How to Plant, Grow and Harvest Basil
If you’re deciding what to put in your garden this year, or you just need a pick-me-up from winter’s non-growing season, you’ll want to consider basil. It’s delicious, it’s easy to grow, and it’s beautiful.
You can grow basil indoors and out. Basil just loves warm weather and happily thrives in the sunshine. You can easily grow healthy basil plants from seed or from cuttings.
And not only does it taste great in any number of recipes, it’s also good for you! Keep reading to find out more about how to plant, grow, and harvest basil.
Reasons to Grow Basil
Of course, we love to grow basil because it tastes so good, and it works great in any number of recipes for pasta, soup, salads, and sauces. It also makes a pretty addition to a fancy dish as a garnish.
Not surprisingly, there is another reason to grow basil: for your health. This tasty herb is said to be an anti-inflammatory and is a great support for the digestive system.
Basil has also been said to support the immune system, the liver, and emotional health.
Basil is also great for your garden. It’s a great companion plant because it wards off bad bugs while attracting pollinators.
This beneficial plant grows in a variety of beautiful colors that will brighten up your garden space or even your flowerbeds, if you like, so it deserves a spot in your garden, on your windowsill, and in your recipes.
- Origin: India. Although we seem to associate Basil with Italian cuisine, it originated in India.
- Botanical name: Basil is also known as ocimum basilicum.
- Plant type: Basil is typically grown in the United States as an annual plant, but it can be grown as a perennial in warmer, more tropical locations.
- Growing season: This delightful herb grows best during the summer season in Zones 4 through 10.
- Hardiness: Basil thrives in warm weather but is easily damaged by frost.
- Sweet Basil. Sweet basil, also called Ocimum basilicum, is the most commonly grown type of basil, It is often used in sauces, salads, soups, and pesto. Consider growing Genoa, Aroma 1, Aroma 2, or Nufar.
- Lemon Basil. O.b. crispum, or lemon basil, is a good variety to grow indoors It is compact with bright green, crinkled leaves.
- Purple Basil. Purple basil, o.b. dark opal, bears purple colored leaves with a slightly spicy flavor. Try growing Purple Ruffles, Red Rubin, or Red Osmin.
- Miniature Basil. This variety is small and compact and a great choice for growin indoors.
- Tree Basil. O.B. gratissimum can grow up to 6 feet tall.
- Thai basil. This type of basil has a licorice flavor.
- Cinnamon basil. Cinammon basil or Mexican spice basil has a spicy flavor.
- Thai basil. O. Basilicum, or Horapha, is a variety of basil that is often used in Thai cooking.
- Greek Basil. Greek Basil, or O.B. minimum, has small leaves and good flavor. It can be grown indoors and used in salads and tomato sauce.
It isn’t hard to find a spot to plant this beauty. When planning where to grow your basil, ideally, look for a spot in your garden or yard that receives six to eight hours of full sun each day.
If you don’t have a location like this, your basil should be able to grow just fine in part sun, as well, as long as it gets at least four hours of direct sunlight. You can always experiment to find the spot where your basil grows best.
Basil can be grown in the garden, flowerbeds, containers, and raised beds or any spot that has sunshine and good drainage.
If you don’t have a good spot outside to grow basil, consider growing it in a sunny window inside. It takes very little care, smells delicious, and there are several cultivars that work well inside.
Basil Soil Requirements
Basil doesn’t need fancy soil to grow, in fact, it will grow in poor soil as long as it drains well.
For best results, though, choose a sandy loam soil that retains moisture without being waterlogged. A raised bed is a great way to provide drainage for your basil.
Be careful when fertilizing or giving compost to basil plants. If the soil has too much nitrogen, the strength of the flavor and fragrance of the basil will be low. Basil grows best with a soil pH of 5.5 to 7.5.
Planting Basil Seeds
Starting Basil Seeds Indoors
Basil seeds will easily start indoors. You can start these seeds indoors as early as six weeks before the last frost date for your area.
In a warm house, about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 Celsius), basil will germinate in about seven to ten days. Placing heat mats underneath your seed starting trays can give basil a little boost if your home is cool.
Using a sterilized seed starting mix, plant basil seeds just below the surface. Cover the seeds lightly, with no more than 2 to 3 seeds per 3-inch pot. Keep soil moist until seedlings are established.
Direct Sowing Basil Seeds
If you are planning on direct sowing your basil outdoors, don’t be in a rush to do it. Outdoors, especially, basil needs warm soil to germinate.
Direct sow your basil seeds into the garden two to four weeks past the lost frost date. Frost will kill basil, and nighttime temperatures lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius) will damage the leaves, and may inhibit germination.
