Whether we are new gardeners, or have been digging in the dirt for years, most of us at one time or another yearn to grow things to use in our kitchens. Nothing tastes quite so good as a gorgeous dish that you made using herbs and veggies that you grew yourself. Growing basil can be a great place to start your herb garden, as it’s one of the most well loved cooking herbs, and is super easy to grow. You can learn how to grow basil indoors, outdoors, from seed, from cuttings or from nursery plants. All you need to know is a few simple guidelines to make sure you grow gorgeous basil plants!
How to Grow Basil
How to Grow Basil from Cuttings
One of the quickest ways to get basil plants started is to grow them from cuttings. You can pick up live basil from the grocery store, or you can buy a plant from the nursery, and make cuttings from it creating several new plants. Here’s how to grow basil from cuttings!
- Using sharp, clean scissors, cut a piece of basil stem 4-6 inches long, just below the node. The node is where you will see a swelling on the stem where the leaves grow out from.
- Remove all the leaves from the bottom half of the stem.
- Place the stem in a clear jar of water. Place the jar in a bright spot, but not in direct sunlight.
- When I propagate in water, I change out the water every 3-4 days so that bacteria doesn’t have a chance to grow. If you notice the water growing cloudy at any point, it’s time for a change.
- Roots will appear anywhere from 7-20 days, depending on the time of year, the light and the temperature.
- I wait until the roots are at least 2 inches long and are full. Photo below by ‘The Cafe Sucre Farine‘.
- Plant into a small pot with potting soil, and keep moist as the root system continues to establish itself. Place the plant in bright light, but wait to move it outdoors or into full sun at least 2 weeks so it can adjust to the shock of transplant.
- Done! You took one plant, or a bunch of living basil from the grocery store, and made many plants!
Growing Basil from Seed
If you want to grow basil from seed, you can produce a larger amount of plants for outdoors. We recommend starting basil seed indoors with a seed starting kit. We always use both seed and seed starter kits from ‘Burpee’. Wherever you get your supplies, start with fresh seed. If you want to grow basil from seed indoors, follow these steps.
- Start seeds in growing medium in a seed starting kit 6-8 weeks before the last frost in your area. You can check your last frost date at ‘Farmer’s Almanac‘. Plant 1/4 inch deep.
- Keep seeds warm and moist, preferably with a dome type seed starting kit for 7-14 days, until seeds emerge. If you use a pot, cover with a plastic bag until sprouting.
- Once seeds emerge, move to bright windowsill, or use growing lights. Seedlings that don’t get enough light will get leggy and die, so this is really important. If you aren’t using grow lights, take the kit outside on nice days, in bright light, but not direct sun. Do not leave out overnight.
- To prevent diseases that kill young seedlings, remove any dome or greenhouse product when the seedlings sprout.
- When seedlings have 3-4 pairs of leaves, transplant into 3-4 inch pots to allow for greater root growth.
- When all danger of frost has passed, harden off seedlings by moving into a protected area outdoors for a week, before planting in the ground or in outdoor containers.
Growing basil from seed, directly in the garden…
- Growing basil from seed directly in the garden is perhaps the easiest way to grow basil, though you have to be a bit more patient.
- Wait to plant in the ground outdoors until all danger of frost is past, and the soil temperature is consistently at least 60 degrees.
- Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep in soil that has been cultivated and raked free of large clumps and rocks. Adding organic matter to the soil before planting your seeds will result in healthier, stronger plants.
- Keep moist with gentle watering. Do not let the seeds dry out.
- Seeds will emerge in 7-20 days.
- When seedlings have 2-3 true leaves, thin plants to 12 inches apart.
- Keep basil moist. Basil is not a drought resistant plant, they will visibly wilt when they are dry. Once that happens, the plants natural oils are diminished.
Growing Basil Indoors
If you want to grow basil indoors, you will obviously be growing basil in pots.
- Keep the pots in bright light, and only water when the soil is dry just below the surface.
- Pinch the tips of the stems once the plant is 10 inches tall to help keep it from getting leggy.
- You can bring your plants out onto a protected patio or deck for the warmer months if you “harden them off” first. Again, hardening plants means bringing them out for a week in a protected area to allow them to acclimate to their new microclimate, with less shock.
Growing Basil Outdoors
Basil plants tend to be healthier and grow the largest when they are grown outdoors. You can create a spot in your herb or vegetable garden directly in the ground, or you can grow basil in pots or raised beds. Container grown plants can yield just as much of a leaf harvest as plants grown in the ground with proper root space and care. Keep in mind, growing basil outdoors in pots means having to keep an eye out for diseases, as they are likely growing in closer proximity to other plants. This reduces proper air flow, and can encourage disease. Photo by ‘Farmer’s Almanac‘.
General Basil Growing Tips
- Grow basil outdoors in full sun.
- Pinch off the tips of the stems once the plants are 2 months old. This will help prevent flowering and create a bushier, fuller plant, so that you get the longest possible season to harvest leaves.
- Watch for powdery mildew. If plant leaves stay too moist, in some climates they will develop a white mold growing on the leaves and stems. If treated with an anti fungal early, this can be controlled. You can find a product safe for food crops at your local nursery, or try neem oil if you are growing organically. Help prevent powdery mildew by not watering at night.
- Never harvest more than 1/3 of the plant at any one time, as this will weaken the plant.
- Basil flowers are edible as well.
- You can preserve basil by drying, freezing or using in oil. Check out our post on Preserving Herbs.
Growing basil can be fun and rewarding, especially when you make your first batch of pesto, or stir a handful of home grown leaves into a Thai stir fry. Basil can also be used in flower arrangements and brewed into a tea. Check out our posts on Indoor Herb Garden Ideas and Vertical Vegetable Gardens! You also may love Stunning Planter Box Ideas over at OhMeOhMy!