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Growing Basil: A Guide for Australian Gardeners

Growing your own basil is a great way to add fresh flavour to your summer dishes. This guide covers everything you need to know to grow basil in Australia, from choosing the best time to plant to harvesting leaves.

Basil is a wonderful plant to grow in your garden during summer. I love to grow basil near my tomatoes because they make excellent companion plants. Then, it’s just a case of harvesting a few leaves every now and then to add to my cooking.

However, if you want to grow enough basil to make into pesto, you’re going to need more than one plant. Personally, I’ve found basil to be fairly slow-growing in the garden, especially in Victoria. 

During the heat of summer, basil will start to flower and the leaves will thin out. However, the foliage is still edible and if you trim it back, you should get some additional growth. Basil can also be grown on pots, even indoors on a sunny window sill.

When to plant basil in Australia

Ideally, you want to plant basil in spring in the southern parts of the country so that you get a long harvesting season. However, if you live in the tropics, you should plant basil in the autumn as it doesn’t tolerate the extreme heat in summer. 

Bear in mind that basil is not frost-tolerant so it won’t survive through winter in the colder regions of the country. For this reason, many gardeners like to grow basil in pots as these can be brought indoors to extend the harvesting period.

How to plant basil 

planting basil | Fruit & Vegetables

Basil can be grown from seed or you can purchase punnets of seedlings at your local nursery or even at Bunnings. Personally, I prefer to purchase seedlings because basil can take a while to grow from seed. However, if you want to grow lots of basil in your garden, starting with seeds will be more economical.

Growing basil from seed

You can purchase basil seeds in packets. These seeds are tiny and will take a few weeks to germinate. The seeds can either be planted directly in the garden or into punnets or small pots filled with a seed-raising mix.

It’s important to keep the soil moist while waiting for your basil seeds to germinate. 

Growing basil from seedlings

If you’re not patient enough to wait for the seeds to germinate, then it’s better to purchase a punnet of seedlings and plant these into your garden.

planting basil 1 | Fruit & Vegetables

You want to ensure that the soil has been enriched with compost or aged manure to give the plants a good start. Basil does like fertile soil and you’ll end up with larger leaves if your plant is well-fed.

You can grow your basil in a sunny position but it will also grow quite well in part shade. In fact, in hotter areas, basil is best grown in part-shade because it tends to wilt when exposed to days of hot sunshine. The ideal spot to plant your basil is one that gets morning sun and afternoon shade.

From experience, I’ve found that growing basil around tomatoes is ideal because as the tomato plants shoot up, they provide some shade for the basil.

basil and tomato plants | Fruit & Vegetables

How to care for basil

Once planted, basil just needs adequate water and regular feeding. However, you want to make sure that the soil is free-draining because basil does not cope well with wet feet (damp soil).

During hot days, you might need to water your basil more than once during the day as the leaves do tend to wilt when exposed to long periods of intense heat.

Basil responds very well to regular feeding with a liquid fertiliser that contains plenty of nitrogen. This is because the nitrogen will stimulate lots of green growth. Therefore, you want to feed your plants at least once a fortnight with a good liquid fertiliser that you dilute with water.

basil plant | Fruit & Vegetables

Another important thing to remember when growing basil is that you want to harvest the leaves often. Lots of harvesting will encourage plenty of new growth.

You should also cut off any flower heads that start to form because this will encourage the plant to put its energy into leaf growth rather than flowers and seeds.

How long does basil take to grow?

If you grow basil from seed, it usually takes around three to four weeks before you’ll have some small leaves ready to harvest. However, basil grown from seedlings only needs a week or two before you can harvest some leaves.

When to harvest basil in Australia

You can harvest basil any time during its growing season once the leaves are large enough and there’s plenty of growth left on the plant after you’ve harvested a few leaves.

basil plant in pot | Fruit & Vegetables

You can continue harvesting basil leaves even when the flowers start to appear. However, it’s better to pinch off the flower buds so that you get more leaves growing. Bear in mind though, that the flowers are also edible and are great for adding to salads or pasta dishes.

How to harvest basil

To harvest basil, use a pair of kitchen scissors or garden snips and just cut off a few stems from around the outside and the top of the plant. Try to harvest your basil leaves evenly from around the plant so that it doesn’t become lopsided.

basil harvesting | Fruit & Vegetables

Make sure that you don’t cut any of the stems back to the ground as these won’t regrow. Just always harvest your basil from the top and leave at least half the growth intact.

Basil pests and diseases

You’ll be happy to know that basil has very few pest or disease problems. Keep an eye out for green looper caterpillars and pick these off by hand if you happen to see any.

If you have white flies in your area, you might find that these may affect your basil. The best way to deal with these pests is to get some of that sticky yellow tape that you hang near your basil plants.

Basil companion plants

Basil will grow happily with the following plants:

  • Tomatoes
  • Capsicum and chillies
  • Asparagus
  • Root vegetables
  • Other herbs like oregano and chives

FAQ

Does basil grow better in pots or in the ground?

Basil will grow equally well in pots or in the ground. However, if you want to protect basil from frost and get a longer harvest, it’s better to grow it in pots.

Will basil come back every year?

In the cooler parts of Australia, basil is grown as an annual and will die once the weather gets too cold or it is hit with frost. Even basil grown in the tropics will likely die during the heat of summer. 

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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