Basil Care After Season: Can You Keep Basil Through Winter

Hands Holding A Bundle Of Basil
fresh basil
(Image credit: cdelacy)

Most herbs thrive in sunny Mediterranean-like conditions in well-draining soil. Certainly one of the more popular herbs, basil is a tender annual in most cases. With that thought in mind, at the end of season basil harvest, can you keep the basil through winter?

Will Basil Die Over Winter?

As previously mentioned, basil is an annual in most cases. Specifically, sweet basil, the popular variety of basil grown for use in the most sublime pesto sauces, is an annual. There are a couple of other varieties of basil that are hardier and tend towards a perennial life cycle. Generally, the end of summer or first part of fall heralds the end of season basil harvest, but is there a way to extend basil's life at the end of the season? You can try to keep basil through the winter. However, sweet basil is meant to live its life cycle within one year and thereafter go to seed. At the end of the season, though, you can try to keep it alive by moving potted basil indoors. Unless you are moving and growing the herb in a greenhouse, the hot temperatures and direct sunlight that basil thrives in are not usually found in the average person's home, so be sure to provide as much light as possible; artificial lighting for 10 to 12 hours a day during the darker winter months. Even so, the plant may linger for a time, but it will succumb at some point. With this knowledge, it is best to be prepared to either purchase another plant or start your own from seed in the spring.

Basil Care After Season

Since basil's sweet, fresh flavor is fleeting, it's wise to have a game plan for basil care after season. That is, how are you going to utilize all that fresh basil while it's at its peak and at the final harvest? Basil is best used fresh. That said, it is also pungent when dried. Using a dehydrator or simply preserving the foliage by air drying in a warm, dry, well-ventilated room for a week or so is a great way to extend the life of this herb. Once the herb has dried, remove the leaves from the stems and store the leaves either whole or ground in an airtight container away from heat and bright light. Stored in this manner, dried basil will keep for one year. A better method for storing and utilizing fresh basil leaves is by freezing the herb. Freezing basil allows you to keep the brilliant green color which complements food so beautifully, while drying the herb turns it to an unpleasant brown. Freezing your basil also results in a flavor more akin to fresh. You can freeze entire leaves in small batches in small plastic bags or chop them and place them in an ice cube tray with a bit of water. Or, mix the chopped basil with a bit of olive oil and then freeze in ice cube trays. Once frozen, remove the cubes of basil and store in airtight containers in the freezer for future use. You can also make some fabulous pesto sauce and freeze it in batches. Frozen basil will last the same as dried, about one year. However, if you decide to store your basil for the post harvest season, do it! I miss the fresh aroma and tender flavor of fresh picked basil during the winter. There really is nothing like it, and I pine for spring when I can cultivate it again.

Amy Grant

Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.