Growing basil indoors is an easy and rewarding culinary treat
Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow indoors from seed. Since basil is an annual, it grows very quickly. Sprouting from seed, producing an abundance of fresh leaves, then flowering and going to seed all over the course of a few months.
Many people choose to grow new basil plants from seed to get a jump start on the season or enjoy fresh basil leaves at any time of year.
When grown under the right factors, you can successfully grow this herb & be ready to harvest your plants in as little as 3-4 weeks!
Be sure to pick up your basil seeds & follow along in our tutorial! Depending on the time of year, you can find them in home improvement or garden centers. Botanical Interests carries a wide variety of both organic and heirloom basil seeds if you prefer to buy them online or if it’s during the off-season.
- Growing Basil Indoors: Step by Step Instructions
- Caring for your Basil Seedlings
- Growing Healthy Basil from Seed
- Choose These 5 Basil Types (Tips #1)
- Purchase the BEST Garden Supplies (Tips #2-5)
- How to Start Seeds Indoors (Tip #6)
- How to Care for Basil (Tip #7)
- How to Harvest Basil (Tip #8)
- How to Store Basil (Tip #9)
- BEST Basil Use Ideas (Tip #10)
- Get to Know Basil
- How to Plant Basil
- How to Grow Basil
- How to Harvest Basil
- Basil in the Kitchen
- Preserving and Storing Basil
- Propagating Basil
- Basil Varieties to Grow
- Growing Holy Tulsi
Growing Basil Indoors: Step by Step Instructions
Here we will show you how to sprout your seeds, care for them, trim them for a bushy plant & enjoy your first harvest.
Here is everything you will need:
- Basil Seeds
- Starter Pots with drainage holes
- Plastic Dome
- Seed Starting Mix
- Plastic Tub
- Spray Mister (sink sprayer is OK too)
- Sunny Window
- Variable Height Light Source
- Timer (optional)
- Fan (optional)
Step 1: Preparation. Gather all your materials to a working area.
Step 2: Prepare the soil. Fill the plastic container with dry soil, add water & mix until your soil is just moist enough to hold together in your hand. Add just a little water at a time & mix well.
If you don’t want to get too dirty, you can use a big spoon to mix the soil initially. But it’s best to use your hands to test the consistency of the mixture especially when you are just starting out. If the soil is too wet, just add more dry soil until you have the right consistency.
Step 3: Fill your pot to about 1/2 to 1 inch below the top with the moistened soil.
Step 4: Plant a few seeds in each cell. Note: We always plant extra seeds in case a few don’t sprout.
Step 5: Cover the seeds with a sprinkling of dry soil to the depth suggested on the packet. If you don’t have the seed packet, the rule of thumb when planting seeds is to plant them to a depth of about twice their size.
Step 6: Mist your seeds with water or lightly spray them with the faucet. We want to ensure the seed has good contact with the soil, so it knows it is time to grow. If you expose any seeds when doing this just gently push them back in the soil.
Step 7: Place a dome over your seeds to keep the moisture in. If the dome is kept in place, we should not need to water the seeds again until after they sprout.
Step 8: Place your seeds in a warm location – about 70 degrees & check them every day. Basil is very quick to germinate. You should see sprouts in 3-5 days, but it could be earlier or later depending on your home environment.
Step 9: Once you see sprouts, remove the dome immediately even if just 1 seed has germinated. Add supplemental lighting to promote strong growth, so your seedlings don’t become too leggy. See the section on light below for more details.
Seed Growing Pots
We like to use the plastic seed starting trays shown about for very small seeds, but they can be hard to find depending on the season. Please try to avoid the little peat pots. They do not always decompose as advertised & instead can end up stunting your plant’s growth if the pot isn’t removed. Here are two additional options for you.
Cow Pots Seed Starters
Cow pots. These seed starter pots are made from…you guessed it…cow manure. They use a manure-fiber based material which is made from composted cow manure. A product created by the American farmer, cow pots will decompose much faster than the peat pots and will provide your young plants with an organic fertilizer as they decompose.
Recycled Paper Pots from Botanical Interests
- Recycled Paperboard Pots. These are another eco-friendly alternative to the plastic pots. The nice thing about the paperboard pots is the bottom is perforated, so it will tear away before planting. This will reduce disturbing the seedlings roots and ease the transition into the garden.
Caring for your Basil Seedlings
It’s always exciting to see the little seeds break the soil. Now you need to take care of them. Use the following guidelines & you should do just fine.
Watering your Seedlings
These are general guidelines – every environment will be a little different.
- Water your seedlings about twice a week. This may fluctuate depending on the humidity in your environment. When the top of the soil looks dry, it is time to water.
- Always water from the bottom. Your seedling will drink from its roots, not the base of the plant. If the top of the soil is too wet, it could lead to mold growth. The best way to do this is to put the pot into a bowl of water until the top gets wet. Then remove the pot & put it back in its saucer. If the saucer is big enough, you can also just fill the saucer. Once the top is wet, pour out any extra water.
- When your seedlings get older and move to a larger pot you can use a soil moisture meter to keep help you determine when your plant needs to be watered.
Providing Enough Light
Basil loves the warm sun. Make sure your plant gets at least 6 hours of sunlight from the window. If you are growing basil indoors, you will almost always need to supplement with additional sources of light such as a CFLs or grow lights. Even an ordinary light bulb placed very close to a single plant will work in a pinch.
Just like people, seedlings need extra TLC when they are young. In the early growing phases, you need to provide as much light as possible to create a healthy well-branched plant. 12-16 hours of light is recommended for young seedlings. Shop lights are very commonly used to grow seedlings indoors. They are long enough to provide light for multiple seed trays and are easily adjustable.
- Position your plant about 2-3 inches below your lights. As your seedlings grow, raise the light source.
- Put the lamp on a timer, so it turns on when there is no light coming from your window. Adjust the timer, so it stays on long enough to give your plant 16 hours of light. For example, if the direct sun coming in from your window is 7 hours (9 am to 4 pm), set your timer to turn on at 4 & off at 1 am or 9 hours. If you are growing your seedling away from the window, then set the timer to keep the light on the full 16 hours.
