Basil is a popular herb that is grown throughout the nation. It provides a great boost to your food’s taste and can be a fun and challenging plant to grow and cultivate. However, those who plant it often wonder if they are growing a perennial or if it is popular to keep this plant year-round. Let’s break down this topic into a handful of paragraphs to make it easier to understand your needs.
Is Basil a Perennial or Annual?
Basil is generally considered an annual in just about every growth zone around the world. An annual is a plant that lives for a specific season before it dies and needs to be replaced. Basil requires full sun in fairly hot climates, with a somewhat rich soil between a 5.1-8.5 acidity range. They typically thrive in the months between June to frost temperature and will die when the temperature gets too cold.
So, for the most part, you can anticipate 18-24 inch basil growths in growing zones 2-9 every year. However, you may also discover that basil does better in zones 10-13, as these areas have higher temperatures and better-growing conditions for these plants. Zones 10-13 are basically fairly tropical and have high temperatures, and never fall into frost. These areas will allow perennial basil growth.
Most of these higher-temperature growing zones are located towards the equator, where temperatures are higher. Very few places in the United States will qualify as a 10-13 growing zone. Most of Florida, particularly the tip, will range from 10a to 11a, where basil may grow as a perennial in the right conditions. The tip of Texas near the Mexican border and Louisiana along the Gulf of Mexico all qualify.
You may also grow basil year-round in some parts of California, particularly areas near Utah and Mexico. The lowlands and coastal regions are particularly warm, which may make basil perennial in these areas. All of Hawaii, due to its uniquely southern positioning, should also qualify as a perennial zone for basil. Outside of these areas, basil cannot survive year-round in the United States.
Typically, basil needs temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night. While you may protect them with row covers in the early days of the frost season, this fix will only last so long before it gets too cold for basil. But this plant will come back every year after the temperature warms up, right? Let’s check into this common question to learn more.
Does Basil Come Back Every Year?
Basil is an annual throughout most places in the United States, which means that it dies off in frozen temperature. It does not go into a hibernation period, nor can it grow back the way that many hardy lawn types of grass do every spring and summer. In fact, basil is so sensitive to cold temperatures that it is often one of the first to die when the frost comes. This sensitivity is natural, considering basil originated in Africa.
As a result, if you plant basil one year early in the season and do not properly prepare or process it, you won’t see it coming back the next year. It will die and rot during the winter and spring, leaving behind nothing but the memory of a plant. That doesn’t mean that you can’t save your plant by transplanting it into your home. Many people do just that and keep their basil for a few years after its initial growth.
That said, it isn’t necessarily easy to achieve this step without a lot of work. Basil, as mentioned before, is sensitive to cold and needs a lot of warmth. Can you keep your home consistently warm enough for this plant? Before going onto that question, we think it is important to address growing basil as a perennial for those who may live within the proper growing zones.
As mentioned previously, growing zones from 10-13 should be warm enough for your basil to thrive as a perennial. If you live in any of the areas we mentioned above (California and southern Texas, and Florida, primarily), the next section is for you. If you do not, you may want to skip past this section and read about how you can transplant your basil into your home throughout the winter.
Can You Grow Basil as a Perennial?
If your temperature remains above 70 degrees Fahrenheit year-round without frost, you can grow basil as a perennial. If you plan on growing it as such, it is a good idea to follow the steps below to prepare it. In this way, you can give it the best chance of thriving in your unique environment:
- Plant Your Basil in Containers – Start out by placing your basil needs in sunny windows and under heat plants in well-ventilated and secure planting containers. You can let your basil plants reach a higher level of maturity here and then take them outside to plant when the season is right.
- Keep Them Healthy – Position your basil in east windows and provide them plenty of water (the soil should be damp but not drenched), and let them get up to six hours of natural light every day. As they grow, they’ll expand and can be transplanted in the soil when temperatures consistently hit 70.
