By: Heather Rhoades
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is often referred to as the king of herbs. Basil plants are certainly one of the most popular herbs grown in the home garden. Growing basil outdoors or in a container is very easy to do if you follow these simple steps for how to grow basil.
Tips for Growing Basil
Choose a location with great drainage. Whether you’re growing basil outdoors in the ground or in a container, the drainage needs to be excellent.
Choose a location with good sun. Another important thing to remember for basil plant care is to choose a spot where the basil plants will get plenty of good sunlight.
Choose growing basil seeds or plants. Will you start by growing basil seeds or basil plants? Either option is very easy to do when growing basil outdoors.
- If you choose growing basil seeds, scatter the seeds over the location that you have chosen and lightly cover with dirt. Water thoroughly. Thin to 6 inches apart once the seedling come up.
- If you choose growing basil plants, dig a small hole, tease out the root ball some and plant the basil plant in the ground. Water thoroughly.
Wait till the temperature is right. When growing basil outdoors, it is very important to remember that basil is very sensitive to cold and even a light frost will kill it. Do not plant seeds or basil plants until all danger of frost has passed.
Harvest often. The trick to how to grow basil that is large and abundant is to harvest often. The more you harvest basil, the more the plant will grow. When harvesting, pinch off the stem right above where a pair of leaves are growing. After you harvest, two more stems will start to grow, which means twice the leaves next time you harvest!
Remove flowers. Once a basil plant flowers, the leaves start to lose their good flavor. If you remove any flowers, the leaves will get their good flavor back in just a day or so.
As you can see, proper basil plant care is easy. Knowing how to grow basil will provide you with large amounts of this tasty herb.
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The Ultimate Guide to Growing, Caring for & Harvesting Basil Plants
A popular herb in both the kitchen and the garden, basil is one of the most well-known herbs grown in America. Technically known as Ocimum basilicum, basil can be found growing indoors and outdoors for use in a wide variety of dishes. One of the first herbs I plant in the spring, basil is easy to grow and perfect for tucking into herb, vegetable and container gardens.
Multipurpose Garden Shears
In the article, you'll learn:
What is Basil?
Basil plants are a popular herb native to southern Asia and the islands of the South Pacific. This member of the mint family can be grown with little fuss. Considered a tender annual, the basil herb plant produces aromatic leaves that are commonly used in Italian and Mediterranean dishes. Basil seeds are also a popular Thai ingredient.
Because basil is an annual, it grows extremely quickly. In fact, it can go from seed to harvest in as little as 3 to 4 weeks. This quick and easy-growing herb is an excellent choice for beginner gardeners.
Growing Basil from Seed
Most gardeners get a jump on the growing season and start growing basil in pots indoors from seed. You can grow basil from seeds sown indoors four to eight weeks before the last frost date. Basil is versatile and grows well in a wide variety of conditions. You can count on a decorative pot growing inside to do just as well as when you're growing basil outdoors, as long as your growing conditions are the same.
Planting Basil from Seed
Although the easiest way to start basil from seed is to direct sow it in your garden once the spring frost threat is over, I still like to start my basil indoors. It's a simple process that lets me get my hands in the dirt when I'm itching for spring but it's not quite yet warm enough to dig outdoors.
- Basil seeds
- Starter pots
- Starting container with plastic dome
- Seed starting mix
- Spray mister
1. Prepare your starter pots by adding slightly moistened seed starter mix to about ½ to 1 inch below the top of your container. I usually do this by hand, as the pots are quite small.
2. Add basil seeds to each pot. If you place a few seeds in the center of your pot, you can select the strongest plants after germination. Some seeds are duds and won't germinate. Adding a few extras to each pot will increase your odds of success.
3. Cover the seeds with ¼ inch of dry seed starter mix.
4. Gently mist your basil seeds with water. A spray bottle with a fine spray, a specialized garden mister or even a light spray from your faucet will dampen the starter mix and give the seed good contact with the soil.
5. Keep humidity in by placing your basil in a specialized plastic starting container with a plastic dome. Or, you could also use a shallow pan and a bit of plastic wrap for a quick and inexpensive seed starting solution.
6. Place in a warm location where the temperature is approximately 70 degrees. You won't need to water the basil seeds again until after they emerge.
7. Basil seedlings emerge in 7 to 10 days. At that point, remove the plastic dome or plastic wrap, and place the pot in a sunny windowsill. Keep soil moist with frequent misting. Once true leaves appear, select the strongest seedling in each pot as your main basil seedling. You can simply pinch the other seedlings off to remove them without disturbing the roots.
