How to Grow Basil

5 min read|Last updated at: April 14, 2022

Basil is an easy and popular herb to grow, suited for beginner gardeners. Native to Central Africa and Southeast Asia, basil is a member of the mint family. Its aromatic flavor lends it many applications in cooking, including sauces, pizza, sandwiches, pasta, and pesto. Another reason to plant basil is its health benefits, which include anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antioxidant properties.

BASIC INFORMATION

Scientific Name

Ocimum basilicum

Common Name

Basil

Sun Exposure

Full sun

Soil Type

Nutrient rich, well-draining

Soil pH

6 – 7.5 

Bloom Time

June to frost

Flower Color

Magenta

Hardiness Zones

10 – 11, grown as annual elsewhere

 

There are many varieties of basil, most of which are cultivars of sweet basil. Below is an overview of several varieties of basil and their characteristics. Since it can be difficult to choose a variety, you can experiment with different varieties and pick your favorite. 

How to Grow Basil | Vego Garden
  • Sweet Basil – Larger leaves than other varieties, a crucial ingredient in pesto. Popular in Italian cooking. Varieties include Italian, Genovese, and Italian Large Leaf. 
  • Cinnamon Basil – Small to medium dark green leaves and purple flavors. It has a spicy, cinnamon-like flavor. 
  • Lemon Basil – Hybrid plant with fragrant lemon scent. Light green leaves with white flowers.
  • Lime Basil – Small green leaves on compact plants. Can be used as a lemongrass substitute. Good in chicken, fish, sauces, and iced tea. 
  • Thai Basil – Has a sweeter taste and a stronger flavor than sweet basil with an anise flavor.
  • Holy Basil – Native to India. Commonly used in Indian medicine to treat ailments such as colds.
  • Cardinal Basil – Identified by its striking red blossoms. Strong spicy scent makes it ideal for oils.

Growing Basil

When: Basil is a warm season plant that will not tolerate temperatures below 50°F. The earliest time you should plant basil is two weeks after the last frost. Preferring soil temperatures between 60 – 70°F, it can also be planted during the summer. You can also plant it from seed inside 6 – 8 weeks before the last frost date. As it is sensitive to cold, monitor the temperature carefully and cover it if necessary. 

Basil prefers most, well-drained soil rich in nutrients. Raised garden beds are an ideal option for growing basil, as it allows for improved drainage. We recommend growing your basil in Vego Garden Herb raised garden beds. There are many benefits to starting plants in raised metal beds, including control over soil quality, ease of maintenance, and more rapid soil warming. 

Where: In addition to raised garden beds, basil can be planted in pots and containers. They can also be grown indoors near a sunny windowsill. If you have difficulty finding a sunny spot, you can opt for grow lights. Since basil grows well in warm environments, choose a spot in your garden that receives at least six hours of sunlight. If growing in scorching climates, put them in partial shade. 

Basil can be planted next to other herbs and vegetables with similar lighting and watering requirements, including tomatoes, parsley, and root vegetables. Flowering herbs like chives, oregano, and chamomile, which help enhance the flavor, can also be planted next to basil. Avoid planting basil next to cucumbers, as it can affect their yield and flavor. Other plants to avoid are fennel and sage. 

How: Space basil plants 10 – 12 inches apart from each other. For larger varieties, plant 16 – 24 inches apart. To grow basil seeds in pots, prepare seed starting trays, newspaper pots, or peats pots. Place 2 – 3 seeds per pot, planting them ¼ in deep. Water the seeds well. Keep the temperature between 75 – 85°F and maintain constant moisture until the seeds start to sprout, which is between 8 – 14 days. For a continuous harvest, sow basil crops every 2 – 3 weeks. 

Once the seedlings have true leaves, thin to one plant per tray. As they grow, you can transplant them to larger containers. The process for growing in the ground is similar, except that the soil needs to be well-amended with organic matter to ensure a well-draining foundation. If you want to plant in raised garden beds, you can plant basil earlier than those that are planted on the ground.

You can also propagate basil through basil cuttings, which can be easily obtained at the grocery store or local garden center. Take a 4 in cutting that has not flowered and clip it before the leaf node. Remove leaves on the bottom section of the stem. Place the cutting in a jar of filtered water or spring water in an area with indirect sunlight. Change the water every few days until you see root growth. When the roots are 1 to 2 inches long, you can plant the cuttings in a pot. Place the pot in a place where it will get direct sunlight. 

How to Grow Basil | Vego Garden

Care: Basil benefits from regularly watering, about 1 in of water per week. Basil growing in containers will need more frequent watering. It should be fertilized sparingly, especially if you are growing them in nutrient rich soil. If you choose to use fertilizer, use a light application of liquid fertilizer twice a season for outdoor plants. For indoor plants grown in pots, apply a weak liquid solution every four to six weeks and every two to three weeks for those in outdoor pots.

You should prune your basil to promote fuller growth once the plant is about 6 in tall. To prune your plant, cut off the top section of the stems above the lower set of leaves. As soon as flowers become evident, pinch them off to conserve energy and divert it towards foliage production. Since the flowers are edible, you can sprinkle them in tea or use as garnishes. 

Trimming basil helps prevent it from bolting, which is when a plant produces a flowering stem before it is harvested. Once seeds have developed, the quality of basil is greatly reduced. To prevent basil from bolting, keep the plants in shade, especially if you live in hot climates. Keep the plants well-watered to reduce stress and pinch off flowering stems.

Pests: The most common pests are Japanese beetles, slugs, and aphids. Japanese beetles are present about a month during the summer, during which they eat the leaf blades, leaving a skeleton appearance. If you notice them, handpick them and drop them into soapy water. Aphids and other pests can be controlled through insecticidal soap, which should be sprayed early evenings. You can sprinkle diatomaceous earth over the soil or use slug traps for slugs. 

How to Harvest Basil

There is no specific time to harvest basil, as it can be harvested regularly throughout the growing season. You should remove about 1/3 of the leaves each month to ensure new growth. Simply cut off the leaves ¼ an inch above a leaf node.

How to Grow Basil | Vego Garden

It is not recommended to store basil in the refrigerator as the leaves can easily turn dark. Instead, fill a jar or vase halfway with water and place the plants inside it, making sure there is no water on the leaves. Cover the entire jar loosely with a plastic bag and leave it on the kitchen counter. Change the water every few days and trim the stems. Using this method, basil can last up to 7 days.

If you want to preserve basil for longer uses, you can blanch it. Boil the leaves in a bowl of water for 10 seconds, and then place them in a bowl of ice water. Dry the basil out by wrapping them in paper towels. Freeze the basil in the refrigerator, spreading the leaves thinly on parchment paper in freezer bags and store flat.