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How to Grow Basil at Home – From Seed to Harvest

Growing basil at home is a rewarding experience that can provide you with fresh, aromatic herbs for your favorite dishes. Whether you have a spacious garden or a cozy kitchen windowsill, you can enjoy growing and harvesting your own homegrown basil.

Basil growing in a garden bed.

Growing basil at home is something I believe everyone can and should do.

Not only is it a relatively easy herb to grow, but when you grow your own basil, you have complete control over the quality and freshness of the herbs you use in your cooking.

Plus, there’s something incredibly satisfying about stepping outside or reaching for your windowsill to pluck a few fragrant leaves for your favorite recipes.

Growing Basil Basics

Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow, perfect for both garden beds and containers. Your basil plants will thrive with the right conditions:

  • Temperature: Basil prefers warmth. Plant seeds or seedlings after the last frost when soil is at least 50°F, with ideal growth at around 70°F.
  • Sunlight: Aim for at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily. A little afternoon shade can prevent overheating.
  • Watering: Keep soil moist but not waterlogged. Overwatering can lead to root issues.
  • Spacing: Space basil plants about 12 to 18 inches apart to ensure ample airflow and reduce the risk of disease.

Basil is easy to grow from seed or cuttings.

For more info on cultivating basil from a cutting see this article: Growing Basil from a Cutting. When the roots have developed, plant out and care for your basil following the guide below.

Choosing the Right Basil Variety

Selecting a basil variety that appeals to your taste and understanding the essentials of basil maintenance will set you on the path to a bountiful harvest.

When it comes to basil, there’s a variety to suit every palate and purpose, some popular choices are:

  • Sweet Basil: The classic choice for Italian dishes.
  • Genovese Basil: A subtype of sweet basil with large leaves, ideal for pesto.
  • Thai Basil: Recognized by its purple stems and anise-like flavor, a staple in Asian cuisine.
  • Lemon Basil: Offers a citrus twist and is excellent for teas and desserts.

Planting Your Basil

Growing basil from seed successfully starts with planting it correctly. Careful attention to location, soil preparation, and proper planting will set your basil plants up for maximum success.

Selecting the Ideal Location

Basil thrives in warm, sunny conditions. Choose a spot in your garden that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight daily. Ensure the location is sheltered from strong winds which can damage the basil leaves.

Preparing the Soil

Basil prefers well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Improve your soil quality by incorporating compost or well-rotted manure.

The ideal pH range for basil is between 6.0 and 7.0. Before planting, moisten the soil to provide a welcoming environment for the seeds or seedlings.

Sowing Basil Seeds

Sow basil seeds ¼ inch deep in soil. Ensure the soil temperature is around 70°F/ 21°C for optimal germination. Space the seeds or groupings of seeds about 10 to 12 inches apart to give each plant enough room to grow.

If there is still a risk of frost, or if the soil temperature falls below 50°F/ 10°C start seeds indoors in pots or seedling trays.

  1. Moisten soil before sowing.
  2. Sprinkle seeds over the soil surface.
  3. Lightly cover with soil and gently press down.
  4. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate.
Basil seedlings growing in a seedling pot.

Planting Basil Seedlings

When planting seedlings, start after the last frost date as basil is sensitive to cold. Dig holes slightly larger than the root ball of your seedlings.

Space the holes about 6 inches apart to allow for growth. After placing a seedling in each hole, backfill with soil and water thoroughly.

Caring for Your Basil Plant

To ensure a healthy basil plant, consistent watering, regular pruning, and vigilant pest control are essential.

Watering Techniques

  • Consistency is Key: Water your basil plant when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Aim to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.
  • Morning Watering: Watering in the early morning is best, allowing the plant to hydrate before the heat of the day.

Pruning and Harvesting

  • Regular Pruning: Prune your basil by pinching off the top sets of leaves once the plant reaches about 6 inches in height. This encourages bushier growth.
  • Harvesting Leaves: Harvest leaves regularly by picking them from the top down to promote continuous growth.
  • Pinching out flowers: in mid-late summer the plant will try to flower. This can be delayed by pinching off the basil flowers as they appear.

Dealing with Pests and Diseases

  • Pest Control: Use organic insecticidal soaps or neem oil sprays as needed to combat common pests like aphids and spider mites.
  • Disease Prevention: Ensure good air circulation around your plants and avoid overhead watering to prevent fungal diseases.

Maximizing Basil Growth

To ensure your basil plants thrive, focus on providing optimal fertilization and understanding their sunlight and temperature needs.

Fertilizing for Health

Basil benefits significantly from regular fertilization. Begin with a soil rich in organic matter, which will act as a slow-release fertilizer.

As basil is a fast-grower, you can supplement with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every 4-6 weeks. However, be careful not to over-fertilize, as this can lead to less flavorful leaves.

Here’s a quick fertilization guide for your basil:

  • Initial Planting: Mix compost into the soil.
  • Growth Phase: Apply half-strength balanced liquid fertilizer every 4-6 weeks.
  • Blossoming Stage: Avoid additional fertilizing to encourage leaf rather than flower production.

Sunlight and Temperature Requirements

Basil loves warmth and requires plenty of sunlight.

  • Sunlight: Aim for at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
  • Temperature: Keep the plants in warm conditions, ideally between 70°F to 80°F during the day, and not dropping below 50°F at night.

Protect basil from extreme weather; too much heat can cause bolting, and frost is a definite killer. If temperatures exceed 80°F, make use of shade cloth to prevent overheating.

Harvesting and Storing Basil

Proper Harvesting Methods

To ensure your basil plants continue to thrive and produce leaves, always harvest with care. Use sharp scissors or garden shears and follow these steps:

  1. Look for large leaves, which indicate that the plant is mature enough to withstand harvesting.
  2. Cut just above a leaf pair, and the plant will sprout two new stems from this point, encouraging fuller growth.
  3. Harvest in the morning when moisture content, flavor, and aromatic oils are high.
  4. Avoid removing more than one-third of the plant at a time to prevent shock to the plant’s system.

>> More information: How to Harvest Basil Without Damaging the Plant

Drying and Storing Basil

For short-term storage, place fresh basil in a glass with water on the countertop away from direct sunlight or refrigerate wrapped in a damp paper towel.

For longer preservation, freeze the dried leaves in an airtight container or in a freezer bag separated by parchment paper to prevent clumping.

>> More info: How to Store Basil

To dry basil spread washed and dried leaves on a tray in a shaded, warm, and dry area. Air dry for 4 to 7 days until leaves are crispy.