Growing your own herbs Basil, Dill, Coriander

Basil

Basil is perfect for a sunny patio

Basil is perfect for a sunny patio

How to grow basil

You can start sowing basil towards the end of March in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill. It's very sensitive to cold and will blacken at the slightest hint of frost, so make sure your early sowings are protected.

Once the young plants reach about 15cm tall, remove the shoot tip to encourage more leafy growth and a bushier plant. When the warmth of June arrives, you can sow another batch outside and move any indoor plants outside to the patio. Make a final sowing in August to give you fresh basil into autumn.

Buying basil in pots

You can also buy basil in pots from the supermarket or garden centre. Look for bushy plants with lots of side-shoots and no sign of flowering. You can then make more plants by taking cuttings.

Cut off a piece of stem about 8cm-10cm long, just below a leaf joint. Remove the lower leaves, then pop the cuttings in a jar of water and wait for them to form roots. Once they've rooted, pot them in free-draining compost.

How to care for basil

Keep your basil in the sunniest spot you can find – preferably a south-facing windowsill or patio (once there's no risk of frost). Water sparingly and remove flower spikes – if these are allowed to mature, your plants will stop growing new leaves.

How to harvest basil

Pick individual leaves from the top of the plant and feed with a liquid fertiliser afterwards. Then leave it to grow again.

If you find that you have a bumper crop at the end of summer, pick the lot and make it into pesto. It freezes really well if you leave out the parmesan, which can be added before use. 

Recommended basil varieties

Sweet basil, often sold as 'Sweet Genovese' has the classic basil taste. 'Aristotle' is a newer large-leaved variety. Greek basil is compact and bushy with tiny leaves, so there's no need to chop them before cooking. 'Cinnamon' has a flavour rather like aniseed sweets, or for a fresh lemony tang try 'Mrs Burns' Lemon'. For ornamental use in window boxes or edging beds, try 'Crimson King' for its purple leaves. 

Coriander

Coriander leaf

Easy to grow and great in Indian and Thai cooking

How to grow coriander

Coriander doesn't like being moved, so it's best sown where you want it to grow, either in the ground or in large pots. Sow in late spring or early summer.

In August sow some more in pots on the windowsill for a supply during autumn and winter. Coriander is annoyingly quick to flower and set seed before it has produced much leaf, so it's best to sow little and often. Watch out for fine, feathery leaves – a sure sign the plants are about to flower.

How to care for coriander

Well-drained soil in a sunny spot is essential. If you're growing it indoors on a windowsill, give it plenty of light and don't over water.

How to harvest 

Keep picking mature leaves as and when you need them. Regular cropping should delay flowering. Once the plants do flower, allow them to set seed. The seed is ripe when it stops smelling unpleasant. Collect it and use in cooking, keeping some to sow for another crop.

Recommended coriander varieties

If you want the leaves choose 'Calypso', which is slow to bolt (produce flower shoots)' or 'Lemon Coriander' for a sharper flavour.

Dill

Dill plant

Short but great seed flavour

How to grow dill

Aniseed-flavoured dill dislikes having its roots disturbed – sow it where it is to grow, either in the ground or in large containers in a warm sunny site with well-drained soil.

Don't grow dill near fennel, as the two can cross-pollinate resulting in seedlings with muddled flavours.

If you can't provide these conditions, then don't waste your time – dill won't thrive in cold, wet areas. Sow little and often in March to April in the greenhouse to give you a supply of fresh leaves all summer.

How to care for dill

Protect your plants from strong winds and support them with twiggy sticks.

How to harvest 

Pick leaves fresh whenever you need them. If you want to use the seed too, cut off the flower heads, put them in a paper bag and leave in a warm place for a week. The seeds will then fall from the husks and can be stored in an airtight container.

Recommended dill varieties

The variety  'Bouquet' is shorter than the common form at only 60cm. It runs to seed very quickly, so is ideal if you prefer the flavour of the seed. If you're growing dill for ornamental effects as well as culinary, go for 'Tetra' or 'Herkules'.

Want to grow other edible plants? Read our guides to growing soft fruit or growing your own winter salad

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