Thursday, September 21, 2006

What's Growin' On 9/21/06: How To Keep Your Basil Plants Growing Into Fall

Don't Cut Your Basil Season Short

Volunteer Basil On August 8th
(Those bamboo stakes form a teepee for some pole beans that never popped up.)

Begging To Be Picked Just Over A Month Later

The smaller plants were rootbound seedlings I transplanted shortly after taking the top photo. I find it interesting that the volunteers are so much bigger and healthier. To me, there is nothing better in the garden than a happy volunteer, and basil always seems willing to make a reappearance in mine. Growing basil from seed is easy, and growing volunteers is absolutely effortless, so don't forget to allow some of your plants to bloom and go to seed each year. An added benefit is that the pollinators will love you.

Don't Worry, It'll Grow Back

Realization Of The Day:
I don't think I've ever pulled a live basil plant out of the ground. There's simply no reason to.

About 14 or 15 years ago, when I was still living in northern California, I came upon a vendor at a farmer's market who was selling nothing but basil. He had a long table set up, and on it were several dozen brown paper bags, each holding one entire basil plant that had been uprooted only hours before. They were $1 each, and I remember thinking this guy was brilliant. (And still do.)

But even when I was selling fresh basil to an upscale restaurant a few years back, I still didn't pull up the entire plants when the basil was ready to be picked. Instead I simply snipped off most of the stems and left the stubs in the ground. The plants grew back, and this way I was able to get two or three good harvests over a period of many weeks from just one planting.

So even now, with that crisp feel of autumn in the air, I saw no reason to declare an end to basil season when I did a major harvest the other day--despite the fact that temperatures for the next two nights were predicted to be around 40 degrees F (and heat loving basil will turn black and croak well above freezing). The snipped plants are healthy and happy, and they survived the cold snap just fine tucked under a light blanket. As you can see, I left plenty of leaves on them so they didn't go into some kind of naked shock. Given a few more temperate weeks, these plants should fill out and reward me with more beautiful bounty. And since we're supposed to be having days in the 70s for at least the next week, I think the probability of more basil is very high.

Worst comes to worst? An arctic blast swoops in and kills off my crop. In the meantime, I'm putting in no extra effort except the ten seconds it took to cover and uncover the plants. It may not be a sure thing (because nothing in the garden ever is), but it seems foolish not to make this basil bet.

Pining For Some Pesto Now? Click here for my new favorite recipe.

Coming Up:
Another Less Fuss, More Flavor recipe—Fresh Tomato Pizza Sauce.

NOTE: This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging #51, a deliciously informative event based at Kalyn's Kitchen. Food and garden bloggers from around the world participate, and you never know what interesting new edibles you'll discover each Monday in the roundup. Check out the WHB rules if you'd like to join in the fun. And click here to read about next week's Special WHB Event.


  1. Fresh pizza sauce???
    my mouth is watering!

  2. Your basil garden is so beautiful. Makes me grin and clutch my hands together with pesto jealousy!

    Funny thing happened this year in my Northern California garden. NO BASIL. Yeah, I planted some. Actually, two kinds (Sweet and Thai). And what grew was exactly nothing. It didn't die either. It just did nothing. While all my other plants were showing off, the basil sat there like a wallflower and hid under the tomato plants. Better luck next year for me.

  3. I"m hoping my own basil will last a bit longer. If it ever (!) stops raining, I'll go out and trip it really well one more time and hope for one more good crop. It's not unheard of for it to go into October in Utah without freezing, but you never know. Great post. I was admiring your Amazon store. Some good things there.

    Thanks for mentioning the special WHB. I hope you're going to write about your favorite herb. Any predictions as to what the most preferred herb will be?

  4. Oops, I meant to say TRIM it, not trip it.

  5. What's up with the wooden stakes around the basil? Do they need support?

  6. I have never cut my basil back hard. I shall have to try that to see if I can get a few extra harvests out of them before they bolt.

  7. Thanks for the words of encouragement! And I have to say, your favorite pesto recipe is also mine.

  8. Man. My basil died like 2 months ago because of the incredible heat down here in Dallas...Usually it lasts through December here. Oh well.

    But you totally taught me something! I usually pluck off leaves and don't cut the stems to low. I wind up with tall, skinny, small leaved basil. I think you just told me how to fix that!! I need to chop it much lower. Maybe I will try to grow some in a pot in my house this fall. I miss my fresh basil.

  9. HI! Awesome site! What type of basil is this? I am continually confused as to their different names and uses.

    Can you tell me what they are?

  10. Basil has been my new favorite herb. Love love love it! Thanks for the tip.


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