Basil: How To Plant, Grow & Harvest

Reading Time: 15 minutes

Why Everyone Is Obsessing over Basil? If you’ve ever stuck your nose into a bouquet of fresh basil, you already know the reason to the obsession. The deep, sweet, rich aroma is irresistible. This is why essential oils from basil are intoxicating! Plus, fresh-picked it makes the ultimate pesto. And, tomato dishes and pasta sauce shine like they’re from a 5-star restaurant. Basil (Ocimum basilicum the botanical name) is a member of the mint family and actually native to the South Pacific. Even if you don’t have a green thumb it is so easy to grow; there are no reasons you should not have one (or ten! or more) plants growing in your outdoor or indoor garden. This is the perfect herb for beginners.

Typically, in the grocery store, there is usually only one type of basil available. Besides being disappointing, it also leads folks to think there is only one variety. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are dozens of varieties available to grow, did you know basil isn’t always green?

If you love basil, you definitely should have a few plants growing in your herb garden! And lucky you, we have all the tips, advice, and information you need to get started right here. Green thumb gardeners welcome!

10 Reasons To Grow Basil Varieties

  1. Basil plants and flowers are beautiful, with their richly colored leaves and brilliant fragrance. There’s a reason why it is one of the most loved herbs to grow. A garden with basil growing in it is greatly enhanced.
  2. Bees and butterflies love basil, especially when the flowers bloom. Even if you don’t harvest basil, it benefits the garden to have basil plants and flowers around.
  3. Basil is an excellent for companion planting. When planted with other vegetables, like tomato, it works like magic to keep pests away.
  4. A basil plant is easy to grow in a container. This means you can grow basil even if you don’t have a traditional garden. Basil will grow wonderfully on your deck, patio, balcony, or front steps, as long as there is sun and warm weather. Basil is an extremely versatile plant and will fit into any home garden, whether it’s a few containers that can easily be well drained on the back deck or plants arranged on the kitchen windowsill. Herbs like basil brighten up indoor and outdoor locations.
  5. A fresh basil leaf is the key ingredient to any amazing recipe, such as pesto, Caprese salad, tomato pasta sauce, homemade pizza, Italian bruschetta, vinaigrettes, marinades, and chopped salads or spread over roasted vegetables. It’s also an incredible flavor pop for lemonade, mixed drinks, and frozen desserts, like ice cream. Keep it in the fridge for optimal freshness. We love this lemon basil pesto recipe.
  6. Basil leaves are chock full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Basil contains vitamin A, vitamin C, Vitamin K, magnesium, iron, calcium, and potassium.
  7. All basil works as an effective digestive aid.
  8. Growing your own basil is way more cost-effective than buying it at the grocery store. This is especially true if you need a big amount, like for pesto. One plant provides around 1/2 cup of basil per week (dependent on variety). For Italian food lovers, this is important!
  9. A home with a basil plant in the window is more beautiful, especially when it is combined with other herbs like oregano, mint, thyme, and cilantro. Imagine the meals you can make with all these fresh herbs in the home.
  10. One of the most important reasons to grow basil, especially the lesser-known varieties, is to keep the kinds alive and in use. History tells us that seeds that don’t get attention, get lost. Basil varieties like cinnamon and lettuce leaf deserve our attention and use as much as the sweet basil does.

Varieties Of Basil

There are over 30 types of basil to choose from when ordering online, or purchasing from your local nursery to plant in your garden. Each one has unique flavors and uses. unique flavors and uses. We’ve highlighted our favorite choices here.

Sweet Basil plant
Sweet Basil 

This is the one you see in the grocery store. Deep green, sweet, and fragrant. It is most excellent for tomato dishes, pesto, marinades, and pizza topping. Sweet basil is also referred to as Genovese basil, but they are not always the same thing. Genovese is a variety of sweet basil.
Averages about 18 to 24 inches in height

Thai Basil
Thai Basil 

If you’ve ever had Thai food, you’ve likely encountered this favorite deep purple basil variety. The flavor of Thai basil is spicier, with a slight licorice flavor. Plants grow up to 2′ tall and are laden with plentiful pointy purple leaves.
Averages about 12 to 18 inches in height

Lemon Basil
Lemon Basil

As the name says, this variety smells like lemons and adds exquisite flavor to culinary dishes. With lemon basil, a large part of the seasoning is already done! The flavor of these leaves is delicate and easily lost, so it is best reserved for use in iced tea, ice cream, freshly made salad dressings, and as a garnish.
Lemon basil averages 12-18″ and features light-green leaves. One of the best variety choices!

