What Is Greek Basil: How To Care For Greek Basil Herb Plants
By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
Possibly the most well-known of this herb type, Greek basil is an open pollinated heirloom basil. Read on to learn more about this impressive basil plant variety.
What is Greek Basil?
Greek dwarf basil has been in use for centuries. It was planted in the Mediterranean area where it became established and is much used, eventually making it to the U.S. where it grows prolifically as well. Burpee first sold basil seeds in 1908. Most everyone is now familiar with this versatile herb.
Producing dome-shaped plants that reach about 8 inches (20 cm.) in height, Greek basil is the favorite in sauces for tomato dishes, Italian food and other recipes.
The leaves of Greek basil herb plants have a great deal of medicinal value, according to sources. A basil tea calms the stomach and relieves spasms in the digestive track. Leaves may be chewed for a quick fix to stomach issues like nausea, diarrhea, and even flatulence. Some say it helps with symptoms of a cold and can assist in relieving water retention.
Greek Basil Care
Growing Greek basil is simple and productive. Plant seeds in a sunny spot when soil has warmed to 60 degrees F. (15 C.) or warmer. Include some Greek basil herb plants as companions to your tomato plants, as it encourages their growth while repelling some pests with its sweet and aromatic fragrance. Basil fragrance repels mosquitoes and stinging insects. Grow it in containers on your deck to avoid some of those pesky bites. You can also use basil leaves in a natural spray you create to keep the pests off you.
Greek basil care involves regular watering, pruning and sometimes fertilization if the plant appears weak. Work compost into the soil prior to planting. Some basil information says fertilizer changes basil flavor and aroma, so don’t feed the plant unless needed.
Pinch off the tiny leaves to maintain the globe shape.Harvest when leaves begin to grow on all shoots, starting with the top. Energy is then directed down the stem which encourages side shoots to develop and produces a more attractive plant. This plant reaches maturity in 60-90 days. Be sure to harvest all you need for use and storage before allowing flowers to develop.
Greek basil stores well for later use. Dry it in a cool, shaded area by hanging upside down in small bundles or spreading single layers on screen there. When its dry, store in a tightly sealed glass jar and store in a dark spot. Fresh leaves may be frozen in sandwich bags or chopped and mixed with other herbs and olive oil, then frozen in ice cube trays. Alternate layers of sea salt and fresh basil leaves in a single layer to store the harvest. Store in a dark, dry cabinet.
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HEIRLOOM. Great basil with tomatoes, in salads or sauces.
Sun The amount of sunlight this product needs daily in order to perform well in the garden. Full sun means 6 hours of direct sun per day partial sun means 2-4 hours of direct sun per day shade means little or no direct sun.
Days To Maturity The average number of days from when the plant is actively growing in the garden to the expected time of harvest.
Life Cycle This refers to whether a plant is an annual, biennial or perennial. Annuals complete their life cycles in one year biennials produce foliage the first year and bloom and go to seed the second year perennials can live for more than two years.
Height The typical height of this product at maturity.
Spread The width of the plant at maturity.
Additional Uses Additional ways in which the product may be used in the garden.
Basil may be grown from seed sown early indoors and transplanted outside after frost, or sown directly in the garden, or planted as a potted plant.
Sowing Seed Indoors:
- Sow basil seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost in spring using a seed starting kit
- Sow seeds ¼ inches deep in seed-starting formula
- Keep the soil moist at 70 degrees F
- Seedlings emerge in 7-14 days
- As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
- Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
- If you are growing in small cells, you may need to transplant the seedlings to 3 or 4 inch pots when seedlings have at least 3 pairs of leaves before transplanting to the garden so they have enough room to develop strong roots.
- Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.
Sowing Directly in the Garden:
- Direct sow in average soil in full sun after all danger of frost when the soil is at least 60 degrees F.
- Remove weeds and work organic matter into the top 6-8 inches of soil then level and smooth.
- Sow seeds evenly and cover with ¼ inches of fine soil.
- Firm the soil lightly and keep evenly moist.
- Seedlings will emerge in 7-14 days, possibly longer in cooler soils.
Planting in the Garden:
- Select a location in full sun with good rich moist organic soil.
- Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
- Dig a hole for each plant large enough to amply accommodate the root ball.
- Carefully remove the plant from its pot and gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root development.
- Place the top of the root ball even with the level of the surrounding soil. Fill with soil to the top of the root ball. Press soil down firmly with your hand.
- Use the plant tag as a location marker.
- Thoroughly water and apply a light mulch layer on top of the soil (1-2 inches) to conserve water and reduce weeds.
Greek Columnar Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
This delightful Basil has an upright, columnar habit that allows more plants to be packed into smaller spaces. The plant typically does not flower, which means its flavor-packed leaves are produced over a longer season. Use the leaves to flavor a variety of culinary dishes or herb oils and vinegars. Greek Columnar Basil is great for growing in pots on decks and patios, or for mixing throughout beds and herb gardens.
