My basil is very short lived. By the time the plants are big enough to harvest a goodly quantity of leaves, the flavor is bitter and the tips are going to flower. When planting, I always cut off the growing tips to encourage bushing out.
I've been gardening for over 40 years and have never been able to grow basil. I tried a couple of times in my garden and it always went directly into seed. I attempted to pinch the plants back, but they never got very big. I've tried growing basil in pots for years and never got anywhere either. The summers get really hot where I live, and we are often in drought conditions. I watered frequently, but I just couldn't seem to get my basil to grow.
This year, I bought basil plants (a large leaf variety) and set them out (directly in the garden--no pots) early. I watered them with rain water that I'd collected, and they are thriving. I've pruned the plants drastically. So far I've made pesto 4 times. The difference between how my plants are doing now compared to earlier is like day and night. I returned to the store and the only type they had left was cinnamon basil -- a small leaf variety. I've planted it near my other plants, and it is not doing very well. It has not grown much, like my other plantings of the past.
The only difference that I can tell, is the timing of my plantings. Planting early allowed the basil to get well established before the weather even got into the 70s. After so many failures, I'm really enjoying it this year. My point is, I think some plants are extremely sensitive to climate, location, weather conditions, and planting times more than others.
My secret is to use a HUGE clay pot (15 gallons?), plant the Italian large leaf variety (I buy at least 6 or more healthy 3 inch pot size plants from a good nursury) , plant it miracle grow potting soil (this is absolutely required!), lots of sun (but partial hot afternoon sun), good watering, pinch back leaves alot, and sing "O solo mio" to it once a week!
Things not to do. I didn't have any luck planting it in a barrel. Be careful with containers, I think it prefers to be in the ground so baby the soil & container. Also, I don't have any luck planting it with other herbs! Plant it all by itself.
The Old Italian Lady,
This isn't a tip about growing basil because I can't manage to do it either. But, if you love basil, you might buy it at Trader's Joe's. They sell a big bunch for $1.99. Another good source is Asian groceries. I have one near my house where I buy fresh spicy Thai peppers (the little green ones) and a small packet of basil for 69 cents each. It is just enough for a stir fry.
Good luck, growers and let us all know how to do it too!
I have 2 small plants in my kitchen that my daughter planted in her Botany class in high school last year. She grew these from seeds and they seem to be pretty hearty. I've had them now for about 6 months and have just been pinching the leaves off and using them when I want to use some of it. It has all new leaves on it now, as I went on a wild pinching spree for a salad a week or so ago.
My basil gets so big that by Autumn the original stem is thick and almost bark-like. I just plant it in the ground in full sun and water it daily. I only feed it Miracle Grow when I first plant it.
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