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Gardening

How To Grow And Care For Basil Plants

Growing this versatile herb at home is easier than you think!

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Photography: Chris Snook for Houzz (Main Photo)

When choosing herbs to grow, it is good to consider two things: what you require for fresh meals and what you can grow easily. Basil, arguably, is one of the more versatile herbs to use in cooking (think pesto pasta, pizza margherita, or a simple caprese salad) and fortunately, also one of the easiest to grow.

A fragrant annual (a plant that has a life cycle of one year) with a bushy appearance, the most common types of basil are sweet basil and the licorice-flavoured Thai basil. While you can buy them as seeds, this handy guide is for looking after them once they have sprouted.

Start right 


Choose organically-grown basil. Fertilizers or pesticides that are chemical-based affect how safe your plants will be for consumption. If you are lucky to have a friend who has a thriving herb collection, ask if you can have a small pot of basil. You can also ask for cuttings of basil to grow your own. Snip 10-centimetre sections of the basil plant that have not yet flowered and place in water. Within a week, roots should form. You can transplant the basil into a container filled with potting soil once a healthy root system is apparent.

TIP: The next time you need to purchase a bunch of basil for a recipe, consider buying one growing in a pot instead.

Water it properly


Basil is not tolerant of water stress, so it is important that the pot has adequate drainage. This herb needs to be watered at least once a day, and if it is extremely hot, twice. Do note that the goal is to keep the soil moist but not soaked. To test dampness, stick your finger about two centimeters deep into the soil, and if the soil feels dry even at this depth, it is time to lightly water the plant.

TIP: As long as they are still green, wilted basil can still be revived so don’t just chuck them in the bin. When you water them, they should perk back up again.

Let the light in


Or in some cases, put the plant under fluorescent light. Basil should be placed by a sunny window, for four to six hours a day. Potted basil plants can also survive indoors with about 10 hours of artificial light.

Harvest regularly


Pruning prevents basils from becoming more straggly and eventually growing fewer leaves. If anything, cutting the plant regularly helps it grow better. Do not be afraid to cut off newly growing leaves on top as this will actually encourage the plant to branch out.

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TIP: If you end up with more basil than you can use, store the leaves in a freezer bag and in your freezer. Another alternative is to dry them out in a bunch by hanging upside-down in a cool, dry, and dark location. The freezing technique keeps more of its flavor, though.

Maintain the right pH levels


If you’re bent on making sure that your basil plants stay healthy, especially when growing indoors, it may put your mind at ease to keep the pH level of the soil between 6.0 and 7.5. Check this aspect once every four to six weeks using a store-bought soil-pH tester.

TIP: Basil is one of those plants that will grow in a wide pH range, with a preferred range of 5.5 (strongly acidic) to 6.5 (mildly acidic) over being alkaline. So if you don’t want to bother yourself with testing the soil, just add organic fertilizer or home-made compost to the pot every four to six weeks.

This article by landscape architect Karla Rey originally appeared on Houzz

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