Growing Basil: A Quick and Dirty Guide

Basil is a popular aromatic Mediterranean herb that gets used in everything from salads to pasta sauces. Like many other plants in the mint family, it is incredibly easy to grow as long as you understand the basics of what it needs.

How to grow basil

Growing basil from seeds

Start basil seeds indoors about two months before the last frost in your area. Place the seeds on top of the potting soil in a seed tray and use your fingertips to work them into it. If possible, place the seed tray into a water tray, so it can soak moisture from the bottom, or moisten the seeds with a misting bottle. Avoid pouring water over the top since this might displace the tiny seeds. For them to fulfill their growth potential, you will need to keep basil seedlings in moist soil. Never allow the soil to dry out.

Keep basil seed trays in an environment that stays between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.44 °C). They should germinate within a week.

Thin out basil seedlings when they have grown their first set of true leaves. In a standard seed tray, you should only have one per section. Pinch the leaves at the very tops of the plants when they have six sets of true leaves to make them grow bushy and strong.

Give your basil seedlings circulating air with an oscillating fan placed a few feet from them and set to low. Good air circulation will help to prevent the development of fungi and diseases. Note that this can dry your plants out faster, so you may want to water them more often to compensate.

Wait at least two weeks after the last frost to transplant basil outside. Waiting is important because basil is not a cold-tolerant herb.

Harden basil seedlings off before transplanting them outside. Hardening off is the process of getting seedlings acclimated to life in the outside world. Introduce them to the outdoors by keeping them in a shady part of your yard for a few hours daily. Gradually expose them to sunlight and leave them outdoors for longer and longer each day.

Growing basil from cuttings

Grow basil from cuttings (propagation) by selecting a healthy section of a basil plant that is at least four inches long and that has not flowered. You should cut it right above the leaf node, which is where the plant has its highest concentration of rooting hormone. Place the cutting in a glass or jar of water and leave it for a few days. Eventually, roots will start to grow. When the roots are about two inches long, plant the cutting as you would seedlings. You can either place it into a container with potting soil or directly into your garden.

Growing basil indoors

Basil is an herb that does just as well indoors as it does outdoors. Simply placing the seeds or cuttings in a pot or container (with potting soil) and following sunlight and watering instructions as per below.

How much sunlight does basil need?

Plant outdoor basil in a location where it will have sunlight for at least six hours per day if you live in a cold climate. If you are in a warmer region, make sure that it gets some shade, since it can’t tolerate excessive heat. Bury the stems to make the plants grow strong.

Keep the temperature for established indoor basil between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23.89 °C). Keep your basil plant near a window, so it can get six hours of daily sunlight.

How much water does basil need?

Basil plants like a decent amount of water – one inch per water per week. Give your plants one deep watering each week, enough to moisten the soil (but not soaking wet.) If you’re growing your basil indoors or in a container, you may need to water more often to keep your basil plant happy and growing.

Harvesting basil

You can harvest basil leaves at any time after the true leaves begin to grow. Harvest the tops for bushier growth. Do not remove more than 1/3 of the leaves at a time or the plant may not recover.