We all know basil as the aromatic herb commonly accompanied with tomatoes and greek cheese, topped on a pizza, or made into a fresh basil pesto.
While delicious and transforms any meal to the next level, buying herbs weekly can become quite costly and wasteful if you don’t manage to use the whole pack before it turns slimy or dries up.
However, growing your own herbs is cheap, requires little care, and leaves you with a bountiful pick any time you need to – as well as a heavenly scent in your home or garden.
In This Article
Types of basil plants to grow
Basil can be found growing indoors and outdoors for use in a wide variety of dishes. One of the first herbs planted in spring, basil is easy to grow and perfect for tucking into a section of your garden or container gardens too.
The different kinds of basil each have their own different flavor and bring a unique culinary experience to different dishes coming from various origins
This variety of basil is what you’re probably most familiar with. It’s the regular basil you would buy, scientifically known as Ocimum Basilicum, and most commonly used for Italian and Mediterranean dishes, even though it’s native to India.
As you can probably guess from the name, Thai basil originates from Thailand and is commonly used in traditional recipes.
It has a more licorice and slightly spicy flavor, compared to sweet basil. It’s also more stable under high or extended cooking temperatures.
Thai basil is also quite the sight as it has small, narrow leaves, purple stems, and pink-purple flowers.
Lemon basil is a hybrid between the basils and is known for its fragrant lemon scent and flavor. It’s extensively used in soups, stews, curries, and stir-fried dishes to add a tangy citrus note.
How to grow basil from seeds indoors
Even if the intention is to have your basil plants outside in the garden, most gardeners get a jump start on the growing season and start growing basil in pots indoors. Ideally, you would sow your basil seeds indoors four to six weeks before the last frost date of spring.
Alternatively and perhaps the easier option is going to seed directly into your garden soil, once the spring frost threat is over.
Besides that an early start on things never hurt anyone, if you’re unsure whether you want to plant your basil outside or keep it on your kitchen windowsill for the season, starting it in a pot inside guarantees a container filled with basil plants for generous picking.
The reason we start by sprouting the basil indoors is to make sure that when the basil does go outside, the temperature is warm and consistent, with no chill wind or frost.
Things you’ll need to grow basil:
- A medium-sized pot or container (about 8- 10 inches wide. Be sure it has drainage holes at the bottom)
- Potting soil mix
- Basil seeds
- Base to your pot if it has one or a metal cooking tray
How to grow basil:
- Place your container onto the base or baking tray
- Fill your container with potting mix, leaving an inch space from the top
- Sprinkle a coffee-sized spoon of seeds evenly onto the soil, leaving roughly a thumb-sized space around the edges
- Sprinkle a very light amount of soil over your seeds
- Dampen the soil with a few sprays of water using a spray bottle or your faucet
- Cover the top of the container with plastic wrap and place the container in a warm location
You don’t need to water the basil seeds again until the seedling emerges, 7 to 10 days later.
Basil seeds don’t require any direct sunlight until they begin to sprout but they do need a warm place. Finding the warmest place in your house or kitchen increases the chance of successful germination.
Once the seeds germinate and tiny seedlings begin to appear, remove the plastic wrap, and place the pot on a sunny windowsill (preferably one that is south-facing). Keep the soil moist with frequent misting.
We use quite this liberal amount of seeds to ensure we get a nice thick bush of basil and not just the odd stem here and there. Having all the seeds together also means that there’s a more likely chance of them germinating, as they encourage each other’s growth. In a few weeks’ time, once they’ve reached a nice length (around 8 inches tall), having this packed population allows them to support each other and stay upright and firm.
How to plant basil seedlings into the garden
Basil plants can grow healthily indoors for their entire life cycle, and depending on your climate, it might be best to do so. Though if you do wish to plant basil into the garden here’s how to do it.
Before you start digging any holes, we need to “harden off” our seedlings. Hardening off a plant means that we move it outdoors gradually for a few hours in the day every day to allow the basil to acclimatize to the slightly harsher conditions outdoors.
Start doing this by taking your container of basil outside into a shaded place for a few hours a day (being sure all of the early spring frost has passed before doing this). Once you’ve done this, move the seedlings outside, still in their container, to a sheltered location outside for a week.
Once your basil has been fully adjusted, it’s time to choose a location with plenty of light exposure.
When picking the perfect part of your garden for your basil, choose an area with warm temperatures and full morning sun. If you live in an area with scorching midday sun, try to give your basil light shade during the hottest time of day.
To prepare the garden soil for your herbs, mix in a healthy amount of organic matter/compost to create a rich, well-draining foundation for your basil.
How to transplant your basil:
- Make the hole into the soil or garden container at least 8 inches deep for strong root growth
- Divide your root ball into each individual plant, pulling them apart gently
- Space each plant 6 to 8 inches apart to allow plenty of sunlight and airflow
- Push in the soil to fill in any gaps and seal in the plants
- Water a healthy amount, making sure to avoid wetting the leaves
Planting each plant at least 6 inches apart makes certain that the plant is getting enough airflow in between the leaves.