Plants need good air circulation & movement to remain healthy. Think about how they grow outside with the wind blowing. This does two things. The wind keeps the air moving providing a constant supply of fresh air & good circulation. Stagnant air can lead to the seedlings staying too wet & growing mold. It also helps the seedlings develop good thick stems as it needs to be strong to stay upright. We are trying to replicate those same conditions indoors.
Place a small fan on its lightest setting pointing toward your seedlings. It should be just enough of a breeze, so they flutter slightly, not too strong, so they look like they are in a tornado. You can put this fan on the same timer you have for the light or just turn it on a few hours a day.
If you don’t have a fan, then do the following:
- Give them space. Make sure the seedlings have enough space between pots. There should be at least 6 inches between each pot & definitely don’t let the plants themselves touch. Rotate them on a regular basis.
- Brush them. Gently run your hand over the tops of the seedlings each day. Do this a few times. This will simulate movement caused by the wind blowing helping your seedlings to stay strong.
Pruning Basil Plants
The basil you see in the supermarket & in the garden magazines is bushy & beautiful. But basil will not grow this way on its own. If you don’t prune your basil plant it will grow straight up & not produce enough for all the great recipes you will want to make.
The first set of “true leaves” will resemble the mature plants’ leaves.
The key to getting a nicely branched, bushy plant with lots of leaves for picking is to prune it early & often. This is often called pinching. You should do this every few weeks to make the most from your basil plant. The first time to do this is when the plants get to be about 6 inches high when it has between 3 & 5 sets of leaves.
The first set of leaves you see will be the cotyledon or seed leaves – those don’t count & will fall off as your plant grows. The next set of leaves to grow are called the “true leaves.”
You can start pruning your basil plants as soon as they have three sets of true leaves. There will be one on top & two sets on either side of the main stem. Once the two smaller sets start growing, you can cut off the main stem just after the set of leaves. Your plant should put out two more stems about where the leaves are.
Start pruning basil after it has at least 3 sets of true leaves. Place the cut just after a set of leaves.
After the new shoots are about 4 inches long, repeat this process on the new stems. You can use the cuttings for your next meal.
Transplanting Young Basil Plants
When the roots grow out and up through the drainage holes, it’s time for a larger pot
If your plant has outgrown its pot, you can move it to a bigger one. Growing plants in too small of a pot can lead to unhealthy plants. This is referred to as a root bound plant. Rootbound plants will require more water, not get enough nutrients since there isn’t enough soil to go around & the plant’s growth will be stunted. Unhealthy plants are also more prone to pest infection & disease.
If you have started your basil in a small starter pot, you will need to transplant it once or twice during the primary growing phase. The first time will be after your basil has a few sets of true leaves, you can transplant it to a larger pot, about 4-5 inches in diameter.
As the basil grows, you will need to transplant one additional time to allow the plant to reach its full potential. Once you notice the roots growing out through the drainage holes is a good indicator your plant needs a larger pot.
You can start harvesting your basil as soon as it has 6 or more leaves.
When you are ready to harvest your basil, you want to cut off full stems similar to the way we pruned it This will promote a nice bushy plant & it will continue to grow & produce ever more leaves & branches.
Select a tall section & look down on the branch to where you see 2 leaves. This is a good spot to cut, just after the 2 leaves. Depending how much basil you need for your recipes, continue this process around the plant.
Snip the leaves off & discard the stem. Store the leaves on a damp paper towel & Tupperware or baggie until you are ready to use them. If it will be longer than a day or two, see the section on storing fresh herbs.
Growing Healthy Basil from Seed
The most important takeaway when growing basil or any other herbs indoors is to remember to have fun. You will make a few mistakes along the way, but such is the way of growing plants. It is easy enough to start over especially when growing annual herbs since they grow so quickly.
Growing basil from seed is the easiest way to grow a large number of plants for a very small sum. You can also grow many more varieties of basil since only the basics are typically available in the markets. Why not grow some lemon or Thai basil for a little spice? But regardless of the type you grow, be sure to start some basil from seed this season. It is not only rewarding to watch your seedlings thrive, but an excellent way to start off the growing season.
Last updated by Virginia Dodd at January 21, 2020.
Have you ever been interested in learning How to Grow Basil from Seed?
Do you think it’s too hard?
Or are you unsure of how to start?
Or where to go for the best information?
Table of Contents
Well, I have great news!
I have created 10 SIMPLE Tips on How to Grow Basil from Seed so that you can enjoy this tasteful herb all year, no matter where you live.
Choose These 5 Basil Types (Tips #1)
Are you interested in basil for a garnish? How about pesto? Or maybe for its herbal remedies.
There are more ways to use basil than you can count. But in order to have the most success with the uses of basil, you have to identify the correct type to grow.
I am recommending five general types of Basil Plants when learning how to grow basil from seed.
These are the easiest basil to grow from seed and plant. Also, these five provide the most uses.
1. Sweet Basil
Buy on Amazon
Sweet Basil is the most common basil in the entire world. This is typically what you see in your average grocery store.
This type of basil is great in pestos, salads, and marinades.
Sweet Basil is an annual herb that grows 12 to 18 inches and is ready 60-90 days after planting your seeds.
Best of all is that you can grow this basil in a pot, raised garden bed, and traditional garden.
2. Genovese Basil
Buy on Amazon
Genovese Basil is also known as classic Italian basil. This is another popular basil among chefs and gardeners.
Genovese basil has a stronger flavor that is bolder and sweeter than most basil.
This basil can be used with olive oil, pesto, and on salads.
This type of basil is an annual herb that grows 18 to 24 inches. It also is ready to pick 60-90 days after you plant your seeds.
3. Thai Sweet Basil
Buy on Amazon
Thai Sweet Basil is famous for its spicy, licorice flavor it adds to Asian dishes.
