Basil, often referred to as king of the herbs, is a robust-tasting herb used either fresh or dried to season various foods including pesto, sauces, stews, vegetables, salad dressings and poultry. For centuries, basil has been used not only for culinary purposes, but also its healing properties, which include alleviating anxiety, as a sedative, to relieving nausea and upset stomachs, and as a mood enhancer. This aromatic herb is grown as an annual and can be grown in an outside herbal garden or planted in containers to decorate a patio.
Pick a planting location that will get at least six hours of full sun each day and preferably in an area sheltered against cold winds. Plant in mid-to late May when all danger of frost and cold temperatures has passed.
Begin working your soil right after the last frost. Till the area or rake to loosen the soil and amend with either organic compost or well-rotted manure to add good drainage to the soil.
Dig a hole twice as large as the root ball and for more than one basil plant, space them at least 8 inches apart with rows about 2 feet apart. Loosen the root ball, place the plant into the hole and fill with soil and tamp down gently with your hand. Repeat for each plant.
Water your basil thoroughly after planting and keep it watered so the soil does not dry out. Consistent watering is key to growing large basil plants and using a drip system allows for deeper watering.
Spread an organic mulch around each plant to help prevent weeds from crowding out your plants and to aid in soil moisture retention. Use a shredded bark or an organic mulch.
Apply a balanced liquid fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) after planting, then apply again every two to three weeks. Fish emulsion is another good choice for feeding your plants. Be aware of too much nitrogen in your plant food; it may produce larger leaves but will compromise the taste.
Pinch off any flowers that form to help improve the taste of the leaves, since the formation of flowers causes the leaves to lose flavor. Harvest the basil leaves after about four to six weeks after planting and when they become aromatic. Pinch or snip off the leaves directly above where a pair of leaves join, and this will cause two more stems to grow. Harvest often for an abundant crop.