Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a popular, easy-to-grow plant. It is suitable for beginners and can be grown in flower gardens as well as vegetable or herb gardens. A few short weeks are all that are needed to start collecting leaves for crafts, medicinal and culinary purposes. Its purple leaves, small flowers and recognizable scent make sweet basil a pleasant addition to any garden.
What Is Sweet Basil?
Sweet basil is a useful herb that is grown in many kitchen gardens. It is an annual and must be grown anew each season. Sweet basil is part of the mint family of plants and is the most common of the 40 types of basil plants.
Sweet basil grows to between 15 and 24 inches high. It takes on a bushy appearance as it matures, and stems are square and covered in tiny hairs. Leaf texture ranges from silky and shiny to dull and crinkly, while the colors vary from deep green to a vivid purple or purple tinged with yellow. Leaves are fragile and easily bruised. About mid-summer, stalks spring up sporting small white or lavender flowers.
Uses for Sweet Basil Plant
Because of its striking appearance, basil is sometimes used a landscape item as a border plant in a flower garden or grown in containers, raised beds or hanging baskets. When the leaves are crushed, they give off a spicy fragrance. The leaves can be used for potpourris, dried flower arrangements and sachets. The leaves can be dried, frozen or used fresh to season foods or to brew a basil tea.
Growing the Sweet Basil Plant
Sweet basil does not tolerate cold at all, so plant in warm soil after all danger of frost has passed. It can be grown from seed or easily transplanted from seedling starts. Space plants 10 to 12 inches apart. A sunny location with well-drained soil is ideal for sweet basil. To maintain moisture, add mulch to the plant. Do not add fertilizer as it ruins the fragrance. To encourage a bushy plant, prune back taller growth every two to three weeks and pinch off flower buds as they emerge.
Harvesting Sweet Basil Plants
Sweet basil plants will continue to flourish until the cold weather sets in. Begin harvesting leaves when the plant is six weeks old. The best time to harvest is in the morning on a sunny day when the dew has evaporated but before temperatures get too hot. Depending on the amount needed, the plant can be cut back to ¼ its size. This can be done in conjunction with pruning.