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growing sweet basil from seeds

Growing Basil

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Basil is a warm-weather, fragrant herb that tastes great in many dishes—including the beloved homemade pesto! Plant seeds or transplants after all danger of frost has passed and soil is warm, and it will yield an abundant harvest within weeks. Keep harvesting the leaves to keep the plant going strong.

The most common type of basil is sweet basil; other types include purple basil (less sweet than common basil), lemon basil (lemon flavor), and Thai basil (licorice flavor).

Basil is easy to grow, but it only grows outdoors in the summer—and only once the soil has warmed up nicely—so plan accordingly.

If you’re planning on making pesto, grow several plants. For other uses, one or two basil plants yields plenty.

Planting

When to Plant Basil

  • To get a jump on the season, start the seeds indoors 6 weeks before the last spring frost. (See local frost dates.)
  • To plant outside, wait until the soil has warmed to at least 50°F (10°C)—preferably around 70ºF (21°C) for best growth. Nighttime temperatures shouldn’t drop below 50°F (10°C).
  • Don’t rush basil. Without heat, the plant won’t grow well.

Choosing and Preparing a Planting Site

  • Basil will grow best in a location that gets 6 to 8 hours of full sun daily, though it can perform well in partial sun, too.
  • Soil should be moist but well-drained.
  • Basil works great in containers or raised beds, as these allow for better drainage.
  • If you’re planning on cooking with these plants, plant in clean soil, don’t use insecticides, and grow them away from driveways and busy streets so that exhaust won’t settle on the plants.

How to Plant Basil

  • Plant seeds/seedlings about ¼-inch deep and 10 to 12 inches apart. They should grow to about 12 to 24 inches in height.
  • For larger varieties, plant farther apart (about 16 to 24 inches).
  • Tomatoes make great neighbors for basil plants in the garden—and on the plate!

A tomato plant (center) growing alongside basil.

How to Grow Basil

  • Make sure that the soil is moist. Basil plants like moisture.
    • If you live in a hot area, use mulch around the plants (the mulch will help hold in moisture and suppress weeds).
    • During the dry periods in summer, water the plants freely.
  • After the seedlings have produced their first six leaves, prune to above the second set. This encourages the plants to start branching, resulting in more leaves for harvest.
  • Every time a branch has six to eight leaves, repeat pruning the branches back to their first set of leaves.
  • After about 6 weeks, pinch off the center shoot to prevent early flowering. If flowers do grow, just cut them off.
  • If the weather is going to be cold or if a sudden frost is imminent, be sure to harvest your basil beforehand, as the cold temperatures will destroy your plants.

Pests/Diseases

  • Aphids
  • Powdery mildew
  • Variety of bacterial and fungal leaf, stem, and root diseases

Harvest/Storage

How to Harvest Basil

  • Start picking the leaves of basil as soon as the plants are 6 to 8 inches tall.
  • Once temperatures hit 80°F (27°C), basil will really start leafing out.
  • Harvest in the early morning, when leaves are at their juiciest.
  • Make sure to pick the leaves regularly to encourage growth throughout the summer.
  • Even if you don’t need to leaves, pick them to keep the plant going. Store them for later use!
  • If you pick regularly, twelve basil plants can produce 4 to 6 cups of leaves per week.

How to Store Basil

  • The best method for storing basil is freezing. Freezing will prevent the plant from losing a good portion of its flavor. To quick-freeze basil, package whole or chopped leaves in airtight, resealable plastic bags, then place in the freezer.
  • Another storage method is drying the basil (although some of the flavor will be lost). Pinch off the leaves at the stem and place them in a well-ventilated and shady area. After 3 to 4 days, if the plants are not completely dry, place them in the oven on the lowest heat setting with the door slightly open. Remember to turn the leaves (for equal drying) and check them frequently. See more about drying basil, tomatoes, and paprika.

Recommended Varieties

  • Cinnamon basil, to add a hint of cinnamon to a dish
  • Purple basil, to add some nice color to your garden (when steeped in white vinegar, it creates a beautiful color)
  • Thai basil, to add a sweet licorice flavor to a dish.