8. Transplant basil seedlings to 3- to 4-inch pots if the plants have 3 pairs of leaves and aren't ready to go outside. You can add a weak fertilizer solution for an added boost of nutrition.
9. Move basil seedlings outdoors gradually to harden them off. This allows the basil to adjust to the harsher outdoor conditions. Once the outdoor temps are in the 70s, move the seedlings to a sheltered location outside for a week.
Transplanting Basil into Your Garden
Multipurpose Garden Shears
Whether you purchased basil seedlings at your local garden center or started them indoors, once the weather consistently reaches 70 degrees, it's time to move your plants into your herb, vegetable or flower gardens.
1. Choose a location with plenty of sunlight. Basil thrives in 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.
2. Amend the garden soil with plenty of organic matter to create a rich, well-draining foundation for your basil. The bed or garden container should be at least 8 inches deep for strong root growth.
3. Space your basil plants 12 to 16 inches apart to allow plenty of sunlight and airflow.
4. Dig a hole using the Fiskars ® Big Grip Transplanter. The graduated marks make it easy to judge the correct depth for your basil transplant.
5. Place the basil seedling so that the root ball is level with the soil. Use the transplanter to fill in any gaps. Then, use your hands to press the soil firmly around your transplanted basil.
6. Water your basil and apply 1 to 2 inches of mulch to help conserve moisture and prevent competition from weeds.
Basil Plant Care Tips
Growing basil isn't a difficult task. With just a bit of care, you may even find you have extra basil to dry, freeze or gift to friends. Some of my favorite basil care tips for a bountiful harvest include:
- Water regularly – basil likes to stay moist and requires approximately 1 inch of water every week. Water deeply at least once a week to keep roots growing deep and the soil moist. Basil growing in containers will need more frequent watering. Your goal when growing basil in a container is to keep the soil from drying out. The best time of day to water basil is early in the morning.
- Fertilize lightly –basil is a vigorous grower requiring very little to no fertilization. In fact, too much fertilization will kill the basil's flavor. If you choose to add fertilizer, a light application of a liquid fertilizer twice a season is all you really need for basil growing outdoors. If you're planning to grow basil in a pot and want to add fertilizer, your plants will require only a very weak liquid solution every 3 to 4 weeks to compensate for nutrients washed away by frequent watering.
- Pinch back leaves – pinch leaves from the tips of your basil as soon as the plant has two sets of true leaves. This encourages your basil to grow full and bushy.
- Companion planting – using this technique gives basil an excellent advantage. It may be an old gardener's tale, but many say, and I wholeheartedly believe, that planting basil with your tomatoes makes both taste better. Some of my favorite companion plants for basil include oregano, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers.
- Avoid bolting – also known as "going to seed," you can avoid bolting by keeping a close eye on your plant. Basil tends to bolt once summer days are consistently hot. You can prevent this by keeping the soil moist and providing light shade in the hottest hours of the day. You can also pinch off flowering stems 1 inch below the flower to keep the plant from producing seeds and becoming bitter.
How to Harvest Basil
Basil isn't harvested at a specific time – you generally just grab a few leaves as you need them. However, harvesting regularly will keep your basil rounded and less leggy. It will also help keep your plant from going to seed.
1. Harvest basil regularly – even if you don't need it, keep harvesting consistently throughout the growing season. Aim for removing 1/3 of the leaves each month to encourage new growth. I add basil to many dishes during the summer, but I also find it freezes well in olive oil for use during the winter.
2. Snip the stem just above the point where two large leaves meet. I keep a pair of Fiskars ® Herb Snips tucked in my garden apron to create clean and tidy cuts whenever I'm harvesting basil. Make sure to enjoy your harvest with a fresh recipe of your choice!
Varieties of Basil
There are so many varieties of basil available, it would be easy to fill your entire herb garden with just basil. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Sweet basil planting is simple – it's a favorite variety, and is the traditional basil sold in most grocery stores. This variety features medium green leaves with a slightly rounded shape.
- Thai sweet basil features smaller, pointed leaves. Growing Thai basil is the same as growing any other variety, but you end up with a bit spicier leaf that keeps its flavor well for use in stir fry. The purple flowers are beautiful and edible.
- Purple basil doesn't have a strong flavor, but it gives a gorgeous burgundy color to both your garden and dishes.