One of the biggest advantages of sweet Thai basil is that it retains its flavor in high temperatures.
This type of basil is an annual herb that grows to be 14 inches high. It takes 60-90 days to mature and is perfect for small pots and gardens.
4. Purple Basil
Buy on Amazon
“Purple” Basil has a beautiful, dark burgundy color.
This type of basil is not as sweet as other basil types, but it has a stronger clove.
The leaves of this herb are perfect to be added to vinegar and dishes.
This type of purple basil is an annual herb that grows to 10-12 high. Like the other basil on this list, it can be picked 60-90 after seeds have been planted.
5. Lemon Basil
Buy on Amazon
Lemon Basil is another popular type that is used in numerous restaurants across the world.
You will typically find this in big box stores and nurseries.
Lemon Basil tastes like sweet basil, but with a slight lemon taste.
Most gardeners use this type of basil with fish, salads, and garnishes.
This type of basil is an annual herb that grows 12-18 inches tall. It also can be picked 60-90 days after seeds have been sowed.
Purchase the BEST Garden Supplies (Tips #2-5)
When learning how to grow basil from seed there is more to know than just the type of seed you want.
To have the most success when learning how to grow basil from seed you will need to have the correct garden supplies.
2. Purchase the Right Seed
When learning how to grow basil from seed the seed itself is the most important supply.
While vegetables typically have numerous type of seeds like organic, heirloom, GMO, etc. basil plants typically grow from your traditional seed or organic.
Whether you purchase organic seeds or traditional seeds you will have the same results. There is no benefit to your health and your harvest will be no different.
What is important is where you purchase your basil seeds from.
If you want seeds that come from reputable companies at a reasonable price and with quick delivery then you want to purchase them from Amazon.
3. Buy 2 Types of Containers
Once you purchase your seeds you will need at least 1 type of pot to start your basil and two types of pots if you want to garden all year.
I typically don’t recommend planting your seeds directly into the soil because disease, pests, and mother nature will damage or destroy too many of them.
Instead, I recommend starting off your seed in 3-inch pots. My suggestion is: GrowKo Peat Pots.
Next, you’ll want a much larger pot if you do not plan on transplanting your basil into a garden.
The reason for this is that 3 inch pots are great for seeds and starting small plants, but cannot sustain the root growth needed for basil leaf growth.
I recommend: Viagrow 5 Gallon Nursery Pot
4. Buy These Garden Tools!
While containers and seeds are the only two essential tools you need when learning how to grow basil from seed there are other garden tools that will make your life easy.
Of the most basic, but handiest garden supplies to have is a good sprayer.
You want to use a good sprayer because hoses and cups will flood your seed rendering it useless.
I recommend: Tolco Spray Bottle 8 oz.
In addition, it is also great to have good garden utensils to help minimize dirt and disorganization.
If you want one of the best gardening tool sets then I recommend:
Vremi 9 piece tool set
And finally, you can’t grow basil seeds inside without a good grow light. If you have access to a warm sunny area for at least 8 hours a day you won’t need a grow light.
Most of us don’t have access to that much sunlight during the winter. And sometimes even if we do a grow light is just more effective for the best results.
I specifically recommend: Hydrofarm Grow Light
5. Buy Soil & Fertilizer
Just because you have the best seeds and a pot to start your basil doesn’t mean you’ll have success.
You want to make sure you have the correct soil and good fertilizer.
If you do not have the proper soil your seed will not fully grow and bare leaves. And while you can survive without fertilizer, a good mixture will help you get the most out of your basil plant
While there are lots of soil you can buy, we will want to focus on the only one you need, potting mix.
Very simply, this soil will contain the right mixture of soil, sand, and nutrients needed for your Lavender seeds to grow healthy.
I am highly recommending: Miracle-Gro Potting Mix
I am recommending this type of soil for a couple of reasons.
Everything you need to start seeds and provide your basil with the correct nutrients can be found in this soil.
And if you decide you want to transplant your basil plant to another pot you will not need to purchase a different type of soil.
In addition, you want to make sure you have a good fertilizer to help your basil grow as large and fruitful as possible.
I use and recommend: Miracle-Gro Plant Food
Why I like this type of fertilizer is that it provides everything your basil plant needs. And you won’t have to worry about the type of mixture to use or how to use it.
Best of all is that this type of fertilizer can be used on all your vegetable and herb plants!
How to Start Seeds Indoors (Tip #6)
When learning how to grow basil from seed you should almost always start your process indoors.
You will want to start your basil seeds inside approximately 12 weeks before you plan on moving your basil into your garden or moving your larger container.
You want to first start by filling your 3 inches pot 80% full with your potting mix.
Next, you will want to spray the soil immediately after 5-10 times. You want the soil to be damp, but not soaked. You will know the soil is damp when it turns a dark brown color.
Next, use the tip of a pencil and make a circular motion to form a tiny hole. This will be approximately 1/8 inch deep.
Then place 2 to 3 seeds into the hole and brush the soil over the seeds.
You will then spray the soil again 5 to 8 times. Moisten, but do not dampen the soil.
After planting your seeds place your pots in direct sunlight or under your grow light. Your seeds will need approximately 8 hours of sunlight.
If you put your seeds under the grow light keep it approximately 4 inches from the bulb. Anything closer will burn the seeds. Anything further away with not provide enough heat and light.
You will also need to make sure the room temperature is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If the air temperature does not stay around this temperature then your seeds will not germinate or pop through the soil.
If you don’t have an area that will stay consistently around 70 degrees, I would recommend investing in a Plant Heating Mat.
A Plant Heating Mat is the perfect way to keep your pots and seeds at a consistent temperature that we may not otherwise be able to. The best part about a heat mat is you just plug it in and you are all set.
After your initial planting, you will need to spray the soil once to twice a day. You will know it’s time to spray if the soil looks a light brown color or feels dry to the touch.
It will take approximately 10 days for your seeds to germinate or pop through the soil. Do not worry if it takes a few days later as each growing situation is different.