Wit & Wisdom

  • Basil has a lovely fragrance. Pick from the stems and put in water for a few days as you would with cut flowers!
  • For other greens to use in your cuisine, see our Leafy Greens: Health Benefits page.

Where salt is good, so is basil.
–Italian saying

Recipes

  • Tomato, Basil, and Mozzarella Sandwiches
  • Fresh Tomato and Basil Quiche
  • Basil Tart
  • Roasted Red Pepper, Mozzarella, and Basil-Stuffed Chicken
  • Green Bean and Basil Soup
  • Fresh Basil and Tomato Frittata
  • Basil Pesto
  • Farro Salad With Basil and Feta
  • Caprese Bruschetta

Cooking Notes

Make herbal vinegar using basil; it retains the flavor and makes a great gift!

What do you want to read next?

Basil Varieties for the Garden

How to Make Pesto | Basic Basil.

How to Freeze and Dry Herbs

Companion Planting With Herbs

Vegetable Garden Plans

Planting Calming Herbs for You and.

Basil-Zucchini Extreme

Growing Herbs in the Garden

10 Tips for Growing Tomatoes

Herb Recipes: Cooking with Fresh.

Growing Herbs Indoors

What is the Difference Between.

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Defrosting frozen basil?

Submitted by Laura on August 23, 2020 – 10:16am

After I have frozen my basil leaves, what is the best way to defrost them when I want to use them? Just leave them out til they thaw? Should I take the frozen leaves out of the baggie to thaw, or leave them in?

Flavor variations

Submitted by Brett on August 17, 2020 – 9:03pm

Which variables affect the flavor and scent of a basil plant?

Currently I have two basil plants that smell and taste quite different. I would not be as surprised if the second plant did not come from a cutting of the first. Plant A has a sweet, very spicy smell. Plant B smells much more green and grass-like, almost like fresh pesto.

Plant A is in the shade quite a bit and has a sandy soil that has not been given mulch or compost. It is in a medium sized pot.

Plant B is in a raised bed with my peppers and tomatoes. It is in a clay soil thoroughly mixed with sand and compost, with mulch on the top. It receives much more sunlight than Plant A.

Any insight into the flavor variations is appreciated!

basil flavor

Submitted by The Editors on August 18, 2020 – 3:54pm

As we understand it, the volatile essential oils in the basil leaf are largely what provides flavor, and there are many different compounds in those oils. Some compounds are produced more under certain conditions, or with certain genetics, affecting the composition of the oil. The flavor of basil can definitely vary with variety, but other factors are also in play even if two plants are the same type. Growing conditions, such as soil nutrients, temperature (keep consistently warm, and not too cool or hot), water (a mild drought stress may enhance flavor but can lower yield), etc. can affect flavor. Some compounds that produce flavor are created by the plant as UV protection, so sunlight duration, intensity, and quality can affect flavor; shade can sometimes reduce favorable compounds for flavor. One study suggests that yellow or green mulch can encourage the development of certain compounds that may favorably affect aroma and flavor. The health of a plant is another factor–if one is under more stress, or starting to flower, the flavor can change, sometimes becoming bitter. The age of the leaves also plays a part: Newer leaves usually have more flavor. How soon you taste the leaves after harvesting, and how you store them, can also make a difference. What plants are growing nearby can also affect certain plants (not always). Basil grown indoors is said to be less flavorful. Some Cooperative Extension sites advise not to over-fertilize, as lush growth can lessen the flavor. Hope this helps!

Keeping Basil I bought at the market

Submitted by Rose on August 4, 2020 – 9:35pm

I bought a basil plant at the market, it is about 10 inches high looks and smells so good. I live in Bakersfield CA, we have 100 + temperatures the new few months. How do I keep it from dying?? I have a patio but no trees. Please help. THX

basil in high temperatures

Submitted by The Editors on August 18, 2020 – 2:52pm

Basil likes summer temperatures, up to a max of about 90 degrees F. If higher temperatures are forecast for your area, you can help the plant to keep cool by keeping up with the watering (but making sure soil is well-drained), providing mulch (which keeps soil cool and moist), and providing shade cloth or row covers–or for single plants, an umbrella or laundry basket with large holes for ventilation will do. High heat may encourage basil to flower, so pinch any flower buds that appear to help prolong harvesting of the leaves.

