Basil is a delicious herb that can add a touch of refinement to any dish. While it may be best known as a key ingredient in pesto, this versatile herb can also be used to flavour soups, salads, and even grilled meats. Fortunately, basil is relatively easy to grow, even for those with limited space or experience.
Types of Basil In Australia
Australia is home to a lot of basil varieties. Although the country is best known for its Italian and Greek varieties, there are also many Asian and African varieties. With so many options to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start when you want to grow basil. The following list includes the top four basil varieties to grow in Australia.
Thai basil has a spicy, anise-like flavour that is often used in curries and stir-fries. These plants are easy to grow in warm climates and can be propagated from cuttings.
Until recently, sweet basil was not commonly found in Australia. Now, you can find sweet basil in any Coles or Woolworths all over the country, thanks to its versatile flavour. Sweet basil has a light, licorice-like flavour that works well in both sweet and savoury dishes.
Holy basil, also known as tulsi, is a popular medicinal herb in Ayurvedic medicine. The plant is native to India and has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. In recent years, holy basil has become increasingly popular in Australia as a natural remedy for anxiety and stress.
One of the lesser-known varieties is clove basil, which is native to Australia. This aromatic herb has the smell and flavour of a strong clove, with a hint of mint. Clove basil is often used in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, and it can add a unique depth of flavour to various recipes.
When to Plant Basil
In Australia, the best time to plant basil is from late spring to early summer. This ensures that the plants will have enough warm weather to grow well.
Where to Plant Basil
You can grow basil in a pot by the window or you can grow basil outdoors. Whichever way you choose to grow your basil plants, be sure to give them plenty of room to spread out so that they can develop into healthy, bushy plants. Basil also needs a lot of sunlight, so make sure to choose a spot that gets plenty of sun.
Preparing the Soil for Basil Plants
Basil prefers well-drained soil, so amend your soil with compost or other organic matter if necessary. It’s best to sow basil seeds indoors in late winter or early spring, and then transplant them outdoors when the weather warms up.
Ways to Grow Basil
How to Grow Basil from Seed
Growing basil from seed is relatively easy and just takes some patience.
Here are the steps to follow for growing basil from seed:
- Fill a planting tray with seed-starting mix, and moisten the mix with water.
- Sow the basil seeds on the surface of the mix, and then lightly cover them with more mix.
- Place the tray in a warm, sunny location, and keep the mix moist.
- Once the seeds have germinated, thin out the seedlings so that only the strongest ones remain.
- Transplant the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle, and then place them in a sunny spot outdoors.
- Water regularly, and soon you’ll be able to enjoy fresh basil leaves!
How to Grow Basil from Cuttings
Another way to propagate basil is to grow it from cuttings.
- Cut a 10 to 15cm piece of stem from a healthy basil plant. Make sure the stem has plenty of leaves and has not yet flowered.
- Remove the bottom leaves from the stem, leaving only the top leaves intact.
- Dip the end of the stem in rooting hormone powder or gel.
- Choose a pot that is at least 30cm wide with drainage holes.
- Fill the pot with a well-draining soil mix and make a hole in the centre with your finger.
- Gently insert the stem into the hole and lightly tamp down the soil around it.
- Water the soil well, making sure to not overwater or allow the pot to become waterlogged.
- Place the pot in a sunny location and wait for new growth to appear.
- Once new leaves have sprouted, you can transplant the basil plant into a larger pot or outdoors in your garden.
How to Grow Basil in Garden Plots
Growing basil in the garden is easy and only requires a few simple steps:
- Choose a spot in your garden that gets plenty of direct sun. Planting basil requires sunny growing conditions.
- Prepare the soil by loosening it with a spade and removing any rocks or debris. Then, add some compost or manure to help improve the drainage and fertility of the soil.
- Once the soil is ready, plant seeds directly into the ground about 1cm deep and 30cm apart, or start them indoors in pots. If you start them indoors, be sure to transplant the basil seedlings into the garden when they are about 6 to 8 weeks old.
- Basil plants need to be watered regularly, especially during dry periods. However, be careful not to overwater them; too much water can cause the roots to rot.
- When the new plants are about 20cm tall, you can begin to harvest the leaves. Cut off the topmost leaves, leaving at least two sets of leaves on each plant. Regular harvesting will encourage the basil plants to produce even more leaves.
How to Grow Basil in Pots
If you’re short on space, or if you want to grow your herbs indoors, basil can also be grown in pots. Here are a few tips for growing healthy basil plants in containers:
- Choose a pot that is at least 30cm wide and has drainage holes.
- Fill the pot with a high quality potting mix and water it thoroughly. Basil likes well-drained soil, so be sure to use a potting mix that contains perlite or vermiculite.
- Place the pot on a sunny windowsill where it will receive at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.
- Water the soil whenever it feels dry to the touch. Basil plants are susceptible to root rot, so it is important not to overwater them.
- Fertilise monthly with half-strength balanced fertiliser.
