t really want our basil plant to flower, because it makes the leaves bitter, we are not too concerned with the red spectrum. The Selection The least expensive (and a very energy efficient) option is fluorescent grow lights. Fluorescent grow lights are designed to be spread spectrum, effectively carrying an assortment of all the visible color wavelengths. An inexpensive but effective grow light for someone just...

Metal Halide Grow Lights

Metal halide grow lights have been the choice among professional growers of basil for many years. As far as high-intensity discharge lamps (HID lamps) are concerned, metal halide (MH) produces the most desirable light spectrum for growing basil – blue light. Light that falls within the range of blue light, around a wavelength of 475nm, is best for plants that are in the vegetative state…