Basil is an annual herb that is frequently used as a culinary seasoning. The leaves have a strong flavor and are commonly used in Mediterranean, Italian and Thai recipes. Basil is also used in flower gardens because of its attractive white and lavender flowers that form during the summer months. The basil plant is easily cultivated and requires only routine care to thrive.
Start basil indoors during early March in cell packs filled with all-purpose potting soil. Sow one seed in each cell at a depth of about ½ inch. Maintain a soil temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit to encourage germination. Water once per week to keep the soil from drying out completely.
Transplant the seedlings to 2-inch pots after they have formed two leaves. Use an all-purpose potting soil amended with organic compost to provide adequate fertilization. Continue to water once per week.
Transfer basil plants outdoors during late May. Choose a planting site that receives full sunlight and has fertile, well-drained soil. Dig a hole in the soil twice as wide and of equal depth to the basil root ball. Place the plant in the hole and gently cover the roots with soil. Water immediately to compact the soil around the roots.
Spread a 2-inch layer of organic mulch over the soil surrounding basil. Begin the layer at least 3 inches from the base of the plant to allow air circulation and plenty of room for growth. Replenish the layer of mulch as often as necessary throughout the growing season.
Water basil once per week to keep the soil consistently moist at all times. Do not splash water on the basil leaves, as moist foliage is more vulnerable to disease. Apply during the early morning so excess water can evaporate quickly before temperatures drop.
Feed basil once during mid-summer with a 5-10-5 NPK fertilizer. Apply at half the strength recommended by the manufacturer to prevent root burn. Water immediately after applying to release the nutrients into the soil.
Prune basil once every two weeks to encourage a healthy, compact growing habit. Use pruning shears to remove any dead, diseased or excessively long branches to help conserve nutrients and improve aesthetic appeal. Pinch off any basil flowers buds that form to prevent the plant from spending nutrients on seed formation.
Harvest basil at any time during the growing season by simply removing the desired leaves from the plant. Do not remove all of the leaves from a single plant to keep it growing healthy. Store harvested leaves by placing in a small plastic bag and freezing.