Basil plants come in both annual and perennial varieties. The traditional Italian varieties like Genovese is an annual basil that will die off in the winter and is not frost hardy. Perennial basil will grow larger with strong stems and can tolerate cooler weather and light frosts. This allows them to grow well over the winter and summer with delicious bail flavored leaves.
This article will explore all you need to know about growing perennial basil to have this delicious herb at home all year long.
How to grow perennial basil
Perennial basil is easy to grow and the steps are as simple as choosing a full sun position, improving the soil and watering regularly. Here are my tips to successfully grow perennial at home.
Plant in full sun
Planting perennial basil in full sun will help it to grow quicker and stronger flavored leaves. Perennial basil can also be planted in part shade and it will result in sweeter and softer leaves. Perennial basil will also grow well in greenhouses to protect the plant during the colder weather.
If you live in an area that gets heavy frosts, perennial basil will benefit from some protection over winter from a garden wall or a nearby tree to provide protection.
Soil, water and mulch
Perennial basil is easy to grow as long as it gets regular water and is planted in well-draining soil. Before planting out perennial basil make sure you take the time to improve the soil with aged cow manure and compost.
Perennial basil can then be placed in your garden bed and watered well. Add straw or sugar cane mulch around the basil allowing a 1-2 inch gap between the base of the plant and the mulch. This will help to prevent water from sitting against the stems and allowing disease transfer.
Perennial basil will benefit from regular pruning or trimming. This perennial basil will continue to grow back leaves and stems when they are trimmed. This will keep the plant smaller and dense and growing new soft and delicious leaves.
Perennial basil will have stronger, woodier stems than annual basil. It is therefore best to just use the leaves in cooking as the stems can be a bit chewy and hard.
Perennial basil flowers
Perennial basil grows small purple and white flowers and can be grown as a feature plant in your yard or used to attract pollinating insects. The basil flowers will grow at the end of summer and the plant will set seed if the flowers are left on.
The seeds can be collected in a brown paper bag and planted in spring for new perennial basil plants. Grow perennial basil with annual basil for a long lasting patch of herbs that looks and smells great. When the annual basil finishes growing in winter the perennial basil will keep growing.
Growing perennial basil in pots and containers
Perennial basil makes the perfect herb for pots and containers. It will pair perfectly with tomatoes, strawberries and parsley. These all love regular water and similar light conditions.
Does basil come back every year?
Perennial basil will keep growing throughout the year. They will slow their growth in winter but will still stay green if protected from heavy frosts. Annual basil will generally die off in winter when the weather gets too cold.
If you live in a sub-tropical climate or have mild winters then your annual basil can survive most of winter. I kept my annual basil alive throughout most of winter but it did die off in the end. If you want endless basil throughout the year perennial basil is the best choice.
How do you keep basil alive in the winter?
To give annual basil and perennial basil the best chance of surviving winter you will need to protect them both from frost. While perennial basil will survive light frosts, annual basil will suffer from even the lightest coverage.
Planting the basil near a brick or concrete will help them to survive frost as the wall radiates heat to keep the temperature higher during the night.
Protecting the basil with a plastic covering, moving potted basil into a greenhouse or planting near an overhanging tree will all stop frost from damaging the basil leaves.
Is basil an annual or perennial herb?
Traditional Italian basil varieties like Genovese are annual and will not survive a cold winter. Perennial basil varieties are now available from nurseries and grow on stronger, woodier stems and will grow throughout the year.
Perennial basil grows best in climates that have mild winters btu will still survive light frosts. If you live in an area that gets heavy frosts you will need to protect the plant. Growing them in pots or containers is an easy way to move them into a protected area.
What is the lifespan of a perennial basil plant?
Perennial basil plants can grow very well for around 3-4 years very productively. Replacing them every 3 years will give you a new healthy plant with soft leaves and stems. You can keep your perennial basil growing for many years if you take care of it.
Annual basil will do well to grow for more than 1 year. In climates with milder winters you can get your annual basil to survive for 2 years and it will still be growing new leaves.
Is basil a perennial? | Summary
Traditional basil varieties are annual and will need to be replanted each year in spring. Perennial basil is a great plant to try that will grow throughout the whole year and still taste delicious. Perennial basil will have harder stems so it is better just to use the leaves in cooking.
Both annual and perennial basil are delicious additions to any Italian dish including pizzas, pasta and is perfect for making pesto. You will find that even with one basil plant that you will have more basil leaves than you need so give pesto a go when you have too much.
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I am an accredited practicing dietitian, experienced gardener and a dedicated cook. I love writing and sharing my experience so you can learn from my successes and mistakes.