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Close-up of bush basil
If you want a perennial herb with highly aromatic leaves and decorative blooms throughout the year, then bush basil is for you. Also known as native coleus, the leaves of this herb were traditionally used for medicinal purposes, but today its pungent mix of basil, mint and sage-flavoured leaves are used to flavour a variety of savoury dishes.


What you need to know about bush basil

Name: bush basil, native coleus, mountain plectranthus, sticky cockspur, five spice plant (Plectranthus graveolens syn. Coleus graveolens).

Height: up to 1.5m.

Plant type: perennial shrub.

Climate: warm temperate, subtropical, tropical. 

Soil: moist and well drained, enriched with organic matter.

Position: full sun to shade.

Foliage: broad, highly aromatic and slightly sticky leaves with scalloped edges.

Flowering and fruiting: spikes of small blue-purple flowers in spring and summer, but they can also appear throughout the year. 

Feeding: feed in spring with an organic-based fertiliser.

Watering: water regularly to keep the soil moist.

Bush basil appearance and characteristics

Bush basil is a soft-wooded perennial that grows into a sprawling-to-erect shrub 1.5m tall and 2m wide. Despite the name, it is not related to basil, but more closely related to the coleus and mint family (Lamiaceae). Its highly textured leaves are broad with scalloped edges and covered in fine hairs. They’re also slightly sticky and have a mixed aroma of basil, mint and sage when crushed.

Small blue-purple blooms appear on flowering stems in spring and summer, but it can also flower sporadically throughout the year.

Bee hovering over purple bush basil flower

How to use bush basil

Grow as a decorative shrub in pots, garden beds or vegie patches. Harvest the leaves for use in Mediterranean-style dishes, to flavour pastas and pizzas, or to blend into a pesto. 

How to grow and care for bush basil

Choose a spot in full sun to part shade with well-drained soil. In hotter climates, plant in part shade or provide protection in summer from the harsh heat. Improve the soil by digging in organic matter and compost. Dig a hole twice as wide and to the same depth as the existing root ball. Remove the plant from its pot, loosen the mix to free the roots and place in the centre of the hole. Backfill with soil, firm down and water well. 

Mulch around the base of the plant with an organic mulch, like sugarcane or pea straw, to help retain soil moisture and suppress weeds.

Treat bush basil as you would most other perennial herbs in your garden. Water regularly to keep the soil moist and feed occasionally to boost growth. If bush basil starts to become unruly, simply prune back as needed; this will help keep it bushy and compact.

How often should you water and feed bush basil?

Water regularly to keep the soil moist. Bush basil can tolerate dry spells but prefers the soil to remain moist. This may mean increasing watering during summer, especially during extended dry spells. Mulching will also help the soil to retain moisture. 

Feed in spring with an organic-based fertiliser.

How and when to harvest bush basil

Harvest the basil leaves as needed throughout the year.

Diseases and pests that affect bush basil

Caterpillars, snails and slugs may find the foliage attractive. Treat caterpillars with an organic insecticide and use physical barriers, traps or bait pellets to help control snails and slugs.

How to propagate bush basil

Bush basil grows easily from cuttings. Take cuttings 10–15cm long, remove the lower leaves and place in a glass filled with water. Change the water weekly and roots should form after a few weeks. Transplant into small pots filled with premium quality potting mix once the roots are 5–10cm long.

Safety tip

After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.

If you like this then try

River mint: this native herb is the perfect substitute for common mint – ideal in pots or garden beds.

Native lemon grass: a handsome grass with wonderfully lemon-scented foliage. 

Red back ginger: a lush native perennial with edible roots, leaves and berries.

Start planting today

Check out our huge range of plants now and get your garden growing!


Photo credit: tuckerbush.com.au


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