- Lemon basil and lime basil both have a bright citrus flavor. You can use this variety in marinades, sauces, desserts and teas.
- Green ruffles basil looks nothing like traditional basil. The beautifully-ruffled leaves are mild and go well in salads.
- Spicy globe basil is a small, mounding basil. Although the leaves are smaller than other basil varieties, they are full of basil flavor. This is the perfect variety for small spaces and containers.
Common Questions About Basil
How long does it take for basil to grow from seed?
Basil germinates in 7 to 10 days after planting. It's usually ready for harvest within three to four weeks.
Why is my basil plant wilting?
There could be a few reasons why you're seeing your basil plant wilting. Start by checking the soil. Basil prefers moist soil – not too wet and not too dry. You want the soil to be damp, not drenched. Although basil loves warm weather, a hot midday sun can be rather harsh. If you see wilting only during the peak hours for summer temperatures, you may need to add light shade over your basil plant.
How much sun does basil need to grow?
Basil grows best with at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day. Part of knowing how to care for basil is watching the sun patterns in the location you are growing this aromatic herb. With proper sunlight, your plant will be big and beautiful for several months out of the year.
Is it better to plant basil indoors or outdoors?
Basil is a hardy herb that grows extremely well both indoors and outdoors. As long as the plant receives the proper moisture and sunlight, it will thrive in any location. I grow basil in containers both inside and outside, and I also love to tuck it into my vegetable garden boxes. Once you know how to grow basil in a pot, the possibilities for where and how you grow it are endless.
I have more basil than I can use – how do I save it?
You can air dry basil by bundling it and hanging it upside down. However, the leaves will turn brown. I prefer to freeze my basil by chopping it, placing it in an ice cube tray, covering it with olive oil. Once my basil cubes are frozen, I store them in an airtight container in my freezer. When I need a bit of basil in a dish, I simply add a cube or two.
How to Grow Basil
You can grow basil by planting seeds or by buying plants from a nursery.
Organic Basil Genovese seeds at Eden Brothers Seed Co
How to Propagate Basil
Supermarket-bought basil (with roots) can also be replanted, although you may struggle to grow it successfully. Supermarket basil is often hydroponically grown and only has water roots. The secret to having these plants grow is to keep them in shade and very well-watered.
Once they have had a chance to grow soil roots, you can start to harden them off for planting in the garden. Gradually decrease the amount of water you give them. Then adjust them to some sun, an hour at a time to see how they react.
You can propagate basil from cuttings too. This video below shows you how it’s done.
If you’re growing basil from seed, plant them in well-draining soil. You can plant them straight in the garden (protect from predators if necessary) or start them in seedling trays. Basil does not tolerate cold temperatures, so time your planting for the warm season.
Tips for Growing Basil
- Suitable for indoor/outdoor pots and the garden
- Plant at least 6 plants altogether, they like company
- No cold toes
- Well-drained, fertile soil
- Lots of filtered sun
- Adequate water
How To Grow Basil With Ease
There are 3 basic requirements to establish healthy, vibrant basil plants: fertile soil, proper watering, and giving plants a warm, sunny location to grow.
Soil Preparation – How To Grow Basil
Whether planting in pots or directly in the ground, basil prefers soil that drains well, and is loose and fertile. Basil will not grow well in hard, dry, or clay-like soil. Likewise, if the soil stays overly wet and saturated, the roots can easily rot away.
When planting in pots and containers, use a lightweight, high quality organic potting soil that drains easily. In addition, select pots at least 8″ in depth to allow plenty of room for deep root growth. Strong roots beneath the soil are critical for developing thick foliage above ground.
When planting basil directly in the ground, work in generous amounts of compost to the soil prior to planting. This not only improves the vitality of the soil, but also helps plants easily absorb water, all while aiding in draining excess moisture from the soil.
Basil prefers warm soil and warm air temperatures to grow best. Because of this, it is important to wait until the soil heats up a bit before sowing seed or digging in transplants.
Basil is easy to grow directly from seed, especially when the soil and air temperatures are warm and humid. Keep young seedlings well watered until they are established to encourage strong root growth.
Plant seeds 1/4″ to 1/2″ deep in the soil and keep the soil lightly moist to speed germination. When planting transplants, water plants in deeply, and mulch the soil around the plants to help conserve moisture.
Varieties To Plant
There are many varieties of basil to choose from, all with their own unique look and flavor. The most commonly grown variety of all is sweet basil. The tender, deep green leaves of this Italian-style basil are prized by chefs and in-home cooks the world around.
