Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is the ideal herb for both seasoned and novice gardeners. Once planted, basil is an attractive plant that requires little care, and the leaves can be snipped as needed for use in your favorite pasta dish, or to make delicious fresh pesto. Plant basil seeds directly in the herb garden in spring after all danger of frost has passed.
Prepare a spot for the basil plants. Basil requires at least six to eight hours of sunlight every day, and must be planted in soil that drains well. Use a tiller or a spade to work the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Rake in 2 to 4 inches of compost or decomposed manure.
Plant the basil seeds in the prepared area and cover them with no more than 1/4 inch of soil. Water the area immediately, using a hose with a gentle spray nozzle or a watering can.
Thin the basil plants after the seedlings have grown at least two pairs of true leaves, which are the leaves that appear after the tiny, initial leaves. Pull the weaker seedlings, leaving 6 to 12 inches between healthy seedlings.
Water basil plants deeply once every week to 10 days when it doesn't rain. The soil should be saturated and then should be allowed to dry out before the next watering. Spread 2 to 3 inches of mulch such as straw or shredded bark around the basil plants to retain moisture and keep the roots cool.
Fertilize basil once in spring and once in summer, using a weak solution of a general-purpose liquid fertilizer. Mix the fertilizer to only about half the strength recommended on the package.
Snip the basil leaves for use as needed after the plants are 6 to 8 inches tall as desired, as trimming will encourage the plant to keep producing. Don't allow the plant to flower, as going to seed will cause the plant to become tough and woody and the flavor will be diminished.