Basil is a fragrant, delicious, warm-weather annual herb that has a home in almost every summer garden. Whether you’re looking to fuel your pesto addiction, enjoy a caprese salad with your home-grown tomatoes, or you simply want to kick your legendary pasta sauce up a notch, basil’s versatility makes it a staple herb.
While your aromatic basil (Ocimum basilicum) is relatively easy to grow, the plants can quickly become tall, leggy, and sparse. Everyone wants those big, bushy plants with large yields. Good news: when cared for correctly, basil will supply you with an endless bounty all summer long.
What is Basil?
Basil plants are a popular herb native to southern Asia and the islands of the South Pacific. This member of the mint family can be grown with little fuss. Considered a tender annual, the basil herb plant produces aromatic leaves that are commonly used in Italian and Mediterranean dishes. Basil seeds are also a popular Thai ingredient.
Because basil is an annual, it grows extremely quickly. In fact, it can go from seed to harvest in as little as 3 to 4 weeks. This quick and easy-growing herb is an excellent choice for beginner gardeners.
Basil is easy to grow from seed, or you can pick up started seedlings at your local garden center. Pick up a few different varieties! Some of our favorites are a classic Italian or Genovese Basil, Opal (purple) basil, Lemon basil, and even Cinnamon! Here is an awesome mixed-variety pack of certified organic basil seeds, or check out these 12 places to buy quality organic, heirloom, or non-GMO seeds from.
When starting from seed, basil likes the same treatment that most garden veggie seeds do. That includes using a light fluffy seedling start mix, maintaining evenly damp soil (especially before sprouting), providing heat to aid in germination, and providing ample light as soon as the sprouts appear.
1. Keep Them Warm
Basil plants don’t like the cold and are sensitive to dips in temperature (those of us in Maine who can’t get basil to do much of anything know what this means!). Avoid putting basil seedlings in the ground too soon to avoid exposure to frost. If you plant your basil in containers, bring them indoors (your garage will do) if you anticipate a cool night.
2. Ensure Proper Drainage
Basil requires well-draining soil in order to flourish. Use a planter with plenty of drainage holes. If your favorite planter doesn’t have holes on the bottom, drill some if possible. Lining the bottom of the pot with a couple inches of gravel also allows for adequate drainage.
3. Keep Soil Moist
While basil likes well-drained soil, it should also be kept moist. Maintaining consistent moisture without water-logging them can be a fine line. Overwatering can cause the stems to mildew and rot, stunting your basil’s growth. Water your plants deeply once a week. Basil planted in containers requires more frequent watering as the soil dries faster than ground soil.
4. Water the Soil Not The Leaves
While watering, add water to the base of the plant, avoiding showering the leaves and stems. A slow, deep soaking method is best. Drip irrigation systems also work well. Mulching around plants also helps to retain and conserve water while keeping weeds at bay.
5. Let The Sun Shine In
Basil plants like a good amount of sun. Position your plants in a nice sunny spot where they can receive six to eight hours of sun per day, away from cold winds. If growing indoors, place containers on a sunny windowsill that lets in enough light.
6. Fertilize Properly
Like most plants, basil also benefit from a nutrient boost. Feed your basil plants with a good organic fertilizer every four to six weeks for indoor plants and every 2-3 weeks for outdoor. A well-balanced fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate, will help to boost leaf production.
7. Harvest Early and Often
With basil, harvesting and pruning are essentially the same thing. Follow the tips below for pruning and use what you pruned a your harvest.
Start harvesting your basil early, continuing to harvest every week or two throughout the season. If you notice flower buds starting to form on your mature plant, it’s definitely time to prune. If not, the plant will put its energy into making seeds, rather than more of its delicious foliage. Plus flowering changes the flavor of the basil. If you’re late to the game and flowers have started to form, simply pinch off the flower heads, which are also edible.