Continue spraying your basil (as referred to step 4) over the next 4-8 weeks.
Once your basil reaches 3 inches tall you will either want to move them into your larger containers or move them outside.
If you move your basil plants into a larger container you can continue to water them twice a day until they are ready to be harvested.
You should only move your basil plants outside if the temperature is above freezing.
While basil plants are cold hardy plants, consistent frost will kill them.
You can view your hardy zone below to determine your first and last frost date of the year.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac
When transplanting your basil plant into a garden you will want to dig a hole that is the size of your basil plant root ball (where the roots meet the soil). Next, cover it with soil and water it for 30 seconds.
It should also be noted that you will not need to thin your basil plant like you would with vegetables or herbs. Typically, 2-3 basil plants can grow in one pot without any problems. This will also give you the fullest harvest.
If you learn better watching a video then I recommend watching the below youtube tutorial:
How to Care for Basil (Tip #7)
When learning how to grow basil from seed most of the hard work is now over.
With that being said, there are still some items you want to make sure of.
Below are tips for caring for your Basil throughout the summer:
- Healthy Soil & Fertilizer – Inspect your soil for fungus, pests, and weeds before you plant and throughout the summer. Remove as needed.
- Insects. Specifically Japanese Beetles. They will destroy your basil in one day!!! If you don’t want beetles ruining all your hard work I recommend purchasing Sevin Bug Killer.
- Water. Water once a week when planted outside. Too much water will not kill your basil but will stunt its growth.
- Harvest Often & Early: One of the best ways to care for your basil is to harvest it often and early. This will help your basil to continue to grow and become healthier
How to Harvest Basil (Tip #8)
For every basil plant on this list, you can begin harvesting the leaves 60 to 90 days after your basil seeds pop through the soil.
Below are critical tips to remember when harvesting basil:
- Harvest your basil plants under the leaves. Only harvest it when there are 2 to 3 leaves. This will allow more leaves to grow.
- I highly recommend only harvesting 20% of your basil at a time. This will allow more leaves to grow at a faster rate.
- After you harvest your basil leaves you will want to wash them, place them in a plastic bag, and store them in your fridge.
How to Store Basil (Tip #9)
There is nothing better than fresh basil. And the best part is that you can harvest your basil only when needing it, giving you the freshest basil!
But what happens if you have too much basil?
How do you store it?
The place way to store your basil leaves is to wash them, place them in a plastic bag where you remove all oxygen (by pressing on the bag after the leaves are inside), and storing them in your fridge.
If you plan on using the basil leaves within the next 24 hours you can also repeat the same process as above and leave them in a cool dark space in your house.
If you want to use your basil leaves in the future (1 week or longer after harvesting) then you can repeat the same process as above and store them in your freezer.
When storing basil leaves in your freezer than please use them within 6 months for the best taste.
BEST Basil Use Ideas (Tip #10)
So planting, caring, and harvesting basil plants is fun, but using basil is the best part!
Below, are a few of the uses of lavender that are both easy and most enjoyable:
- Creating essential oil: Basil oil can be used to reduce stress, is great for your skin, and can help repel mosquitoes.
- Health: If you are interested in learning more about health remedies that basil can be used for, I highly recommend reviewing WebMD
- Food: There are so many different uses, but if you want to learn my favorite ways to use fresh basil then check out: Food Network
After reading this article you should now have a much better idea on How to Grow Basil from seeds and how to have the greatest chance for success.
If you want to have the most success, I recommend these 10 SIMPLE Tips:
- Use one of the 5 recommended types of Basil for the best chance of success
- Buy the Correct Seeds. Organic or traditional doesn’t matter as much as where you purchase them from
- Buy two different types of containers to help allow your basil to grow to its fullest potential
- Garden tools aren’t essential, but they will make gardening easier!
- The correct soil and fertilizer can turn your basil from good to great
- There are only 5 simple steps for starting your seed in a pot and this should take less than 15 minutes
- Proper care for your basil will allow you to get the most harvest
- Harvesting basil leaves is an art and science. Never over-harvest
- Basil leaves can be stored in cool, dark places, the fridge, or even the freezer
- There are many great uses for basil leaves. Don’t be afraid to try different recipes
If you enjoyed this article then please read my other articles:
How to Grow Peppers from Seed (7 EASY Steps)
How to Grow Lavender from Seed: 15 Simple Steps
How to Grow Tomatoes from Seed (7 EASY Steps)
Basil is easy to grow in warm sunny conditions. It is also easy to grow indoors. Basil is as aromatic in the kitchen as it is in the garden. Cooks around the world turn to basil. It is perhaps most popular in Mediterranean and Asian dishes. It is a great addition to most vegetable, fish, poultry dishes, and summer salads. And, of course, basil is the key ingredient of pesto. Basil is often matched with tomatoes in recipes, and in the garden basil is a companion plant that is said to enhance the growth of both tomatoes and peppers.
Get to Know Basil
- Botanical name and family: Ocimum basilicum, Ocimum crispum, Ocimum minimum
- Origin: India, Central America
- Type of plant: Basil is a tender annual, in subtropical regions, it is a perennial.
- Growing season: Summer
- Growing zones: Zones 4 to 10; basil thrives in warm to hot weather.
- Hardiness: Basil is easily damaged by cold weather and will be killed by frost. Basil can tolerate very warm weather.
- Plant form and size: Basil grows upright in bushy clumps 15 to 30 inches tall and wide depending on the variety. Basil flowers on spikes that grow above the foliage.
- Flowers: Small whitish or lavender flowers grow on spikes at the ends of stems. Pinching stem tips frequently will keep basil from flowering and keep plants bushy and full.
- Bloom time: Mid- to late summer
- Leaves: Leaves are oval, slightly toothed, and pointed, 1 to 2 inches long. Leaves can be bright green or purple-red. Leaves are arranged opposite one another on square stems.
How to Plant Basil
- Best location: Plant basil in full sun, 6 to 8 hours of sun each day. Basil can tolerate light shade. Basil will grow easily in a sunny window.