Other popular varieties are Thai basil, lemon basil, purple basil and Greek basil. Basil Seed Link Eden Brothers Basil Seed Collection
Location & Watering – How To Grow Basil
Locate plants so they will receive a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day. The more sun basil plants receive, the stronger they perform. Morning and afternoon sun are the best choice as they help warm the plants and soil quickly from cooler nights.
There are a whole slew of varieties of basil to grow. Sweet, Lemon and Thai basil are among the most popular, as is the purple basil pictured above.
Proper watering is also a big key to basil’s success. Water young seedlings and transplants often the first few weeks to promote strong root growth. Established plants still need adequate moisture, and should be watered at least weekly if little to no rain falls.
When planting in a garden or raised bed setting, a thick layer of mulch will help conserve moisture in the soil for plants. It also helps to regulate soil temperatures, and in addition, can help keep competing weeds at bay. Straw, shredded leaves and grass clippings are all excellent mulching choices for basil planted in raised beds or gardens.
And don’t forget about mulching potted plants as well. A 1/2″ to 1″ thick layer of compost on the surface will help regulate soil temperatures, moisture levels – and provide a source of slow-release nutrients.
Harvesting Basil – How To Grow Basil
How you harvest your basil plants will play a key role in just how productive it stays. By harvesting early and often, the plant will continue to produce new sets of leaves.
If your basil plants begin to flower, cut the plant back to encourage new foliage growth. Leaving the flowers on will signal the plant to stop producing new leaves for harvesting.
As the plant reaches 8 to 10 inches in height, cut it back a few inches to encourage more branching. Continue harvesting and cutting back the plant to force new foliage. This will develop a bushier plant with more leaves for future harvesting.
If your basil begins to flower, cut it back to encourage new growth. If left on the plant, the flowers will begin to set seed, which signals the plant to stop leaf production.
So what is the best way to preserve all of that fresh basil? Basil, of course, can be dried quite easily and stored for all kinds of culinary uses. But the best way to preserve the fresh flavor it by freezing. Harvest, wash and freeze leaves as soon as possible to lock in the freshness of just-picked basil.
Here is to growing basil this year in your garden, raised beds or patio!
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Plant Care for Growing Basil
To get the most flavorful basil as possible, you do not want the plant to overgrow. It is best for the plant to be tall and skinny rather than full and bushy.
While you may wish to fertilize your garden, with this herb you may want to do so only sparingly. Over fertilization can cause damage to the plant, or it can cause the plant to grow too fast and not allow it proper time to fully produce the oils which make it so flavorful.
To have the best possible leaf production, you will want to make sure you pinch off any stalks where flowers begin to form. Once the plant goes to flower, it will need to be replanted if growing indoors.
If you regularly pinch the flowers off whenever you harvest the leaves, this will help the plant last longer.
Harvesting Basil Leaves
To harvest your plant’s leaves, you will want to wait until the plant has grown to be at least 6-7 inches tall. This will give it enough time to have grown enough to be able to withstand the leaves being harvested.
You can use a pair of kitchen scissors to snip the leaves if desired.
The leaves should be harvested regularly to ensure the optimal production from the plant. You should harvest the leaves at least once a week, if not more often. If you won’t be using the leaves, you still should harvest them to ensure the plant stays productive.
If you don’t have any immediate use for your herbs, you can preserve them in a number of ways. Basil freezes quite well, especially when frozen as a pesto. You can also dry your herbs for later use, although the flavor of dried herbs is not always as strong, so you will likely need more dried herbs in your recipes than you would use when cooking with dried basil.
Propagation & Seed Collection
Once your basil plant goes to flower, you may wish to save some of these flowers for seed collection. Harvesting basil seeds is quite easy. After picking the flowers from the plant, you simply need to place the flower heads in a warm place to allow them to dry. Once they are dried out, very carefully break them apart to collect the small seeds.
Basil seeds are very small, so you may wish to do this over a covered area or with a fine strainer to ensure the seeds do not get lost.
Save these seeds for replanting – this way once your original plant is done growing, you can begin to grow more without the need to purchase seeds again.
Growing basil is fun and easy to do. Once you learn how to grow basil, you will be happy to have a fresh supply of basil to use in your cooking!
Do you have any questions on how to grow basil? Do you currently grow basil and have tips you would like to share with our readers? Your experiences and thoughts are always welcome in the comments section below!