This article shares everything you need to know about how to grow basil. It includes how to grow basil from seed, plus tips for pruning, harvesting, and using basil. I’ve also included tips for growing basil in containers, growing basil indoors, and how to grow basil in Arizona.
One of the most popular herbs to grow, basil is a warm-weather fragrant herb in the mint family whose flowers attract native bees. It is also a favorite culinary herb, treasured for its color and flavor. In all but the warmest regions (zone 10 and higher), basil is grown as an annual and will grow until the first frost.
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10 Tips For Growing Basil
1. Understand that basil is a warm-season herb
Basil grows best in warm (even hot) conditions. Don’t rush putting transplants outside; basil prefers warm air and soil.
- Start seeds indoors 2-4 weeks before planting basil outside.
- Plant seeds outside about ¼ inch deep and 10-12 inches apart when nighttime temperatures are above 70℉.
- Plant transplants at the depth of the container about 12-18 inches apart, depending on the variety of basil.
- Plant basil in an area that gets full sun.
2. Don’t let basil dry out
Basil likes well-draining soil. It’s important to water basil regularly, so it doesn’t dry out and become bitter. Mulching plants also helps to preserve moisture. During hot weather and dry periods, water basil deeply and regularly.
3. Feed basil regularly
Basil likes high levels of nitrogen. Plant basil in soil rich in organic matter that has been amended with compost. Amend monthly with additional compost or organic fertilizer.
4. Learn how to prune basil for larger yields
- When basil is about 6” tall, cut the middle stem down to just above the second set of leaves. 2 new stems will grow back in the middle stem’s place.
- Cutting back at this early stage of development encourages the plant to branch and produce additional leaves.
- As the plant grows, continue the practice of cutting back the branches to the second set of leaves.
- Remove the center shoot of basil to discourage blooming.
- To encourage new growth, cut back flowers as they appear.
5. Grow tomatoes and basil together – a perfect match in the garden and on the plate
Tomatoes are excellent companion plants for basil; introduce them to each other while growing and in the kitchen.
Get the recipe for Garden Fresh Tomato and Basil Pasta here.
6. Harvest basil early and often
- Begin harvesting basil when plants are 6-8” tall.
- The more you harvest basil, the more it grows.
- Harvest basil regularly to encourage branching and production.
- Basil leaves lose moisture throughout the day. Harvest basil in the morning for the best-tasting leaves.
7. Enjoy the fresh flavor of basil in many ways
- Use only basil leaves, not the stem, in cooking.
- Add basil at the end of cooking time to help retain fresh color and flavor.
- Freeze, freeze dry or dehydrate basil to preserve the harvest.
- Use a large harvest of basil to make pesto.
- Freeze individual leaves together in a freezer bag, and pull out individual leaves as needed.
- These herb scissors are my favorite way to cut up fresh basil. So easy!
- Purée washed basil in the blender and add just enough olive oil or water to make it pourable. Then pour into ice cube trays and freeze. It’s convenient to pop one or two cubes into soups and pasta.
Don’t let your herbs go to waste. Instead, freeze-dry herbs to preserve the flavor and quality. Learn how to freeze-dry herbs with these tips.
8. How to grow basil in Arizona
- Start seeds indoors: January 15 – April
- Plant seeds outside: February 15 – May
- Plant transplants outside: March-May
- In the hot summers of Arizona, basil does best with some afternoon shade.
- Mrs. Burns lemon basil, Siam Queen, and African Blue thrive in Arizona’s heat.
- Mulching plants helps retain moisture and keeps weeds down.
Smaller-leaved varieties grow best in the low desert of Arizona. Be sure to provide afternoon shade for larger-leaved varieties such as Genovese.
9. How to grow basil in containers
Basil is an excellent choice for growing in containers. Here are a few things to keep in mind when growing basil in containers:
- Basil needs well-draining soil. Always use good potting soil in the containers, not garden soil.
- Don’t overcrowd plants. Adequate air flow around basil plants is important to prevent fungus. Allow at least 6-8” between plants; 12” is even better.
- Don’t let containers dry out. Regular watering is key for the best-tasting basil. To see if the container needs water, use a moisture meter or stick a finger in the soil. If the top inch or two of the soil is dry, water the container.
- Feed basil in containers regularly. Nutrients are leeched out of the drain hole in containers, and basil grown in containers will benefit from monthly or bi-weekly feedings from compost or organic fertilizer.
10. How to grow basil indoors
To grow basil indoors, provide the light and warmth it would receive if growing outside. A sunny south-facing window may be all you need, but in most cases, additional light and warmth will be required to grow basil indoors successfully.
- Avoid drafty locations – 80℉ is the minimum temperature basil needs to thrive.
- If you are growing basil near a window, rotate the plant each time you water it to keep the growth even on all sides.
- When using a grow light, set a timer to run the light for 12 hours with the lights about 2-4″ away from the plant.
- If seedlings are leggy, they need more light (change location or put grow lights closer to leaves). Bleached-out spots on the leaves indicate the lights are too close to the seedlings.
- Thin basil to at least 6” apart to provide adequate airflow and discourage fungus.
- Begin harvesting leaves as soon as the plant is over 4” tall.
Tuesday 13th of December 2022
Do you ever overwinter your basil? I have around 8 Thai basil plants and they've flowered, but they're still bushy and green and I'm still harvesting. I'm thinking about cutting them back and keeping them in instead of pulling them out of the bed. What do you think?
Tuesday 13th of December 2022
Yes, it's possible to overwinter basil. Cover it if we get a freeze, and wait to trim it until after the danger of frost is passed in the spring.
Tuesday 2nd of July 2019
Basil have some good amount of medicinal value. I have one.
Tuesday 2nd of July 2019
Good point, thanks for sharing.