- Soil preparation: Grow basil in well-drained but moisture-retentive sandy loam. Soil too rich in organic matter or nitrogen will result in lush foliage but low oil content which can affect the strength of flavor and fragrance. Basil will grow in poor soil that is well-drained soil. A raised or mounded bed is a good spot to grow basil. Basil prefers a soil pH of 5.5 to 7.5.
- Seed starting indoors: Start basil indoors as early as 6 weeks before the last frost for planting out to the garden after the weather has warmed—about three or more weeks after the last frost. Basil seed will germinate in about 7 to 10 days at 70°F. Purple leaf varieties need slightly warmer soil temperatures to germinate.
- Transplanting to the garden: Transplant basil outdoors in spring after all danger of frost has passed
- Outdoor planting time: Sow basil directly in the garden or set out transplants no sooner than 2 to 4 weeks after the last frost in spring. A soil temperature of 70°F is optimal for growing basil. Air temperatures in the 80s are ideal. Basil is easily damaged by chilly weather and will be killed by frost. Nighttime temperatures in the 50°sF will cause basil leaves to turn dark or black. Make successive sowings every 2 to 3 weeks to ensure a steady supply through the season.
- Planting depth: Sow basil seed ⅛ to ¼ inch deep; cover seed lightly.
- Spacing: Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart; for small-leafed varieties space plants 6 to 12 inches apart. Space rows 18 to 24 inches apart.
- How much to plant: Grow 4 to 6 plants for everyday kitchen use. Plant 6 to 12 plants if you make a lot of pesto. Grow 8 to 12 plants for preserving. Succession planting will ensure a steady supply of basil.
- Companion planting: Plant basil near tomatoes and peppers to enhance their growth and flavor. The aroma of basil will repel many garden pest insects including flies and mosquitos.
How to Grow Basil
- Watering: Keep the soil just moist; basil prefers moist but not wet soil. Leaves will wilt when basil needs water.
- Feeding: Foliar feed plants with a spray of compost tea or liquid seaweed extract twice during the growing season.
- Mulching: Mulch around basil to suppress weeds and slow soil moisture evaporation in hot weather. Mulch with aged compost or chopped dry leaves. Keep mulch back from stems to avoid stem rot.
- Care: Keep basil pinched back to produce more leaves. Pinch out terminal shoots every two or three weeks. This will encourage branching and more leaves for harvest. Do not prune or cut the woody part of the stem; prune only herbaceous growth. Pinch out flowers as they form; cut back flowering stems by one-fourth; flowering will slow leaf growth. Tall cultivars may need staking. If frost is forecast, harvest the whole plant. Basil will not survive a frost.
- Container growing: Basil is a good container plant. Plant basil in a pot at least 6 inches deep for best root growth. Basil will grow easily in a sunny window.
- Winter growing: Grow basil indoors in winter from summer cuttings or seed. Small-leaved cultivars are a good choice for indoor growing.
- Pests: Snails and slugs may attack basil; handpick them out of the garden and destroy them. Aphids may attack basil leaves; knock them off the plant with a strong blast of water.
- Diseases: Damping-off and fusarium wilt are two fungal diseases that can attack basil. Fusarium wilt and damping-off will cause plants to collapse and die in a day or two. To prevent and control fungal diseases, make sure the soil is well-drained and keep leaves dry. Remove and destroy infected plants. Avoid planting basil in the same spot more than once every four years. Plant fusarium tolerant varieties such as ‘Aroma’.
How to Harvest Basil
- When to harvest: Basil is ready for harvest 50 to 60 days after planting. Pinch out leaves as you need them; regular harvest will keep plants growing strong and prevent flowering When a branch has 6 to 8 leaves, harvest all but the first set of leaves. This will prompt new growth. Harvest leaves in the morning when they are most flavorful. Harvest the entire plant before the first frost.
- How to harvest: Hand-pinch off leaves as you need them; regular harvest will keep plants growing strong and prevent flowering. Avoid bruising or crushing leaves at harvest.
Basil in the Kitchen
- Flavor and aroma: Basil has a subtle peppery flavor. Basil has a fresh licorice-like aroma.
- Leaves: Serve basil with sliced tomatoes dressed with a little oil and lemon juice. Use fresh basil leaves in salads, sauces, pestos, pizza, spaghetti, pasta, rice, cheeses, vegetables, vinegar, soups, stews, lamb, fish, poultry, fruit desserts, ice creams, and bread.
- Cooking: The flavor of basil intensifies when cooked; it’s has a more subtle taste when raw.
Preserving and Storing Basil
- Refrigeration: Fresh basil stores best at 40°F; colder temperatures will turn leaves black. Wash and pat dry fresh basil leaves or dry leaves in a lettuce spinner before refrigerating. Wrap leaves in a damp paper towel and store in the crisper.
- Drying: Basil leaves can be dried. Set leaves on a screen or trays in a well-ventilated spot out of direct sunlight; leaves will dry in 3 to 4 days. Some flavor will be lost.
- Freezing: Quick-freeze leaves to preserve flavor. Place leaves whole or chopped in airtight bags or containers and put them in the freezer. You can freeze basil leaves mixed with olive oil; use 3 cups of packed leaves for ½ cup of olive oil. To preserve basil in vinegar, add 1 cup of packed fresh leaves to 1 quart of vinegar.
- Storing: Store crushed dry leaves in an airtight container.
- Seed: Sow seed in late spring; germination is quick at temperatures greater than 60°F.
- Cuttings: Basil can be started from stem cuttings rooted in water or damp vermiculite.
Basil Varieties to Grow
- Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum): most commonly grown; 24 inches tall, bright green leaves, 2 to 3 inches long. Sweet basil is most often used for pesto also salads, tomato sauces, and soups. Grow Genovese types including ‘Sweet Basil’, ‘Genoa’, ‘Genovese’, ‘Aroma 1’, ‘Aroma 2’, and ‘Nufar’.