Once the temperatures have stabilized, you can succession sow basil seeds every two to three weeks to maintain a steady crop.
Plant basil seeds 1/8 to ¼ inches deep and cover lightly.
Space seeds roughly 12 to 18 inches apart. Smaller varieties can be spaced 6 to 12 inches apart.
Growing Basil from Cuttings
You can easily propagate basil from cuttings. Always start with a healthy cutting, or your propagation may not be successful. Choose a stem that has never flowered and cut it off right below a leaf node (the spot where the leaves come out from the plant).
The cutting should be about four inches long. Remove the leaves from the bottom two inches of the cutting, and place it in a glass of water. Place the glass in a sunny location and change the water a couple of times per week.
Once the roots are a couple inches long, you can plant the basil cutting into potting soil. Keep the plant indoors unless you harden it off before transplanting outside.
Basil seedlings can easily be transplanted from indoors into the garden. You’ll need to wait until all danger of frost has passed, since basil is very susceptible to frost and cold. Before moving our basil into the garden, you’ll need to harden it off.
You can do this successfully by giving it a few hours outside at a time in a protected location. Increase the amount of time outside each day for a week to two weeks.
Pick a mild day to transplant your basil into the garden to minimize the shock on your tender plants.
Gently squeeze the pot you’ve been growing your basil seedlings in (if possible) and slide the basil out of the container by gently grasping it at the base of the stem. Be very careful not to pull off leaves or break the stem.
Dig a hole slightly larger than the pot, and place your basil roots into the hole. Fill around the roots with soil and water thoroughly. Be sure to water the base of the plant so the hot sun does not cook the tender leaves.
Companion Planting with Basil
Basil is a great plant for companion planting. When basil is companion planted with peppers, tomatoes, or lettuce, it will enhance their flavor. It will also help other plants such as beans, asparagus, potatoes, beets, cabbage, chili and bell peppers, eggplant, oregano, and potatoes but do not plant it near sage.
Basil can cross pollinate, so avoid planting it near other varieties of basil if you plant to save seeds for next year.
Not only does basil enhance the favor of other plants, it will also ward off bad bugs from the area, and attract pollinators to help your garden be more successful overall.
When you water basil, you want to keep the soil a little bit moist, but not soggy. You may need to water as frequently as every one to two days when the weather is hot, and only once a week when it is cool. If the basil plant’s soil is too dry and needs water, the leaves will wilt.
Too much water will cause root rot, which may not be easily detectable. However, the basil plant may produce yellowish leaves and may begin to drop its leaves when it has been overwatered.
Basil that is grown in fertile soil may not need fertilizing at all, and in fact, too much nitrogen will create fuller but less flavorful plants.
If your basil needs a boost, you can use a balanced fertilizer once a week when you water it. You could also fertilize your plant with coffee grounds or compost.
You can begin harvesting basil leaves from your plants once they have at least six sets of leaves or about fifty to sixty days after they have been planted.
Harvest regularly to keep the plant strong, prevent flowering, and prevent legginess if it is growing in part shade.
Simply pinch off the leaves as you need them for your recipes. It’s best to pinch off the stem right above a pair of leaves to encourage the plant to grow more. Plants are most flavorful early in the morning.
You can harvest basil as often as you need it; it will keep growing.
Remember that frost will kill your basil plants, so at the end of the season, be sure to harvest all of the plants before the first frost and preserve your harvest for future use.
Saving Basil Seeds
Basil is known to cross-pollinate, which means if you have different varieties of basil growing near each-other, they could cross pollinate, and the resulting seeds would create an unknown hybrid basil plant which may have undesirable results.
So if you plan on harvesting your basil seeds, make sure to space out your different basil cultivars by at least 150 feet to help prevent unintentional cross-pollination.
Growing Basil in Containers
Basil will grow well in a container. You can use regular potting soil, but make sure the pot has good drainage. Basil plants like to be kept moist, but not soggy.
Make sure the container is located where it will receive six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Basil grown in containers will most likely need to be watered more frequently than basil that is grown in the garden.
In his video on growing basil in containers, MIGardener explains that basil will do just fine even if it is overcrowded in a container. He also shares that it only needs approximately four hours of sun per day but will do even better with more.
If basil receives less than four hours of sunlight per day, it will grow leggy, and may not have very many leaves:
Growing Basil Indoors
Growing basil indoors is nearly as easy as growing it outdoors. Choose a pot with good drainage, and fill it with well-draining potting soil. Lightly sow seeds into the pot and keep the soil moist until the seedlings are well-established.
Keep the soil somewhat moist but never soggy. Basil prefers to grow in six to eight hours of direct sun per day, so keep it happy by growing it in a very sunny window.