Lettuce leaf basil
Lettuce Leaf Basil

This distinctive variety looks a lot like a lettuce leaf. The leaves are large, wrinkled, and droopy; they average 4″ wide and 6-10″ long. That’s a big leaf! They’re perfect for lettuce wraps or fresh spring rolls. Lettuce basil is a sweet variety with a mild taste and aroma. While the leaves are big, the plant itself is actually on the smaller side, growing to almost 1′ high. This is a perfect container plant cultivar and a favorite with urban gardeners everywhere.
Averages about 12 to 18 inches in height

 

Cinnamon Basil
Cinnamon Basil

A highly fragrant plant, cinnamon basil delivers a mild flavor with a cinnamon zest at the end. Cinnamon basil is used many ways in Asian cuisine and works really well in rice dishes, noodle salads, marinades, and with grilled vegetables. The leaves on this plant are green, but the stems are crimson-purple, creating an intriguing one-of-a-kind visual display in the garden.
Averages about 18 to 30 inches in height

Greek Basil
Greek Basil

A small variety that is ideal for container growing, Greek basil grows just 8″ tall. It also works wonderfully as a border plant or as an attractive ground cover. Although the leaves are small, it packs a flavor punch you will love it for sauces, marinades, and soups.
Averages about 12 to 24 inches in height

Holy Basil
Holy Basil

The specific variety is used mostly in Indian cuisine, Holy basil is pungent, sweet, and musky. Because the taste is slightly bitter when raw, Holy basil is best enjoyed cooked into curries, stir-fries, rice dishes, and stews. It also makes an excellent hot tea.
Averages about 20 to 24 inches in height

Purple Basil
Purple Basil 

Similar in flavor to sweet basil, Purple basil stands out with its dark, burgundy-purple leaves.  Type warm season annual grown after the spring frost. Purple basil is used much the same way as sweet basil, but adds a completely different and striking color to a dish. It also looks fantastic in the herb garden.
Averages about 18 to 24 inches in height

globe basil
Globe Basil

Spicy Globe basil is also known as dwarf bush basil or Greek basil. It is a short compact plant reaching only 6 to 12 inches tall. This variety has a peppery aroma with hints of citrus and mint, and it is perfect for those Mediterranean fish dishes. Use it as a garnish, or in a fresh simple salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and feta cheese, lightly dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. It also makes an awesome kicked-up pesto. Perfect for growing in a container garden.
About 12 inches tall

Guide To Growing Basil Outdoors And Indoors From Seed

Basil is easy to grow indoors and outdoors, as long as you pay attention to watering and sunlight. The seeds may be started indoors and moved outdoors or kept indoors year-round. This is one of the reasons we’re obsessed with this plant. You can grow it anywhere, anytime, and have it available to cook with all year.

Tip: For the highest yield grow basil in several places to maintain a continuous harvest.

Steps For Growing Basil Indoors

Use the steps below to enjoy and experience year-round basil indoors. Use this method if you are growing basil from seeds to be transplanted outdoors or if you are doing container gardening. Start basil seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last expected frost.