- Lemon basil ( O. b. crispum): good indoor grower; crinkled bright green leaves; more compact than sweet basil.
- Cinnamon basil ( O. b. Cinnamon): also known as Mexican spice basil, has a spicy, fragrant aroma and flavor.
- Greek basil ( O. b. minimum) small leaves, good flavor, add whole leaves to salads and tomato sauces; a good choice for growing indoors
- Holy basil ( O. b. sanctum) use in Thai cooking, stir-fried with chicken, beef, or pork
- Purple basil ( O. b. ‘Dark Opal’): reddish-purple leaves used often in Asian cooking. Other purple varieties include ‘Purple Ruffles’, ‘Red Lettuce Leaved’, ‘Red Osmin’, ‘Red Rubin’, ‘Rubra’.
- Thai basil (O. b. var. thyrsiflora) has a sweet licorice flavor.
- Miniature basil ( b. ‘Minimum’)” short, compact sweet basil; a good choice for growing indoors.
- Tree basil (O. b. gratissimum): grows to 6 feet tall; use as other basils.
- Camphor basil (O. b. kilimandscharicum): strong camphor fragrance.
- Thai basil (O. basilicum ‘Horapha’; used in Thai cooking.
- Tulsi or sacred basil ( O. b. sanctum): strong clove aroma; use fresh not for cooking.
- Large leaf varieties: ‘Napolitano’, ‘Large Green’, ‘Mammoth Sweet’.
- Compact varieties: ‘Finissimo Verde a Palla’, ‘Greek’, ‘Spicy Globe’, ‘Magical Michael’, and ‘Marseillais Dwarf’.
Also of interest:
Growing Herbs for Cooking
How to Grow Mint
How to Grow Thyme
How to Grow Oregano
How to Make Pesto
Planting basil from seed is truly enjoyable. Seeds germinate slowly, a bit faster when heated from below, and basil enjoys hot weather and full sun. Be sure to try Thai basil, holy basil, and red rubin basil — each variety has its own characteristics. Follow along with this handy How to Grow Basil from Seed Guide and grow some flavour.!
Ocimum basilicum, Holy basil is O. tenuiflora.
We Recommend: Certified Organic Genovese Basil (HR1019). This is the standard by which to compare all of the other fine basil varieties. Traditional, heirloom, Italian basil is the best choice for pesto.
For Urban Gardeners: Certified Organic Dolly Basil (HR1025) has all the aroma of Genovese, but with slightly larger leaves, faster growth, and a better tolerance of the cool nighttime temperatures that can occur on balconies and rooftop gardens. It’s also slightly better suited for container growing.
Season: Warm season
Exposure: Full sun
Zone: 3 to 10 – not cold hardy
Basil grows well in containers indoors at any time of year provided you can supply enough light. For outdoor growing, sow basil seeds from mid-April to mid-May for transplanting to the garden in June, or direct sow in late-May or early June, once the soil has warmed up. Basil requires warm soil and full sun. Optimal temperature for germination: 21°C (70°F). Seeds should sprout in 5-10 days.
Sow seeds 1cm (½”) deep in sterilized seed starting mix. Basil is prone to damping off, so one seeds sprout, make sure they are adequately ventilated, and kept under very bright light. Thin to 20-25cm (8-10″) apart. Using bottom heat speeds germination.
Use any rich, loose, well drained soil. Once plants are 15cm (6″) tall, pinch out the growing tips to encourage really bushy growth prior to harvest. Watch for signs of flower buds forming in mid-summer, and pinch these off to promote more foliage.
Frequent harvesting will prolong the life of the plant. Basil leaves have the best flavour just before the plant flowers, and if you plan to preserve some of your basil or make a big batch of pesto, this is the best time to harvest. Flowering can be delayed by pinching or clipping off new flower buds.
Tear basil rather than chop with a knife because when you chop you will notice the basil going dark. The oil stays in the leaf and does not properly flavour your food. Try to add just before serving so as to get the full aroma and effect. Cooking for any length tends to make the minty side of basil come to the forefront.
Basil is best fresh, but can be perserved by drying or by freezing. To do this, tear the leaves into small pieces and freeze small batches of them, with water, in ice cube trays. Once frozen, the cubes can be saved in zip-lock type bags and labeled for later use. This will preserve the fresh flavour of basil for up to four months.
For a large harvest, you can cut off as much as a half the plant at once.
Usual seed life: 3 years.
Will improve vigour and flavour of tomatoes, planted side-by-side. Also good with asparagus, oregano, and peppers. Basil helps repel flies, mosquitoes, and thrips.
More on Companion Planting.
Growing Holy Tulsi
In addition to being grown for medicinal purposes, or as a focus of devotion, Tulsi wood is used for malas, or prayer beads. In the Skanda Purana, Hari Bhakti Vilasa states, “just by touching Her , one becomes pure.” By both chanting the names of God while touching the mala beads, one enters a transcendental mode of engaging both the mind and senses on God, becoming spiritually strong. –Vanessa Harris
Tulsi is one of the most important herbs for yoga practitioners, along with anyone who wants a brighter and more sattvic mind, a stronger expansive heart, greater resilience to all forms of stress, and a sharper and more astute immune system. Tulsi, also known as holy basil, or Ocimum sanctum, is one of the most beloved herbs in Ayurveda; it is so beloved it is sometimes called the Queen of Herbs. Tulsi’s uses in Ayurveda are many and wide-ranging. It’s beneficial qualities include being good for the lungs, additionally, he plant is a tonic for the nervous system and an adaptogen that strengthens the adrenals.
Of course, it is convenient to run to the store for a bottle of Tulsi capsules or a box of Tulsi tea; may we always have this available to us on nearby shelves. However, just as the Yogic, Ayurvedic and Puranic traditions are adamant about our daily connection to Tulsi, tradition states that, optimally, it should be grown in our own homes. Our own gardens can be one of the most potent sources of medicine available to us. When cultivating herbs, growing plants rich in essential oils are important for health as these herbs contain powerful medicines and antioxidant compounds.
