Why Won’t My Basil Grow Well?

“My basil always is short and flowers.  It is in full sun, and I suspect it’s too much sun.  I would like lots of succulent leaves, but the leaves are small and thin 🙁  How many hours of direct sun is enough? or maybe I should move it to part shade?” Question from Catherine of Tampa, Florida

Answer: Basil needs just a few things to really grow well. These are.

  1. Well-drained, fertile soil with a neutral pH
  2. Full sun (6 hours or more)
  3. Average water
  4. Fertilizer for vegetables and herbs (follow product instructions)
  5. Regular deadheading to keep it from flowering
Thai basil is compact, beautiful, and tasty!

Check your soil and make sure that it is porous and fertile. Amending your herb garden with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend will certainly improve its texture and quality.

There are some basils that have been bred to refrain from flowering while producing non-stop flavorful leaves. Proven Winners Amazel Basil and the tall, gorgeous, variegated Pesto Perpetuo Basil are two excellent varieties that are sure to perform beautifully and DO NOT FLOWER. I also recommend that you try Thai basil, which is pretty, tasty, and very heat tolerant. ‘Cardinal’ is a super beautiful variety that I am growing this year. You can let Thai basil flower with no ill effect. Its purplish-red flowers are fantastic and delicious!

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What Basil Grows Well in Florida Heat?

What Basil Grows Well in Florida Heat?

“How can I grow basil in South Florida? Every time I try the sun either burns it or I get it in too much shade.” Question from Deborah of Moore Haven, Florida

Answer: If you find that traditional Italian large-leaf basil (Ocimum basilicum) burns and blooms quickly in your Florida heat, there are other basils available that are better adapted to high heat. Here are my top four selections.

Basils Tolerant of High Heat

  1. African Blue Basil (Ocimum ‘African Blue’): Expect a slightly stronger flavor from this darker-leaved, heavy-flowering basil. It’s beautiful, bees love it, it tolerates heat, and tastes good.
  2. Pesto Perpetuo Basil (Ocimum × africanum ‘Pesto Perpetuo’): Here’s another beautiful, flavorful basil that will never disappoint. It has pretty variegated leaves that taste great, and the heat-tolerant plant grows upright and never flowers. It looks good in a flower bed or herb garden.
  3. Lemon Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Mrs. Burns’ Lemon’): The lemony basil leaves taste so good in salads, and the plants take heat.
  4. Siam Queen Thai Basil (Ocimum ‘Siam Queen’): The award-winning ‘Siam Queen’ has delicious, licorice-flavored leaves that complement East Asian dishes. The plants are low-growing and beautiful.

I encourage you to watch the video below for more basil-growing tips.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Help! I Can’t Keep Herbs Alive.

“I can’t keep any herbs alive.  I’ve killed 3 basil plants and a thyme plant.  I’m also not really sure how to cut them to use them.  Do they grow after you cut them?  Please keep in mind I live in Arizona and have killed several cacti.  I guess I need major help.” Question from Denise of Mesa, Arizona

Answer: One of the most common killers of herbs (and cacti) is overwatering. These plants are prone to root rot if watered too much. Underwatering will also kill herbs quickly, especially if you live in a really arid climate, like Arizona.  Let me cover all the growing basics for basil and thyme, so you can determine where you may be going wrong.

Basil and Thyme Growing Conditions

Basil is a warm-season annual that will survive just one season, and thyme is a hardy perennial that should survive in the ground for years. Many herbs like these, including basil, French thyme, lavender, and sage, are the Mediterranean in origin and require full sun and well-drained soil with a neutral pH and moderate to low fertility. In very hot climates, like Arizona, you should provide your plants with shade in the early afternoon when the sun is highest and temperatures are hottest. Water in-ground plants deeply and allow them to get a bit dry between watering. If your garden soil is very dry, amend it with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend for better growing results. If you get poor leaf development, fertilize sparingly with a slow-release fertilizer.

If your plants are container-grown, choose large pots, which hold more water, and fill them with well-drained potting soil for organic gardening, like Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Make sure your pots have drainage holes and bottom saucers to catch water. When you water, water thoroughly until water runs from the bottom of the pot. Then let the soil become dry down to a 2-inch depth before watering again. (Just stick your finger in the soil until it feels lightly moist to a 2-inch depth; then water again.) This is most important for indoor herbs. Those growing outdoors will dry out a lot more quickly and should need daily water in your arid climate.