- When the plants are 15 to 20cm tall, pinch back the tips to encourage bushiness.
- Harvest basil leaves after the plants have reached 20cm tall. Simply snip off the leaves as needed, being careful not to damage the stem.
How Long Does Basil Take to Grow?
Basil seeds usually germinate within 7-10 days. Once the seedlings appear, you can transplant them into individual pots or prepared beds. From there, it will take another 4-6 weeks for the basil plants to reach maturity and begin producing leaves.
You can start harvesting basil leaves as soon as the plants have a few sets of true leaves. Simply snip off the top leaves, and fresh growth will quickly take their place.
Basil Companion Plants
When choosing what to grow with basil, consider the other herbs and spices you typically use in your cooking. By taking the time to plan your garden carefully, you can ensure that your plants will thrive.
Basil and tomatoes are a classic combination, often used in Italian cooking. But did you know that they are also excellent companion plants? When grown together, basil helps to repel insects that might damage the tomato plants. The fragrant herb also attracts pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, which help to improve the yield of tomato fruits. Meanwhile, tomatoes provide support for basil plants and help to increase their yield.
Consider growing garlic as a companion plant for basil. For one thing, garlic helps to repel pests that might otherwise eat basil plants. Garlic also emits a strong scent that can help to mask the weaker scent of basil, making it more difficult for pests to find the basil plants.
Capsicum and basil are typically seen as two completely different plants. However, when grown together, they can help to protect each other from pests and diseases. The pungent smell of capsicum can help to repel aphids and other insects, while the basil’s strong aroma can deter spider mites and whiteflies. If you still aren’t convinced, growing capsicum as a companion plant with basil can help to improve the flavour of both.
Carrots and basil are easy to grow and have a wide range of uses in cooking. Coincidentally, they also make excellent garden bedfellows. Carrots help to repel caterpillars and other pests that can damage basil plants. They help to aerate the soil and provide nutrients that basil plants need to thrive. Both plants also require similar growing conditions — they thrive in full sun and well-drained soil.
Asparagus is a good companion plant for basil because it helps to repel pests. On top of that, asparagus plants produce a substance that helps to inhibit the growth of some weed species. This benefits basil plants by giving them a competitive advantage over weeds. On the other hand, the strong smell of basil deters many common garden pests, such as aphids and whiteflies. This protects asparagus plants from damage and also keeps them from being overrun by pests.
Oregano and basil are both members of the mint family, so they share many of the same characteristics. They’re both easy to grow, drought-tolerant, and prefer full sun. But oregano makes a perfect partner for basil because it repels pests. Oregano emits a strong scent that confuses and repels many common garden pests, including aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites.
When planted with basil, marigolds release a compound that helps to ward off harmful nematodes, making the soil around basil plants less hospitable for these pests. In return, basil helps to repel certain insect pests that are attracted to marigolds.
Common Basil Plant Diseases and Issues
Basil is a herbaceous annual plant in the mint family, grown for its leaves, which are used as a culinary herb. However, despite its popularity in the kitchen, it is susceptible to several diseases and pests. The most common problems affecting basil plants include leaf spot, mould, root rot, and aphids.
Leaf spot is caused by a number of fungal pathogens, which can cause spotting and discolouration on leaves. The best way to prevent leaf spot is to water the basil plant at the base, rather than from above, as this will help to reduce the amount of moisture on the leaves. In addition, make sure to remove any dead or diseased leaves from the basil plant, as this can help to reduce the spread of the fungus.
Mould or Powdery Mildew
Mould is another common problem affecting basil plants. The most common type of mould is called powdery mildew, which appears as a white or grey powder on the leaves. Powdery mildew can be prevented by ensuring that the basil plant has good air circulation, and by avoiding overhead watering. If powdery mildew does appear, it can be treated with a fungicide.
Root rot is caused by many different fungi, which attack the roots of the plant and cause them to decay. Root rot is most commonly found in poorly drained soils, so it is important to make sure that your basil plant has adequate drainage. If you suspect that your plant has root rot, remove it from the soil and inspect the roots for signs of decay. If the roots are affected, they will need to be cut away and the plant replanted in fresh soil.
Aphids are small sap-sucking insects that can infest basil plants. They are most commonly found on new growth and can cause stunted growth and distorted leaves. Aphids can be controlled with a number of different insecticides, but the best way to prevent them is to keep your garden free of debris where they could lay their eggs.
The Pesto’s Yet To Come
Many people think of basil as nothing more than a garnish for their dishes. But this humble herb offers a host of benefits, both in the kitchen and out. For starters, basil boasts potent antibacterial properties, making it a great natural remedy for minor cuts and scrapes. In the garden, basil can help to deter pests such as aphids and whiteflies.
So, if you’re looking to add a little zing to your pasta sauce, growing basil is always a good idea. And if you find that you need help, there are plenty of professional gardeners who can keep your garden looking its best.