The following advice is based on my experience of growing Tulsi in India in my gardens and also from having been a player in growing thousands of tons of Tulsi in the North Indian fields of Western Oudh.
1) Growing Conditions: Tulsi loves to grow in rich loamy soil with ample precipitation and strong sun.
2) Soil: Where I have seen Tulsi grow the best with absolutely full power vitality is in fields of the North Central plains of India that are near rivers that occasionally overflow their banks. The land there is quite rich, though slightly sandy, and is fed using biodynamic techniques. Tulsi does fine in a standard rich potting soil.
3) Sun and Rain: Though Tulsi grows as a perennial throughout India, she loves to be planted right before the monsoon in the intense heat and sun of North Indian summers, and then in just 90-120 days, through the intense rains of the monsoon, she will grow to a height that will typically be at least two feet and often four or five feet. Years ago, in my garden in Lucknow, I had a volunteer Krishna Tulsi plant grow to eight feet tall and six feet across in just eighteen months.
4) First Planting (Seeds): In most areas, the first planting is in April, typically indoors in a greenhouse or some protected area. Emulate nature and plant your seeds in earthen pots, if possible, only about one-to-two cm deep, with a light covering of dirt.
5) Second Planting (Seedlings): Four to eight weeks after the initial planting, when the seedlings are 10-20 cm tall, transplant the Tulsi to larger pots for indoor growing, or outdoor to suitable beds or fields.
6) Variety: It is possible that until your Tulsi has grown, you will not know its variety; it is likely that it will be not be just a single variety but a hybrid.
7) Mantra: Traditionally mantras, songs, and other expressions of soul connection are both invoked by Tulsi Ma and appreciated by her.
Horizon Herbs (horizonherbs.com)
Richo Cech is one of the nation’s most experienced and favorite herbalists and the man behind Horizon Herbs, a source of herb seeds and seedlings. He has a YouTube video with Tulsi growing advice.
Cech advises that Tulsi may be grown in gardens across the Northern Hemisphere. The standard requirements are:
1) At least six hours of full sunlight daily.
2) Good quality organic potting or good garden soil.
3) Sowing seeds just barely beneath the surface, keeping warm, evenly moist, and in the light until germination. Tulsi takes much longer to germinate than standard garden basils. (Three weeks is average.)
4) Keep the plants weeded, and space one to two feet apart.
5) If fertilization is necessary, weed and cultivate with fingers around the plant, then dress the surface of the soil around the plant with one or two inches of organic compost, then water.
6) A positive attitude and prayers that the Tulsi will benefit all beings will help the plants along, and will bring blessings down on the gardener and all beings that come in contact with this holy herb. It is said that “even the ground beneath Tulsi is sacred”; we have found this to be true.
Yair Schers on Growing Tulsi
I am not sure if Yair loves Tulsi more than Tulsi loves Yair, but the love affair is a close match. He is, by far, the most skilled and powerful mala maker I know. Here are some of his tips:
“I have been growing Tulsi in Marin for 15 years, all from seeds I originally got from Seeds of Change. All seeds, soil and fertilizer are 100% organic. I grow Rama Tulsi, and though I started to also grow Krishna and Vana Tulsi two years ago, these instructions are for Rama Tulsi. Krishna and Vana Tulsi would be optimized with similar protocols.
1.) Best Soil: I have found that Organic Ocean Forest from FoxFarm is the best.
2.) Seedlings: I start the seeds in mid-May in clay pots where they will sprout and grow at rates depending on the weather that year.
3.) Watering: Water as needed so soil is wet then you can let it almost dry, but still slightly wet before watering again. Morning is the best time to water. I use either filtered water or let water sit in stainless or glass containers for 48 hours to off-gas chlorine and other contaminants. It is best to use spring or stream water. Do not use plastic for any water nor seedling container.
4.) Sun: Full sun is best, but Tulsi will grow in partial shade as long as there is six to seven hours of sun per day.
5.) Fertilizer: If using Fox Farm soil, there is no need to fertilize for the first four to six weeks. After that, I use seaweed and worm castings once a week till flowering. Once the Tulsi starts to flower, I add bat guano once a week. You can also make stinging nettle tea by bruising fresh leaves and soaking in water for ten days, stirring daily and then giving to it plants. You can also spray this tea on leaves as it is one of the best all-around plant foods I know of. By the way, it smells really strong.
6.) Pesticide: Tulsi is resistant to most bugs, but white fly and aphids can occasionally damage the plants, especially if the plant is not strong. If you have any problems with bugs, spray once a week with Neem oil, but never spray these sorts of things in the direct sun light.
7.) Seed Saving: I let the seeds fall in the pot and after plants die around November. Then I put the pot in a cool dry place for the winter (not easy in the Marin ‘winter’). In May, I take the pots outside under the sun and start watering them. Hundreds of seedlings sprout out from a single pot which I then can transfer. You can also wait until the seed pods are dry, then collect the seeds for future use. If growing directly in soil, the seeds will sprout around April or May.
Om shri tulasyai vidmahe
tan no vrinda prachodayat.
9.) Imbibing the Tulsi Vibe: If you are growing Tulsi in pots, you can bring them inside the house at night for a wonderful experience. After all, having Tulsi within your house is one facet of what the tradition details.”
Jonathan Valdman on Growing Tulsi
Forever Flowering Greenhouses (foreverflowering.net )
“I have had the opportunity to grow Rama Tulsi at an 1800′ elevation in the Sierra Foothills of California. I have grown it under optimal greenhouse conditions in raised beds. It produced a ‘pampered’ product with an amazing, though scarce, essential oil that was distilled using both the leaves and flowers. I have also planted it under full sun in amended local earth. The plants grew smaller and were a little less fragrant, though the medicine was potent. The tea that was steeped from the leaves was fruity and refreshing and provided a feeling of strength and vitality. The outdoor plants went to seed and have provided me with volunteer Tulsi yearly since. We hope to be running some Tulsi in an aquaponics system this summer, so stay tuned.”