If you don’t have enough sunny windows to grow your basil, you can use a grow light or even a fluorescent light to give it some more help.
Starting a Business with Basil
MIGardener shows you how to start your own small business, side hustle, or gifts to give friends by growing basil. He explains, in his video, just how to propagate enough basil plants from one single basil to create your own cash flow.
According to MIGardener, you can easily make twenty to thirty times your investment this way:
Basil Growing Tips
Keep flowers from forming.
If your basil starts to flower, pinch them off. This will encourage the plant to put more energy into growing leaves instead of producing seeds.
Basil doesn’t like the cold.
Wait until all danger of frost has passed and the soil has started to warm before transplanting or direct sowing your basil into the garden. Harvest the entire plant if frost is imminent. Cold weather will turn the leaves black, and frost will kill the plant.
Once your basil becomes a well-established plant, you can harvest it frequently. Pruning often will encourage it to grow bushier as well as grow more leaves.
If your basil is taller than about a foot high, prune it. If you are not going to be using the fresh leaves right away, pinch them off and preserve them for future use. This will help keep the plant growing.
Water it just right.
Basil likes to be kept in moist but not soggy soil. If it gets too hot and dry, it will wilt. If this happens, make sure to give it a good drink. Just don’t allow your basil plant to have wet feet or to stay in soggy soil for too long.
According to the farmer’s almanac, just 12 basil plants can produce four to six cups of leaves each week. See more information here: https://www.almanac.com/plant/basil.
Basil Growing Problems
Basil is a hardy plant, but there are still some problems that can occur when growing it. Knowing what to watch for can help prevent any issues from becoming serious threats to your basil and to the rest of your garden.
Keep a close watch on your basil plants so they do not succumb to any of the following issues.
Damping off happens when seedlings are affected by a fungal disease. Your tiny seedlings may appear to be healthy one day and then fall over and wilt and die the next day.
Planting seeds in a sterilized seed starting mix or soilless seed starting mix will help to prevent damping off from occurring. Do not overwater seedlings.
If necessary, you can blow a small fan across the tops of the plants to hep prevent damping off and to encourage stronger stems to grow.
Fusarium wilt is also a fungal disease that will cause plants to collapse and die. To prevent fusarium wilt, make sure the soil drains well. Allow enough airflow between plants and keep the leaves dry. If plants become affected, remove and destroy them.
Do not plant basil in the same spot of your garden every year; make sure you practice crop rotation so that fusarium wilt does not become a problem in your soil. Cultivars such as Aroma 2 and Fusar F1 are resistant to fusarium wilt.
Aphids may be found on basil leaves. You can remove any severely infected leaves and wash the other leaves off with a spray of water.
Snail and Slugs
These pests can be handpicked off of the plants and drowned in water.
You can easily preserve basil in the freezer. Simply wash and dry basil. You can flash freeze individual basil leaves on a cookie sheet and then transfer them to a freezer safe container to store in the freezer.
You can also simply chop your basil into tiny pieces and store it in the freezer in a freezer safe container.
Basil Ice Cubes
Finely chop basil by hand or with a food processor. Fill up ice cube trays with the chopped basil leaves and drizzle with olive oil.
Freeze the ice cube trays and then transfer the cubes to a freezer safe container to store in the freezer. Add as many cubes as you wish to soups, stews, and sauces.
You can store basil for a few days at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash leaves and pat dry before storing in your fridge. If your fridge is much colder than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, your basil leaves may turn black.
Basil leaves dry well for storage. You can dry basil in a number of ways. You can dry basil with a dehydrator. Simply wash and pat dry your basil leaves, then spread them out on the screens of your dehydrator.
Run your dehydrator according to the manufacturer’s directions until the leaves are dry and crumbling.
You can also dry basil leaves in the oven. Wash and pat dry your basil leaves, then spread them out on a lined cookie sheet. Set your oven on the lowest temperature, and bake for two to four hours, until the basil is completely dry.
Lastly, you can dry basil by hanging it upside-down in bunches in a dark, warm room.
Once your basil is completely dry, you can crumble it into an air-tight container and use just as you would use commercially prepared basil.
- Pesto. Pesto goes great on sandwiches, pizza, grilled vegetables, and so much more.
- Infused oil. Make a delicious infused oil with your basil harvest.
- Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Bruschetta. For an easy yet impressive appetizer with basil, it check out.
- Herb-Flavored Basil Butter
- Tomato basil soup. Add some piazza to your tomato soup with this tomato basil recipe.
- Lemon Basil Chicken. This dish by Erin Clarke sounds light and refreshing, just the right complement for basil.