Of course, if you choose to wait a few extra weeks and plant basil from seeds straight into your garden, then this step can be entirely aside.
Sustaining the health of your basil plant throughout the season
Growing basil plants require warmth, 8 hours of sunlight, well-drained soil, and regular watering.
In terms of sunlight, it depends on the season and temperature where you are. If your basil plant is indoors, or outside in the springtime, six to eight hours is ideal. The same goes for autumn and winter. The most sun during these times the better.
When the warm weather gets dry during the summer, add a layer of mulch on the soil around the plants. This will help hold in moisture and suppress and weeds that are brewing.
As well as adding mulch, during the scorching heat of summer, keep an extra eye on how long your basil plants are in the sun, as it can very quickly be too much for them and the leaves may begin to wilt.
Since basil is not a fruiting plant, fertilize lightly. Basil is a vigorous grower though requires very little to no fertilization. In fact, too much fertilization will kill the delicate flavor. If you choose to add fertilizer, a small amount of liquid fertilizer twice during the season is all you really need for growing basil. However, if your basil is in a pot, applying liquid fertilizer every 4 to 8 weeks is recommended to replenish any nutrients lost during watering.
If you’re keeping your basil indoors, make sure that it’s not outgrowing its pot.
When watering basil, it’s always better to under-water the plant than over-water them since basil plants are prone to fungus and are easily overwatered. Having them in a pot or container lessens the chance of this due to the drainage holes at the bottom. It’s always better if you hold off on watering it until the leaves begin to droop slightly before risking any type of fungus or mold forming. Once you do water them, the leaves perk back up again just as they were before.
Basil requires approximately 1 inch of water every week. – watering deeply to keep roots growing deep and the soil moist.
If your basil is growing in containers it will need more frequent watering. Typically, it’s safe to water your container of basil every four days without any negative repercussions, as long as they’re in a warm place with plenty of sunlight. Your goal when growing basil in a container is to keep the soil from drying out.
If you see your basil leaves are turning yellow, falling off, or have fruit flies around them, it’s best to hold off the watering for a few days.
During the dry periods in summer, it’s safe to water them freely and as you feel necessary.
An important tip when you water your herbs is to always water the soil, not the leaves. Wetting basil leaves make the perfect ground for various diseases and rot.
The basil plant isn’t harvested at a specific time, since you generally just pick off a few leaves as you need them (once it has reached a certain maturity). However, harvesting basil regularly will keep your basil rounded, healthier, and less leggy. It will also help keep your plant from making any flowers or seeds – because sweet basil is the one plant we don’t want to see any flowers growing from.
Even if you don’t entirely need the leaves because you’ve been getting takeout a little more often this past week, harvest consistently every few days throughout the growing season to encourage new growth and help the plant “bush out” more, rather than growing tall and thin.
Un-harvested basil can grow up to about 12 to 24 inches in height, grow flowers that add a few inches tall on top of that – which contain seed pods and cause your plant to soon die halfway through the season.
To harvest, get garden scissors and cut around two to three inches of the stem from the top – which should have roughly five or six leaves attached to it.
Every time you prune or cut a basil stem, it will put out two new shoots from the node below where you cut it. This will help the stems thicken up and keep the plant low and dense – which is the healthiest form a basil plant can be in.
At no point when harvesting basil should you cut off a whole stem.
Tip: If you have an abundance of leaves after harvesting basil and don’t quite know what to do with them, finely chop a small bunch of basil, fill a jar or wide topped bottle up with olive oil, pop in the chopped basil (you can add some garlic and chilies in too), screw the lid back on and leave it in your pantry for up to 6 months.
This will give the olive oil a delicate flavor and turns into a delight to drizzle on top of many salads and various other meals.
Growing basil isn’t a difficult task. With just a bit of care, you may even find you have extra basil to dry, freeze, make into flavor-packed olive oil, or gift to friends.
Is it better to grow basil inside or outside?
Deciding whether you grow basil inside your house or in your garden solely depends on the weather and if either option can provide adequate warmth and sunlight for your basil. Indoors, if you have a south-facing window that gets six hours of sun, then it’s perfect to grow your basil there as well as outside (taking into account it’s not too hot and frost has passed).
Does basil grow in sun or shade?
Once basil plants have germinated, basil needs a few hours of sun each day, unless the temperatures are scorching, in which case it’s better to keep them in the light shade, also known as ” filtered sunlight”.
How do you keep potted basil alive?
The most common reason potted basil can die is due to fungus. Fungus happens when we are either giving our basil plant too much water, not enough warmth and sunlight, or a combination of the two. Either way, the issue is when you have continuously moist soil – because while you don’t want to leave the soil dry for long periods of time, moist soil is a breeding ground for mold. Your pot being too small for the plant is also often a factor in the health of any plant. Making sure your basil is in a large enough pot, that it’s not being over-watered and has a plentiful amount of warmth and sunlight brings successful growth.
How do you harvest basil so it keeps growing?
When you go to harvest, to ensure the basil continues to grow, cut in three to four inches from the top, just above a node. Then, once you cut it, two nodes will grow from that one stem, leaving you with a healthier and fuller pot of basil.