Tools & Supplies:

  • Basil Seeds such as our culinary herb seed kit
  • Starter Pots
  • Soil Type: Potting Mix (Organic, for starting seeds)
  • Plastic dome or plastic quart-size bags
  • Mist or Spray Bottle for watering
  • Labels
  • Larger (2-gallon) plant containers, one for each plant

 

  1. Before you get started, make sure all the containers you plan to use have good drainage (at least a drainage hole) and rocks to facilitate drainage.  Basil needs to be place in well drained moist soil or potting mix. The soil will get soggy if they don’t and may lead to root rot. Basil loves well drained soil.
  2. Fill the starter pots with the seed-starting potting mix.
  3. Wet the soil thoroughly, so it is completely wet but not soggy. 
  4. Gently press two seeds into each starter pot.
  5. Brush a little bit of soil over each seed, so it is covered but not buried.
  6. Label as you go! This is especially necessary if you are planting several basil varieties (which I hope you are!). When they sprout, they all look the same.
  7. Cover the pots with the plastic dome, or slip a plastic bag over the pot. This is to keep moisture in and increase humidity.
  8. Place the plants in a warm location, where it is at least 70F. Use grow lights or a seed heating pad, if necessary.
  9. Every other day, gently touch the soil to test for dryness. If the top of the soil is dry, water with the mister or spray bottle so the soil is damp.
  10. In 7-10 days, seedlings will emerge.
  11. Remove the plastic dome or bags and move the plants to a sunny, warm spot, like a windowsill. The little seedlings need at least 6 hours of light per day.
  12. Check the soil every day and water with the mister as needed, so the soil remains moist.
  13. When the seedlings have several leaves and are at least 3″ tall, thin out the pots. Keep only the strongest seedling per pot, removing the other one by gently pinching it off so as not to disturb the roots.
  14. Transplant each seedling to a larger container, at least 2-gallon in size.
  15. Keep your growing basil in a warm, sunny window, preferably south-facing, where it will get lots of sunlight.
  16. Water regularly – every 3-4 days. Basil varieties doesn’t like dry soil.
  17. Apply fertilizer products every 3-4 weeks.
  18. Basil will be ready to harvest in 2-3 months.

For more info on Indoor Gardening visit our post: Indoor Garden Hydroponic Lighting Basics

Guide To Transplanting Basil Seedlings To The Herb Garden Or Container Garden

Follow my advice for growing basil indoors up to step #13.

  1. If the weather outside isn’t warm enough for your plants, you’ll need to wait. Basil is extremely cold-sensitive, and moving it outside too early will kill the fragile plants. Make sure all danger of frost has passed. This is usually late Spring, May, or June.
  2. In the meantime, transplant the seedlings to the 3-4″ pots, so they have more room to grow. Use the same potting soil mix as before, wet it thoroughly, and carefully plant one seedling in each pot.
  3. Keep the basil seedlings in the same spot where it’s warm, and they are receiving at least 6 hours of light per day. Continue monitoring and watering the plants when the soil is slightly dry.
  4. When outdoor temperatures are consistently above 70F, harden off the plants by moving them outdoors for small increments of time. Start by taking them outside for 2 hours, then increase that slowly over 10 days until they are outside full-time.
  5. Once they are hardened off, the plants are ready to be transplanted into the garden or to a larger pot.

For Garden Plants:

  • Transplant seedling starts in a location with full sun and good drainage.
  • Arrange the plants in the garden 12-18″ apart in rows 18-24″ apart, or as recommended on the seed package or container.
  • Water consistently, so the plants receive around 1″ of water per week.

For Container Plants:

  • Transplant each basil seedling to its own 2-gallon pot or larger. Use the same potting soil mix. Wet the soil thoroughly, then make a well in the soil large enough for the basil roots. Put the transplant in, then gently pat the soil around it to remove air pockets.
  • Place the pot in a warm, sun-filled spot on the deck, patio, or balcony. If possible, choose a place where the plants will be easy to water.
  • Water regularly, so the soil is moist but not ever soggy. This is usually every 3-4 days, depending on your climate.
  • Every 3-4 weeks, add a high-quality fertilizer to the soil.

For more info read our post: Vegetable Container Gardening For Beginners for related info.

Guide To Growing Basil Plants Outdoors From Seed

In USDA hardiness zones 10-13, you can grow basil from seed outdoors. For all other climates, we recommend starting seeds indoors, so the herbs get a good head-start on the growing season.