- Plant Outdoors – Find a comfortable spot for your basil plants, paying attention to nearby growths. Basil works well as a companion plant for chives, oregano, marigold, peppers, chamomile, borage, tomatoes, and most root vegetables. Let the basil grow to its fullest extent here.
- Tend to Your Basil – When your temperature is high enough for perennial basil growth, you need to tend to them regularly. Make sure you harvest fresh leafs and watch for seeds. The seeds must be taken off, dried, and saved for later. Even a perennial basil plant won’t live forever.
Make sure that you also apply appropriate fertilizer based on the needs of your soil. For instance, if it needs a higher level of phosphorous to thrive, spread some of this fertilizer near the base of the plant. Hire someone to check your soil’s nutrient levels to ensure that you handle its needs properly.
Once your basil plants end up aging out or drying out, you can chop them up and store them for up to five months in a fridge or freezer. However, if you do not live in an area where perennial growth is possible, you can keep your plants alive year-round by taking them indoors as the temperature changes.
How Do You Keep Basil Alive in the Winter or Year-Round?
When the temperatures start going down, is your basil doomed to die? Not necessarily. You can transplant this plant into pots in your home and avoid death. This process is something that you can do with many types of growths and include steps like:
- Prepare a Growing Area – Your basil will need consistent temperatures of no less than 70 degrees Fahrenheit to thrive. Put aside a room in your home where you can provide consistent UV access (natural light preferred, but artificial may work in a pinch) and keep your plants protected.
- Carefully Remove Your Plants – Prepare your growing pots by filling them halfway with well-drained soil. Slowly and carefully remove your basil plants from the ground outside of your home, taking the soil ball around their roots with them. Place the plant in the container and cover the base with soil.
- Tend to Your Plants – As your plants grow inside of your home, you need to make sure that you water them regularly. You also must watch for any pests that may make their way onto your plants. Though rare, some may invade your home by smelling the basil and finding entry routes.
- Place Them Back in the Ground – Though transplanting basil and other growths takes a lot of patience, carefully placing your ball of soil back into the ground when the temperature is warm enough could help it live year-round. Keep the soil as consistent as possible to avoid complications.
How long can you keep your plants alive in these conditions? That all depends. If you give them at least six hours of real or 10-12 hours of artificial UV exposure, you can probably keep them alive throughout the year. Keep them properly watered and aired out, as well, to minimize problems.
Don’t forget to use a dehydrator in the room to minimize unnecessary moisture. This moisture could cause the basil to rot due to the lack of airflow in many rooms. You may want to install fans or vents throughout the growing area to keep the air moving smoothly through your home.
That said, these steps may be quite challenging for many growers and may not even result in success. Is it even worth trying to keep basil plants alive year-round? That depends on your basil and its lifespan. Due to its mostly annual life cycle, it may not live as long as you want.
That said, basil (properly prepared and stored during cold months) may also live many years with little trouble. Before trying to grow your basil all year, it is important to understand just how long this plant lives. Doing so can help you decide if it’s right to even try keeping it all year.
What is the Lifespan of a Basil Plant?
A typical basil plant usually lives no more than a single year in an outdoor environment. However, it is possible to extend its life to two or more years, depending on how well you maintain it. By taking it indoors, as mentioned above, you may keep it for a few years and harvest its leafs and seeds for a few years. Unfortunately, basil will eventually start drying out and leaving you with little recourse.
Typically, basil starts to dry out after about two years of transplanting, though careful preparation may help it last as long as 3-4 years. Pay attention to the leafs and their brittleness before deciding to harvest a whole basil plant. Once the leafs become dry and brittle and break off in your hand, the plant may be close to death. Thankfully, you can use its seeds to replant more basil and keep your home stocked with this herb.
Don’t Neglect This Great Plant
Growing basil can be challenging if you want to keep it as a perennial. Even in areas where it may grow year-round, sudden changes in temperature may cause it to die. For this reason, it is best to think of basil as an advanced annual. By taking it into your home and enjoying its rich aroma in your grow room, you can keep it healthy and safe and minimize potential growth issues as well.