Basil is one of those amazing herbs that produces all summer long, thriving in high temperatures. The Pioneer Woman can attest to that!
"I grow a ton of basil in the summer—luckily the plants can handle the crazy Oklahoma weather," Ree Drummond says of her own basil garden. "I've never had easy access to fresh herbs at a local grocery store, so growing them on the ranch is a necessity. But even if you are able to buy herbs, there's something really satisfying about planting, growing and picking your own."
Luckily, this annual is easy to grow from seed or transplant seedlings from the nursery. Basil grows equally well in large garden beds or a few planter pots and containers. If you keep pinching it back for use, you'll have a steady supply of this herb all summer long. And it wouldn't be summer without the flavors of this incredible herb that features in pasta recipes with pesto, homemade pizza as a topping, or a fresh caprese salad. Ree herself ends up sprinkling it in "every dish imaginable."
"I've been known to 'accidentally' overplant basil in the summer, so we end up overrun with it by mid-July," she admits. "It's a great problem to have!"
Here's what else you need to know about how to grow basil.
When should I plant basil?
Basil doesn't like cold weather, so make sure to plant about two weeks after the last expected frost date in your area to be on the safe side. Don't try to push it; basil absolutely doesn't like the cold and will struggle or die. You can start seeds indoors under grow lights about four to six weeks before the last expected frost. Plant the seeds 1/8-inch deep and keep moist. Or you can sow seeds directly into the garden or outdoor pots. Thin seedlings to about 10 inches apart once they’re a few inches tall. Most importantly, make sure to plant basil in full sun, which is considered 6 or more hours of direct sunlight per day.
You'll typically need a grow light as most sunny windows aren't bright enough in the winter months, especially in northern climates. Hydroponic basil kits are another option for providing your kitchen with a steady supply of this herb year-round.
What kind of basil should I grow?
There are so many fun types to grow! Genovese is the traditional Italian style with large leaves and a sweet, spicy taste. Purple Ruffles has deep purple, frilly leaves and an upright form that make it lovely in mixed container plantings. Emerald Towers is a newer type that grows in a handsome and tidy columnar form with a sweet flavor. The variegated cultivar Pesto Perpetuo doesn't flower so you'll have tons of sweet basil-citrusy flavor in a columnar habit all season long.
When is it okay to start harvesting my basil?
As soon as your plant has six to eight leaves, you can pinch off a few to use. Keep trimming off leaves to use throughout the season, which will encourage it to branch so that your plant will stay nice and bushy in form. Pinch off the flowers when they appear in mid to late summer so that your basil will keep producing lots of leaves.
How do I care for basil?
Basil likes to stay consistently moist, not soaking wet. Try to water the soil, not the plant, to keep down the risk of fungal diseases. Container plants will dry out faster, so keep an eye on them during heat waves or dry spells because basil doesn't tolerate water stress too well.
Basil typically isn't too vulnerable to pests or diseases. The most annoying disease is downy mildew, an airborne disease that causes yellowing leaves and gray mold. Unfortunately, you'll have to pull up the entire plant and discard (not in your compost pile). Look for new cultivars, or cultivated varieties, are much more resistant to this disease.
What should I do with all my extra basil?
Once your basil plants are producing like crazy, you may want to pinch off some leaves and preserve them for later use. Harvest all your basil when a frost is forecast.
Then, follow Ree's suggestion: "Pesto, pesto, pesto! There's so much you can do with it. When I'm feeling productive, I make a bunch from fresh basil and freeze it in ice cube trays. Then you just plunk the cubes into soups or sauces."