Arguably the rock star of the herbaceous world, there’s few plants that are easier to grow or taste as good as basil. If you’re new to the world of growing your own produce, basil is a wonderful first step on your lifelong veggie-growing journey.
With hundreds of varieties to explore, basil (AKA “ocimum basilicum”) will make your summer salads pop and add flavour to countless other recipes. It’s a fixture of most Australian veggie patches across the warmer months, so let’s take a look at what you need to do to have this wonderful plant thriving in time for pizza night.
Basil is a hearty plant that thrives well in Australian conditions. The biggest threat when planting out is frost, so if you’re in a cooler climate be sure the warm days have arrived before taking seedlings to the patch.
- Cooler Climates – September through January (only if frost risk has passed)
- Temperate Climates – September through January
- Warmer Climates – August through January (and even all year)
Basil is a low-growing plant, and there’s really only one thing it’s looking for in its location in your yard – sunshine! Because its low, be aware of the growing needs of other plants in your patch that might steal its sunshine across the months. Aim for full sun in cooler and temperate regions, and in warmer parts of Australia part-shade is fine. Alternatively you can invest in shade cloth or similar to take the edge off those hotter Australian days, which also has the benefit of keeping out some of the pests.
Just make sure your plants are getting at least five hours of full sun a day.
Ground conditions are the biggest factor in ensuring a tasty, flavour-rich crop, and doing some preparation before planting can really make the difference.
Make sure the soil isn’t hard or compacted. You want a loose soil that can drain adequately. Mix in plenty of organic compost prior to planting to encourage good growth and set the plant up for success. If you live near a local cafe, ground coffee beans also bring great results.
One thing to avoid in your soil is chicken manure. Check your compost contents if you’re buying from your local gardening store to avoid accidentally wiping out your entire crop.
If possible cover the soil with straw mulch to help keep the moisture in and to protect the root systems from heat and pests.
Basil is a hungry beast, and will happily consume as much food as you can throw at it. Worm wee, liquid seaweed and liquid manure will all be gobbled up happily and should be applied frequently across the growing season. This will ensure you have a healthy, tasty, flourishing plant.
That said, make sure you’re not using greywater on your basil. We admire your eco-friendliness, but it’s not good for the plant.
Basil like the soil damp at all times. This doesn’t mean daily watering, but rather keeping an eye on the soil moisture. If possible, use drip feeders positioned near the root system and under the mulch to get water to where it needs to be without getting the foliage wet, which can cause fungal problems and other issues during the night or in cooler climates.
Basil can be harvested continually across the growing season. Picking off the leaves for your salads and meals also encourages new growth.
If you see any flowers starting to sprout at the top of your plant, pinch them off to encourage more leaf grow and stop the plant putting its resources into seed production.
Basil can also be grown indoors throughout the year, so if your climate is limiting you can look to the windowsill as another option.
Taller plants don’t mean better plants. Try to keep you plant down to around 30cm high to avoid it getting leggy. Taller plants have less leaves and more space between them, so if you think your plant has NBA aspirations, cut them down (literally) and keep them short.