How to Cultivate Basil
- Soil: Basil does its best in well-drained, moist soil with a neutral pH. I add a rich compost to the soil at the beginning of the season. Not much more soil amendment is necessary. In fact, if the soil is too rich, basil loses some of its flavor intensity.
- Sun: Basil grows well in warm environments that receive about six hours of sun each day. I have a couple of basil plants growing in an area that receives only four hours of sun, but they aren't as prolific as the others. My best basil plants actually grow in an east-facing area that doesn't get the scorching, midday sun.
- Water: Give basil water when the soil is dry to the touch, doing your best to water the plant at its base and not all over its leaves.
- Spacing: Depending upon the variety, basil grows anywhere from 12 to 24 inches in height. Space basil plants 12 to 16 inches apart. If you're limited on space or only grow in containers, consider spicy globe basil, which tends to form a small, mounding habit.
- Companion planting: Plant basil among other herbs and vegetables with similar lighting and watering needs, like tomatoes or parsley. Some even say tomatoes taste better when they neighbor basil. Plant basil alongside chamomile, lettuce, peppers, and oregano. I even like to keep a few pots of basil on my back porch to deter mosquitoes.
How to Harvest Basil
Basil is a pick-as-you-go kind of herb. You may harvest only what you need, or if you have an abundance on hand, you may clip a mass harvest. I'll have more ideas on what to do with all of that extra basil on tomorrow's preservation post. Harvest basil as you would mint, snipping a stem just above the point where two large leaves meet. Regular clipping encourages a more rounded, less leggy plant.
It's always better to harvest basil before the plant flowers. If you don't have time to harvest any leaves, just pinch off the flowering portion. The flowers are actually edible, but if you pinch them off, the plant can now direct its energy on growing tasty leaves. Also be sure to only harvest up to 2/3 of the entire plant, so it can continue producing.