By Jennifer Poindexter
Is there a difference between basil and holy basil? Yes, and holy basil (also known as Tulsi) is an amazing plant which should be added to many herb gardens.
Basil is known for having a sweeter flavor profile. Holy basil, on the other hand, has a spicier flavor. It is used in cold dishes where traditional basil is used in cooked dishes. Holy basil is a common ingredient in Thai food, and if the name didn’t give it away, it’s considered a sacred herb to Hindus.
This is definitely a fun herb with a great deal of history. If you’d like to grow a new variety of basil, here’s what you should know:
Growing Conditions for Holy Basil
If you’re interested in raising holy basil in your herb garden, you must first know what conditions the herb requires.
Holy basil typically grows in tropical or subtropical climates. In these areas, it’s a perennial plant. If you don’t live in a tropical climate, don’t be discouraged. You can still raise holy basil, but it must be raised as an annual.
Holy basil can be grown inground or in a container. Be sure to choose a container that can support the height of the plant because holy basil can grow to be two feet tall.
As long as the grow space has partial to full sunlight and fluffy, well-draining soil, the plant should prosper.
Gardeners should aim to create a grow space with soil higher in nutrients. However, the plant can grow in lower quality soil as well. These are the elements holy basil requires.
How to Plant Holy Basil
Holy basil can be started indoors or out. It’s about your gardening preferences. If you choose to start the seeds indoors, be sure to start the process six weeks prior to the last predicted frost date.
Place the seeds in a grow tray filled with quality soil. It’s a good idea to place two seeds more cell in the tray incase some seeds fail to germinate. Cover the seeds lightly with soil because they require light for germination.
Provide the necessary water and heat for the seeds to sprout. Continue providing proper care to encourage healthy plants until it’s safe to transplant outdoors.
The seedlings should be transplanted two feet apart if placing in rows. Otherwise, place them in their designated containers.
It’s important to maintain proper spacing due to the size of the plant. If they’re placed too close together, they won’t receive proper airflow which leaves them open to disease.
If you’d prefer to direct sow the holy basil seeds, you can once all threat of frost has passed. When sowing the seeds, be sure to sow sparingly as the plants can’t be closer than two feet in distance.
Cover the seeds lightly with soil to make sure they receive sunlight for germination. Once the seeds sprout, thin them to ensure proper spacing.
There is one additional way to grow holy basil aside from seeds. If you have established plants, you can take cuttings to start new plants.
Cut a four-inch piece of the herb right beneath a leaf node. This piece shouldn’t have already flowered. When you’ve removed the piece, pluck the bottom leaves off the stem.
Place the cutting into a glass filled with water. Set the glass where it will receive adequate sunlight. You can use another material besides glass, but it will make it easier to judge where the roots are if you have a container that’s transparent.
When the roots of the cutting have reached two inches in length, it’s time to remove it from the water and transplant into a permanent planter or garden space.
Starting the growing process with holy basil is only half the equation. You must now learn how to properly care for your plants to keep them healthy through harvest.
Caring for Holy Basil
Holy basil has a few basic requirements when it comes to caring for and keeping the plant healthy. By performing this minor maintenance of the plant, it could help produce a fruitful harvest.
The first area of maintenance is water. Perform the knuckle test to know when to apply more water to basil.
Stick your finger into the soil next to the plant. If it’s dry to the first knuckle, it needs more water. If the soil is moist to the first knuckle, you don’t need to add additional moisture.
It’s a good idea to use the deep watering method when watering your herbs. This requires watering for longer periods fewer days of the week. This will help ensure the plant receives an adequate amount of water and is less labor intensive.
When caring for holy basil, it’s important to make sure your plants are receiving enough water without being left consistently soggy. This is why it’s vital to plant holy basil in well-draining soil.
Try to water the herb from beneath or early in the morning. By watering from beneath the plant, you’re avoiding wetting the foliage.
If you water early in the morning, you’re giving the leaves a chance to dry before the cool night air sets in. Either way, you’re helping to deter diseases from forming on your plant.
You should also consider mulching around your crop to help keep weeds down and moisture in.
After you get watering down pat, it’s time to look to the soil. Test your soil over the grow season to see if your plant needs anything.
If the plant is missing nutrients, it’s okay to add a fertilizer. However, you should do this as minimally as possible.
The more you fertilize, the more it kills the flavor of your harvest. It’s a good idea to add the nutrients prior to planting. This should help avoid overfertilizing.
If you’ve raised any variety of basil, you know it will bolt at a certain point in the grow season. You can stop bolt by cutting the plant back.
Plants bolt when they’re going to seed. This is a sign the plant feels old and is ready to pass on its seed to ensure another generation.
You can trick the plant into feeling young again by cutting it back while still remaining above soil level. It’s important to leave enough room for regrowth. This will prolong your plant’s grow season.
By ensuring the holy basil has adequate water, isn’t over fertilized, and is trimmed when it’s starting to feel old, it should produce a quality harvest.
Garden Pests and Diseases for Holy Basil
There are a few pests and diseases you should be aware of when growing holy basil. By keeping an eye out for these problems, you could help secure your harvest.
The first pest you should be aware of is the aphid. They’re a common pest in most gardens and live on the sap of your plants.
Aphids can be treated with insecticide, or you can spray your plants with soapy water. You may need to repeat these treatments on an as needed basis because they can be a difficult pest to get rid of.
Slugs are another pest you should be aware of. They leave holes in your foliage and slime behind them to mark their travels around your plant.
These pests can be hand-picked, or you can place diatomaceous earth at the base of the plant. This creates a treacherous terrain for them to climb over. You can try to prevent slugs by placing coffee grounds around the base of the plant.
The caffeine is something slugs aren’t a fan of, and it will deter them from making a home on or near your plant.
The Japanese beetle is another common pest in most gardens. You’ll see them devouring your plant’s foliage. You can get rid of these pests by spraying your plants with insecticidal soap.
There are a few diseases you should be aware of when raising holy basil. The most common ailments for this plant are root rot and fungal diseases.
Root rot occurs when the plant is placed in soil that isn’t well-draining. Fungal diseases occur when plants are in humid growing conditions and don’t have enough air circulating around the plant.
These diseases can be avoided by planting in well-draining soil, pruning the plants when they begin growing into eachother, and watering properly to ensure the foliage isn’t left in a consistently wet state.
By keeping an eye on these common pests and problems, you should be able to stay ahead of any trouble which comes your way in the garden.
How to Harvest Holy Basil
Holy basil is similar to other basil varieties when it comes to harvesting. You can harvest the leaves as desired throughout the grow season and use them as you would any other basil variety.
When harvesting, be sure you don’t cut where the stem starts to appear woody. This will hinder the plant from regrowing.
Otherwise, you can use scissors to clip away any stems or leaves you’d like to harvest. You can dry or freeze the leaves for later use. You can also use them fresh.
If you’d like to enjoy fresh basil, place the harvest in a small container of water like you would a flower bouquet. This will allow the holy basil to remain fresh for a longer period. Don’t refrigerate basil as this will cause it to ruin faster.
Holy basil is a low-maintenance plant. It would make a wonderful addition in most gardens. There are a few pests and diseases which may threaten your harvest.
However, if you can get over this hurtle, you could have a low-maintenance harvest that could add fresh flavors to your kitchen all year long.