  1. Start sowing after all danger of frost has passed, and daily temperatures are in the 70’s. This is usually late spring in most climates.
  2. Choose a sunny, well-draining section of the garden to plant the basil. These herbs need at least 6 hours of sun per day, but if you live in a place where the mid-day sun is harsh, the plants will also appreciate some shade.
  3. Plant the seeds 1/4″ deep, and space them 12-18 inches apart in rows 18-24″ apart. The exact spacing depends on what type of basil you are planting. Smaller or dwarf varieties won’t need as much space.
  4. Water the soil all around the seeds thoroughly, and keep soil continuously moist as they germinate.
  5. Basil roots will sprout in 7-10 days.
  6. Cover the plants at night with row covers to keep them warm and safe.
  7. Water the garden soil regularly to ensure the plants receive at least 1″ of water per week. One thing that helps a lot is to water the ground around the plants and not get the plant leaves wet.

Caring For Basil Plants

No matter if you are growing basil in the herb garden or on the back patio, all the general plant care is the same.

Water – Basil prefers a consistently damp soil surface. They need approximately 1″ of water per week. Keeping the soil moist requires a regular watering schedule. Be careful not to over-water, though. Soggy soil leads to root rot and will kill your plants. Basil in containers need more frequent watering than those in the garden since container plants suffer more from evaporation. Morning is the best time to water these herbs. Pay attention to how much rain you get so you know whether the plants need water or not.

Mulching – Mulch around the plantings to retain moisture and reduce the need for watering. This also keeps weeds away.

Nutrients & Fertilizer -There usually isn’t much need for fertilizer for garden basil. The garden soil contains much of the nutrients needed. Container basil, though, will need an application of 1/2 strength liquid fertilizer every 3-4 weeks during the growing season. This is to replace the nutrients that get washed out with the watering. Basil likes a soil pH between 6.0-7.5. Test the pH if you see your plants struggling to absorb minerals.

Growth Management – Pinch or cut the side stems back to a lower set of healthy leaves. The information here will help guide you. Pinching off stems encourages your plants to grow bushy and full. Also, pinching off the small leaves regularly prompts more leaf production. Pinch off any flowers you see. Once the plant starts flowering, leaves become bitter. Removing the flowers keeps the plant producing more leaves. Flowers sometimes appear when the plant is stressed or ready to bolt.

Tip– We recommended using castings from earthworms when you plant basil seeds. Whether earthworms destroy basil or not is a non-issue for potted plants. Earthworms can’t live in potted plants; there aren’t enough nutrients. Maybe those sites are confusing types of worms. There are bad worms, like cabbage worms, that will destroy plants. Earthworms eat decaying plant material and microorganisms, not plant foliage. They’ll either die in potted plants or escape. It’s not a good habitat for them. Leaving that sentence out, though, avoids the confusion so it isn’t an issue.

For more info on composting visit our post: How To Start Composting For Beginners

Tips For Storing & Harvesting Basil Using Things You Already Have on Hand

Basil, like most annual herbs, is frost-tender and must be harvested and stored before temperatures dip too low. The basil harvest also must be prepped and stored immediately after picking, or the leaves will start to wilt and turn brown — not pretty or tasty!

Harvesting Basil The Proper Way

Basil is a “cut and come again” plant, meaning it needs regular harvesting throughout the season. You can pick leaves off as needed, or harvest a bunch at a time. The plant will keep growing new leaves as long as it isn’t overly harvested or pruned. Plan how much you are going to use before picking it since it must be used or stored the same day.

A good goal is to harvest 1/3 of the leaves off each plant every month. This method encourages new growth without causing the plant to suffer or struggle. Cut the tips off the top of the stems, just above where the two next large, healthy leaves meet. Use small scissors or shears to avoid damaging the stems.

Harvest the entire plant before a frost. The fact is Basil won’t survive the chilly temperatures.

How To Store Fresh Basil

Wash and pat dry freshly picked basil leaves. Dampen a paper towel and wrap the leaves in it. Store in the refrigerator. Any temperatures below 40F will cause the basil leaves to turn black.

How To Dry And Dehydrate Basil

Thankfully, all herbs, including basil, are easy to dehydrate. Dried herbs lose their flavor and pungency over time, and basil is no different. We recommend only using dried basil leaves for 1-2 years, then replenishing the herb cabinet with newer dried basil.