Culinary herb for gardens and containers. Excellent for adding flavor to soups, sauces, fish and meat dishes. Use leaves fresh, or dry and keep in an airtight container. Wash fruits, vegetables and herbs thoroughly before eating.
Once every month during growing season.
Basic Care Summary
Very easy to grow in virtually any location. Does best in light, well-drained soil. Keep soil moist, watering freely in dry weather. Harvest foliage as needed.
Annual herbs can be planted in the garden in spring. Annual herbs are also ideal for containers. Pots can be brought indoors for the winter and placed near a sunny window for harvesting through the cold months. Return the plants outdoors in the spring when the danger of frost is past, or simply replace with fresh plants
Prepare the garden by breaking up the existing soil (use a hoe, spade, or power tiller) to a depth of 12-16” (30-40cm). Add organic matter such as manure, peat moss or garden compost until the soil is loose and easy to work. Organic ingredients improve drainage, add nutrients, and encourage earthworms and other organisms that help keep soil healthy.
Check the plant label for suggested spacing and the mature height of the plant. Position plants so that taller plants are in the center or background of the landscape design and shorter plants in the foreground. To remove the plant from the container, gently brace the base of the plant, tip it sideways and tap the outside of the pot to loosen. Rotate the container and continue to tap, loosening the soil until the plant pulls smoothly from the pot.
Dig the hole up to two times larger than the root ball and deep enough that the plant will be at the same level in the ground as the soil level in the container. Grasping the plant at the top of the root ball, use your finger to lightly rake apart the lower roots apart. This is especially important if the roots are dense and have filled up the container. Set the plant in the hole.
Push the soil gently around the roots filling in empty space around the root ball. Firm the soil down around the plant by hand, tamping with the flat side of a small trowel, or even by pressing down on the soil by foot. The soil covering the planting hole should be even with the surrounding soil, or up to one inch higher than the top of the root ball. New plantings should be watered daily for a couple of weeks to get them well established.
Finish up with a 2” (5cm) layer of mulch such as shredded bark or compost to make the garden look tidy, reduce weeds, and retain soil moisture.
If planting the herbs in a container, start with a good quality, commercial potting soil. These are usually lighter in weight than topsoil, sterile and pest-free. Many are available with a mild starter fertilizer in the mix.
Select a container with a drainage hole or be prepared to drill holes for drainage if there are none.
Prepare the container by filling with potting soil up to 2” (5cm) from the rim of the planter. Remove the plant from its pot or pack. Make a small hole in the soil slightly larger than the root ball either by hand or using a trowel. Insert the plant into the hole and press soil firmly around the roots and just covering the root ball. When all the plants are potted, water thoroughly to settle the soil and give plants a good start.
New plantings should be watered daily for a couple of weeks. After that, depending on the weather and soil type, watering may be adjusted to every two or three days. Clay soils hold moisture longer than sandy soils, so expect to water more frequently in sandy settings.
Different plants have different water needs. Some plants prefer staying on the dry side, others, like to be consistently moist. Refer to the plant label to check a plant’s specific requirements.
Thoroughly soaking the ground up to 8” (20 cm) every few days is better than watering a little bit daily. Deep watering encourages roots to grow further into the ground resulting in a sturdier plant with more drought tolerance.
To check for soil moisture, use your finger or a small trowel to dig in and examine the soil. If the first 2-4” (5-10cm) of soil is dry, it is time to water.
Plants in containers can dry out quickly, depending on the weather, and may need water more frequently than plants in the garden bed. Apply water at the soil level if possible to avoid wetting the foliage. Water the entire soil area until water runs out the base of the pot. This indicates that the soil is thoroughly wet.
Herbs planted in the garden don’t require additional fertilizer. Apply a 1-2” (3-5cm) layer of mulch or compost. As mulch breaks down it supplies nutrients to the plants and improves the overall soil condition at the same time.
Herbs in containers can be fed lightly with a general purpose fertilizer at half the rate suggested on the package directions.
Invest in a good, sharp hand pruner or knife for harvesting. Pinching the stems off can cause damage to the main plant.
Herbs can be harvested throughout the growing season to be used fresh, dried, or frozen. It’s best not to prune more than 50% of the foliage at one time. This keeps the plant healthy and producing new growth for continuous harvesting.
Unless you are growing an herb specifically for its flowers (such as lavender), or seed production (such as fennel), it is best to remove flower buds as they appear. This keeps the plant’s energy focused on foliage production instead of blooms and seeds.
Harvest herbs in the morning, when the plant oils are at their peak. Prepare herb cuttings for use by gently washing and drying the foliage. If planning to preserve the herbs, check foliage for insects or eggs as well. Herbs can be dried or frozen for future use. The general rule for use in cooking is: use twice as much fresh or frozen herb as compared to dried herb.
Harvest seeds when the flowers start to fade and turn brown, but before the seeds fall from the plant.