Santosh Hoehne on using herbs to strengthen Tulsi
SOS Organics (sosorganics.com)
Santosh, who has created the Himalayan-based herb company, SOS ORGANICS in Almora, is also one of my original partners/founders of Organic India. Santosh makes incredible Himalayan Nettle based fermentations of dozens of herbs and then sprays/pours that on his herbs.
“Use about 1 kg of fresh herbs for every 10 liters of water in a non-metal barrel and stir vigorously at least daily. When it stops fermenting, dilute it to 10% with water. I use the local spring water, and use it on my Tulsi and other plants. The plants love it and the whole ecosystem loves it.”
As Tulsi is such an incredibly valuable and respected herb, there are many studies in India investigating how to optimize her growth. One such study which sprayed onto Tulsi a combination of 2% Panchakavya + 0.2% Humic Acid + 2% Moringa Leaf Extract, 30 and 60 days after planting, resulted in much higher plant height, number of leaves, leaf area, leaf area index, and greater dried weight per square meter. Panchagavya, another incredible fertilizer that is part of the Vedic tradition, is a fermented concoction of a particular ratio of five products of cow: dung, urine, milk, curd, and ghee.
I want to support us all to grow as many of our own herbs as possible. One might say, “Prashanti, because you are a key player within several herb companies, won’t people growing their own herbs hurt your business?” I am fundamentally a clinician and teacher, so anyone who knows me knows that other growers, herbalists, and herb companies are my allies in being a proponent of natural medicine and connection with Nature. It is the likes of the irresponsible greed-based facets of BigPharm, and any other force that keeps people disempowered and unenlightened that are the competition. If every person grew their own food and medicine I would be happiest of all.
Where to Find Tulsi Seeds
Collect seeds or cuttings from friends with a Tulsi plant.
Horizon Herbs: horizonherbs.com
Organic India: organicindia.com
The Living Seed Company: livingseedcompany.com
Contact Prashanti de Jager with questions about growing your own herbs: prashantidejagar.com.
Oudh, also known as Avadh, is an ancient land with at least 10,000 years of incredible human history, for instance, it the kingdom of Rama, Sita and Lakshman. Organic India grows many of its herbs in Oudh. not far from Ayodhya.
Based in Marin and in the Himalayas, Prashanti de Jager is a Vedic Science practitioner and teacher, a founder of Organic India, and author of several books on Vedic themes including The Truth Is, and Turmeric, the Ayurvedic Spice of Life. prashantidejager.com
- Green type (Sri Tulsi) and
- Purple type (Krishna Tulsi)
Soil and climate:
The plant is sufficiently hardy and it can be grown on any type of soil except the ones with highly saline, alkaline or water logged conditions. However, sandy loam soil with good organic matter is considered ideal. The crop has a wide adaptability and can be grown successfully in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Long days with high temperature have been found favorable for plant growth and oil production.
The crop can be propagated through seeds. For propagating through seeds, they are to be sown in the nursery beds. For sowing of one hectare about 300g of seeds are required. The nursery should be located preferably in partial shade with adequate irrigation facilities. Soil is worked upto a depth of about 30 cm. well rotten farm yard manure is applied to the soil and prepared to a fine tilth and seed beds of 4.5×1.0x0.2 m size are prepared. As the seeds are minute, the required quantity of seeds are mixed with sand in the ratio of 1:4 and sown in nursery bed, 2 months in advance of the onset of monsoon. They germinate in 8-12 days and seedlings are ready for transplanting in about 6 weeks time at 4-5 leaf stage.
Tulsi can also be propagated by vegetative method using terminal cuttings with about 90-100 per cent success when planted during October-December months. For this purpose, cuttings with 8-10 nodes and 10-15 cm length are used. They are so prepared that except for the first 2-3 pair of leaves the rest are trimmed off. Later, they are planted in the well prepared nursery beds or polythene bags. In about 4-6 weeks time the rooting is complete and they are ready for transplanting into the main field. The plants are transplanted at a spacing of 40 cm between the row.
Manures and fertilizers:
The plant requires about 15t/ha of FYM which is to be applied as basal dose at the time of land preparation. Regarding the inorganic fertilizers application of 120:60:60 kg/ha of NPK is recommended.
Irrigation is provided twice a week till one month so that the plants establish themselves well. Later, it is given at weekly interval depending upon the rainfall and soil moisture status.
Interspaces should be maintained weed free and the first weeding is done one month after planting and the second after another 30 days. Afterwards, no further weeding is required as the plants become bushy and cover the soil and thereby smother the weeds. However, after each harvest, weeding should be done so as to avoid weed growth in the interspaces, if any.
Tulsi is not prone to serious pest/disease except some minor pests like leaf rollers which can be controlled by spraying with 0.2% Malathion or 0.1% Methyl parathion whenever noticed.
Medicinal plants like tulsi require production involving minimal or no usage of chemical pesticides. Organic practices include control measures using neem based formulations. Fish oil resin soap can be used to manage such sucking pests. Botanicals viz., extracts of garlic, Vitex negundo, Lantana camera, Clerodendron inerme, Calotropis gigantean are often combined and sprayed periodically for controlling the pests.
Diseases like powdery mildew can be controlled by spraying with 0.3% wettable sulphur. Likewise seedling blight and root rot can be controlled by drenching the nursery beds with a 0.1 per cent solution of mercurial fungicide and adopting phytosanitory measures.
Harvesting and yield:
The first harvest is done after 90 days of planting and subsequently it may be harvested at every 75 days interval. The crop is harvested at full bloom stage by cutting the plants at 15 cm from ground level to ensure good regeneration for further harvests. The yield and oil content is more in plants harvested during bring sunny days.
On an average, tulsi gives about 10,000 kgs of fresh herbage per hectare per year. The herb contains about 0.1 to 0.23 per cent oil and it about 10-20 kg of essential oil per hectare. Irrigated tulsi gives higher herbage yield (upto 20 ton and oil yield (upto 40kg/ha).