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How to Grow Basil at Home - Pasta’s Favourite Herb

Here is how to grow healthy and bushy basil, best eaten raw, torn up and sprinkled over a tomato-based pasta

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By House & Garden | February 29, 2024 | Gardens

In an extract from his new book, 'Grow Fruit and Vegetables in Pots', Aaron Bertelsen, vegetable gardener and cook at Great Dixter, offers advice for how to grow basil.

Basil is ideally suited to being grown in a pot. To thrive, it needs as much heat and sun as you can give it, so move the pot around to keep it in the perfect spot as the summer progresses and the sun gets higher. Heat will concentrate the oils in the plant, intensifying the flavour and also scenting the air around it with the smell of a Mediterranean summer. Water it every couple of days. Basil is best eaten raw, torn up and sprinkled over tomatoes, grilled (broiled) vegetables or pasta, with nothing more than a little good olive oil. A word of warning, though: make sure you buy your pot of basil from a garden centre or nursery, not the supermarket. Those pots might look healthy, but the plants in there are overgrown and congested, and they will not survive being planted out.

Favourite Basil varieties

‘Sweet Genovese’ is a great variety for the kitchen, with intense flavour and aroma. It also seems to do very well in a pot.

Key dates for Basil

There is no point sowing basil too early. It needs warmth and reasonably dry weather to really get going, so wait until mid-spring. If you prefer to buy seedlings, note the warning above about those supermarket pots.

Common problems with Basil Plants

Basil will struggle in a cool, damp summer. I have known seasons when I have had to give up on it altogether. If it’s really flagging, try bringing it inside and putting it on the windowsill. The extra heat might just give it a boost and get it moving again. If that does the trick, put it back outside. Damp conditions can also cause mildew. Once your plants have it – look out for sickly yellow leaves, possibly with black spots – there is no choice but to pull them up and bin them (don’t put them in your compost bin, if you have one, as the spores can spread). The best way to prevent mildew is to allow space between plants for air to circulate, and water from the base to avoid wetting the leaves.

An extract from Grow Fruit and Vegetables in Pots by Aaron Bertelsen (Phaidon) originally published by House & Garden UK.