Family: Lamiaceae

Basil is probably my favourite herb.  There are a stunning selection of basil varieties available, each with their own flavour.  Different basil types each have their charm and depending on the variety will produce tiny, small, medium, or extra-large sized leaves.  I adore the flavour of a vast array of basil varieties, and I really enjoy growing basil from seed and cuttings.

In theory you can sow basil seeds in the warmth and undercover – so you could sow basil seeds at any time of year.  However, I find I achieve better results when I wait until at least March to start sowing basil seeds undercover, and I simply adore sowing basil seeds outdoors, when all risk of frost has passed in June!  Basil seeds can be sown outdoors from the beginning of June until the end of July.  I particularly enjoy sowing basil seeds directly in my free-draining sandy soil, as these plants thrive in the soil and rarely need watering when grown directly in the soil.  If you’re sowing basil seeds in containers, do use peat-free compost – as basil won’t grow anywhere near as well in peat as it will in free-draining soil or peat-free compost.

Basil can be grown on bright and sunny window sills, inside conservatories, glasshouses, polytunnels, and cold frames.  From June to September (early summer to early autumn) basil can be grown outside in the UK.  Basil thrives in full sunshine so choose your sunniest spot to grow this herb, but plants will also grow in partial shade.

Basil can also be propagated by taking cuttings.  Take a sharp pair of scissors or snips, and making sure you have a tall enough stem that allows you to have some stem buried under the compost (in the pot) where it will form roots and also enough stem left over so that the top of the stem can poke out into the fresh air above the compost; then cut just below a leaf joint or node; remove all the lower leaves, and pot up immediately in containers of peat-free compost.  You don’t want to leave your cutting with too many leaves, as without roots it will be tough for you cutting to support any extra leaves.  I like to leave the top one or two leaves on my cuttings and remove the rest.  It’s important to water the compost immediately after taking cuttings.  Next, insert three sticks that are taller than your cuttings and pop a clear plastic bag over the top to create a beneficial, protected environment for your cuttings to develop.  Place your cuttings away from bright, direct light – a semi-shaded area is ideal.  Keep the container watered regularly.  Morning is the best time to water basil plants, as these plants do not want to sit with wet leaves or stems overnight.

Basil has lovely aromatic foliage and is a traditional companion plant to grow alongside tomatoes.  It’s an annual plant that grows, lives, and dies all in the same year.  Plants respond well to being cut back regularly.  If you don’t harvest your basil leaves and have not trimmed your basil plants’ stems; before too long, your plants will flower and then go to seed (when the foliage loses its best flavour and the plants die).  These plants are tender and will be killed by frosts and cold temperatures.

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