Basil and containers go together
Basil is one of the most popular herbs to grow for culinary creations and you can easily grow basil in containers. After all, who can resist a batch of fresh pesto made from basil growing in your own yard!
As soon as the weather turns I begin growing basil in pots on my deck. I find that they get bigger when I can keep an eye on them and it is easier to make a quick harvest. That gets us eating more basil in salads and savory dishes.
Gardening on the deck also keeps pests, like those pesky rabbits and grasshoppers, out of the plants.
Potting Up Basil Plants
The kind of pot you use doesn’t really matter, basil just needs at least 8 inches of depth to grow and the container needs proper drainage. At planting time add organic fertilizer to the root
It’s important to remember that this flavorful herb doesn’t like to have waterlogged roots. When basil has too much water the plant will not produce the quantity of leaves that you want for that big, healthy harvest you’re after.
Choose a good potting soil, not heavy garden soil, and keep an eye on the plants. They will require water every other day when it’s below 100 degrees and once daily when the temperatures go higher.
The plants will benefit from a layer of mulch around the plants. An inch or two will do the trick. This will help keep the soil moist and extend the time between daily watering. Once a month, mix up an organic fertilizer and give your plants a good soaking.
Last year I tried straw bale gardening and found that basil plants grow especially well in this manner. In fact, they were the best of any basil plant I have ever grown!
If there is any hint of frost coming, bring your basil plants inside or cover them with sheets to keep the frost off the leaves. Use rocks or other easy to grab items to hold the sheet down. Frost will kill this tender plant FAST, so if you want to continue your harvest, don’t skip this step.
Pruning is the key to growing basil in containers
The biggest trick to growing a bumper crop of basil is pruning it — always pinch it back to the next place where there are two leaves sprouting. This will cause the plant to grow into two more branches.
Start pruning when the plant gets about 6 inches tall. That will cause it to grow bushy instead of tall. Bushy = more leaves.
You can safely prune established basil plants two or three times a week during the peak growing season. This is preferably done in the evening if it is going to be really hot. Once you start pinching back regularly, you will get an eye for your plant and when it is ready for a pruning.
For an extended harvest, do not let the plant set flowers. This will send a signal for it to stop leaf production and work on seeds. If you are keeping up on your pinching regimen, the flowers should not be a problem.
Of course, do what you can to keep insects away. Occasionally, basil is bothered by aphids, slugs, or Japanese beetles. If pests are bugging your plants, try these natural pest remedies.
How much sun does basil need to grow?
Basil needs at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Eight hours is even better. They thrive in the 80+ degree days of summer.
If you live in the north consider a sunny afternoon spot. Those who live in the south will find that their plants may even benefit from some afternoon shade when the extreme heat of summer sets in.
What will you do with your bumper basil crop?
Once you harvest your basil leaves, they will keep for about a week in the refrigerator. Here’s what I do to keep them fresh:
Wash the leaves in cold water and place them in a plastic zip bag with a bit of extra water. Store this bag in the produce section of the refrigerator and remove leaves as you need them.
This is also a great way to store leaves until you have enough for a big basil cooking project.
Here are just a few suggestions for using those wonderful basil leaves –
- Make fresh pesto (every night!)
- Crush the basil leaves and freeze them in ice cube trays with olive oil
- Use fresh leaves on salads and sandwiches
- Make basil syrup for tea, pop-cycles and as a drizzle on fresh fruit
- Make strawberry basil lemonade, yum!
- Make an infused oil, the process is similar to this post about calendula
- Make flavored vinegar
- Dehydrate your basil leaves and powder them for later use
Grow a bumper crop of basil by giving your plants proper soil, water, and by pinching the plants regularly. There is so much you can do with basil you’ll want to be eating it every night.