Air-drying is the simplest method. Bundle the stems together and hang them upside down in a warm, dry location. The leaves will dry in several days. Unfortunately, with this method, the leaves usually turn brown, which isn’t exactly appealing. However, if you’re going to crumble them up for use in stews and sauces, the color isn’t that important.

Dehydrating is another common method. This requires a dehydrator or an oven. Pluck the leaves off the stem and arrange them in a single layer on the dehydrator trays or a cookie sheet. Put them in the dehydrator (or oven) at the lowest temperature. Dehydrating takes anywhere from 6-10 hours. The leaves, as with air-drying, turn a bit brown and don’t keep their bright, fresh color.

How To Freeze Basil

Basil can’t be frozen on its own. If you put it in a plastic bag in the freezer, it will turn brown and won’t be much good for cooking. The best way to keep the fresh basil flavor AND color is to chop it up well and pack it into ice cube trays. Then, cover each cube with olive oil. When the cubes freeze, pop them out of the tray and store them in an airtight container. After that, whenever you need some fresh basil, grab a cube from the freezer.

Companion Plants For Basil

Basil & Tomato – This is a match made in heaven for your vegetable garden. Basil is especially effective at keeping tomato hornworms away from tomato plants. It also improves the flavor of tomatoes and keeps other insects, like aphids, away. Basil and tomatoes, friends in the garden and in the kitchen!

Basil & Asparagus – Planting basil among asparagus keeps the asparagus beetles away. Plus, the combination is a gardeners dream because they attract ladybugs, which is always a good thing!

Basil & PeppersPeppers benefit from the effects of basil’s pest deterrent abilities. Also, low-growing basil options, like lettuce leaf, provide excellent ground cover for pepper plants. The basil plants prevent weeds and help the soil retain moisture. In return, the peppers provide shade during high temperature days.

Common Problems and Solutions

Wilting – A plant usually wilts when it isn’t receiving enough water. Check the soil and make sure it stays continuously damp. Another reason outdoor basil wilts is because they are getting too much sun. While basil loves the sun, it can also become too much during the peak of summer. Especially during midday sun. Shade outdoor plants with gardening fabric if they are wilting from the sun. Plants that become unhealthy due to underwatering or too much sun are also more susceptible to bacteria and disease and black spots.

Slugs & Snails – These two common garden pests enjoy a snack of basil. Hand pick them off the plants or try one of these methods. If you have the basil varieties in containers, slugs are less likely to be an issue.

Aphids – A regular garden nuisance, aphids love basil leaves, too. If you do notice a black spot this may be signs of leaf miners, such as aphids and thrips. Try some of these natural ways to get rid of aphids and other insects.

Fusarium Wilt & Downy Mildew – Two fungal diseases that will kill a plant in just days, fusarium wilt is best dealt with by prevention. Don’t get the plant leaves wet, and make sure there is adequate space between plants. Fungal diseases thrive in damp, poorly ventilated areas. If you do see the signs of mold or fusarium wilt, pull up the plants and destroy them.

What is The Secret Of Growing Basil

Experienced gardeners relate two big keys to growing basil abundantly. They aren’t really secrets; I’ve actually mentioned both these tips already in this article. Growing basil successfully is at your fingertips! Here’s my advice:

  1. Don’t let the soil dry out.
  2. Pinch back the stems and flower bloom to increase and prolong growth. Pruning is essential to a basil success story.

Now, there’s nothing to stop you from having fresh basil on hand for all your cooking needs! Grow basil in your house or outside, in the garden, or in a pot; just make sure you do it. Gardening is one of the best ways to improve your cooking, and fresh herbs are the key! Most importantly, though, growing basil is fun, the varieties are fascinating, and the harvests are wonderful.

*Keep in mind to give you the most all-inclusive content possible and how-to guides that we may occasionally use affiliate links in which we receive commissions when you click the links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our content or establish bias. We try our best to keep things as informational as possible in order to help you grown the plants, flowers, herbs and vegetables of your dreams.

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