Basil (Ocimum) is a flavorful herb that adds a rich, distinctive touch to many foods, including Italian dishes, salad dressings, soups and sauces. Basil is easy to grow, but the plant is tender and won't tolerate cold weather. Grow basil as an annual and start fresh every year, or pot it up, bring the plant indoors for the winter and enjoy it all year.
Plant basil seeds in a sunny, well-drained location in spring, after all danger of frost has passed. Cover the seeds with 1/4 inch of soil.
Thin the basil when the seedlings have two or three pairs of true leaves, allowing 6 to 12 inches between each seedling. True leaves develop after the tiny seedling leaves.
Spread 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch around the basil plants, but don't cover the plants. Mulch such as compost, dry grass clippings or chopped leaves will minimize weeds and retain moisture around the plants.
Water basil deeply every 7 to 10 days. Never allow the soil to become bone-dry.
Fertilize basil in mid-spring and in mid-summer, using a light application of a 5-10-5 fertilizer. Apply the fertilizer sparingly according to package directions, as too much fertilizer will decrease the flavor of the basil.
Snip the basil leaves for use anytime, using pruners or garden shears. Periodic pruning will maintain growth and prevent the plant from going to seed to early. Pinch the flower buds from the basil plants as soon as they appear.
Dig the basil plants up with a shovel and bring the plants indoors in autumn if you live in a freezing winter climate. Put the plant in a pot filled with commercial potting soil, and place the pot in a sunny location. Be sure the pot has good bottom drainage.