Please watch this video to learn more about growing herbs indoors.

Harvesting Herbs

Both basil and thyme are cut-and-come-again herbs that can be clipped for harvest over and over again. When harvesting leaves and stems, just be sure to leave enough behind for the plant to feed itself and rejuvenate. For further guidelines on how to harvest basil, please watch my video below.

Let me know if these tips help with your herb-growing success!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Gro Your Own: Basil Containers

Learn how to grow many different kinds of summer basil in containers with success. Basil growing in pots and containers is fun, easy, and yields lots of fresh basil for cooking.

Download the Step-by-Step PDF

One-Pot Herb Garden – Anywhere!

Repurposed wood crates become one-pot herb gardens featuring thyme, rosemary, cilantro, chives and more

Fresh-from-the-container culinary herbs turn a New York loft, a Chicago studio, or a Los Angeles condo into flavor central.  Nothing is quite like fresh mint in your mojito, just-picked basil on a mozzarella sandwich, or cilantro in your salsa.  No store-bought herb carries this intense flavor, because once cut, the essential oils immediately begin to lose pungency.  Cut and eat immediately, and you’ll find intense herbal resonance in every dish you make.

In a single good sized pot or any other repurposed vintage container, it’s possible to plant a garden of culinary herbs today and start tasting in just a matter of weeks.

‘Pesto Perpetuo’ basil is a great container option.

Choosing the Right Herbs

Blending the right herbs that share similar preferences makes care and watering a snap.  Most herbs need direct sun, so choose a bright planting spot, such as a fire escape, a window box, a terrace, or balcony. Just beware of direct exposure to the heat of intense afternoon sun, and be sure to water heavily on a daily basis at the height of summer.

In cities like Chicago, winds whip through downtown creating challenges for rooftop gardens and other plants exposed to such conditions.  As we approach summer, the wind combines with the hot sun, causing herb garden to struggle for moisture.  It dries herb’s tender, oil-rich leaves if moisture is inadequate.

Choosing Potting Soil

Thanks to the amazing ability of Black Gold Moisture Supreme Container Mix, contained herbs will stand up to the rigors of urban life without fail.  This amazing moisture-holding potting soil ensures that when your pot heats up, your plants don’t suffer wind damage due to the strengthening effects of RESiLIENCE®.  Despite its absorptive qualities, this potting soil also provides adequate drainage to ensure there’s plenty of oxygen in the root zone.

Parsley - Pam- Beck
Fresh parsley and thyme are easily contained in pots, window boxes, or small beds.

Annual Herbs

An annual herb garden typically features two popular summer plants: cilantro and basil.  Both are annuals grown fresh from seed each year and mature into large plants.  These blend perfectly with chives for a triad of often used and delicious foliage.  If perennially nipped and cut, they remain small for a time, but with rising heat and extended days, they will stretch out to flower and their flavor will become stronger and less palatable.

Perennial Herbs

The second group is the smaller, long-lived perennial herbs sized for a grand herb pot.  In-ground gardeners treat these as landscape plants, enjoying new growth and harvest each year without replanting, though overwintered plants may lose verve and require some replacement in the future. Key to success is growing the right herbs that won’t become too large over the season.  Start with those you use most often and organize them in pots by form with spreaders around the edges and upright herbs toward the center.

Thyme is one of the best cascading herbs that will spill over the edge of the pot, buying room for more upright plants in the center.  Oregano is spreading too, but since this herb is so often used in the kitchen, it manages to retain a modest size from frequent pinching.  Sage is very slow growing and loves the sun, so place this fuzzy-leaved fellow on the hot side of the box.  The same is true for creeping groundcover rosemary that spills off the face of the box.  Plant purple fennel in the center for an incredible bronze-colored haze that yields lots of anise-flavored cuttings for cooking and baking.

Everyone can dive into herb gardening no matter where they live by selecting a large, well-drained container, and using high-quality potting soil to reduce watering demands.  Once planted, begin dreaming of all sorts of herbal dishes, then snip your way to fresh and easy all summer long.