Aji dulce

Submitted by Nancy on July 27, 2020 – 2:56pm

I don’t know the English name for this plant , but ya very hard to find here

Pruning/harvesting

Submitted by Rick on June 28, 2020 – 12:15pm

It is not clear to me where on the plant we should “start picking.” Is sounds like maybe the recommendation is to pick the top off the plant. Is that what you mean?

Several of my basil plants, the stems have turned brown

Submitted by Thomas a daly on May 17, 2020 – 4:15pm

Hey Guys, 2nd year gardener and my basil plants, the main stems have turned brown like the color of wood, the leaves are small and under-sized and underperforming on those plants, but I care for all 12 of my basil plants in half gallon pottery clay pots. I move them out of full sun by 2 pm as I live in SoCal zone 9 and it gets super hot here, I water using a gauge, not just daily, watering when it’s dead-center on the gauge. When I transplanted from the plastic garden center containers I used quality soil and a bit of food (small pellet type) What am I doing wrong? Is brown stems a bad thing, maybe I’m being impatient. Thanks my new friends

Basil Plant Stems Turning Brown

Submitted by The Editors on May 20, 2020 – 4:31pm

It’s hard to tell without seeing a picture of the plants, but here are two possibilities. The first is that your basil plants might be getting too much sun, despite your precautions. Give your plants only 3 to 4 hours of sun for a week or two and see if there is a change. The second possibility is less likely, but your basil plants could be infected with Fusarium Fungus, an incurable disease that will eventually kill the plants. This may not be the case, however, and your plants may just need more time to adjust. Further signs that it is Fusarium Fungus would be that the growth will be stunted, and leaves will turn yellow and then brown before falling off. If your plants show these signs, it’s time to get rid of the them and the soil. The soil will be infected as well, so it’s best to dispose of it.

basil infestation? disease?

Submitted by krys on September 2, 2019 – 3:14pm

I got an aerogarden as a present. When my Thai basil grew it developed what we were sure were scale (it fit pretty much perfectly) and then it seemed to move to the common basil, dill and thyme were unaffected. In a hail mary effort we cut off healthy branches and removed the infected bases. the branches grew well and clean until i moved two back to the aerogarden. the branch of thai is still clean but has yellowed leaves, however the common basil has regained and increased the white pods some of which managed to grow to the size of rice, they really feel and look like a yellowish tan rice. The rice like stuff could maybe be roots except for how they pop off and the pods go too high to be roots. I’m very confused at this point. the thyme and dill are in the same space and fine, the other branches in glass jars with water are fine, though with a few blackened leaves, and while the thai in the aerogarden is yellow it’s otherwise fine so why is just this one plant being effected? and what is doing it?

Basil

Submitted by Uzo on July 31, 2019 – 9:25am

My Basil plants suffer a lot from leaf miner infestation. What can I do please?

Learn how to plant, grow, and harvest basil, a fragrant herb that loves the heat of summer.

Growing Basil Seeds – How To Plant Basil Seeds

One of the tastiest and easiest herbs to grow is Ocimum basilicum, or sweet basil. Basil plant seeds are a member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family. It is mostly grown for its leaves, which are used dried or fresh in many different Asian or Western dishes. Basil plant seeds are also used in some Thai foods.

How to Plant Basil Seeds

It is easy to learn how to plant basil seeds. Basil should be grown in a place that gets sunshine at least six to eight hours per day. The soil should be well-drained with a pH of 6-7.5. You might wonder, “When do I plant basil seeds?” Basically, the best time to plant basil seeds is when all danger of frost has passed in the spring. Every area has a different climate, so when to plant basil seeds can differ from state to state.

Growing basil seeds is not that difficult. Just sow basil plant seeds evenly by covering them with about ¼-inch (0.5 cm.) of soil. Keep the soil moist and make sure you remove any weeds.

The growing basil seeds should germinate within a week. The seedling can be recognized by D-shaped seed leaves that will have the flat sides facing toward each other. Once you see a few more pairs of leaves, you should thin the basil plants to be about 6 to 12 inches (15-30 cm.) apart.

Growing Basil Seeds Inside

If you have wondered how to be successful planting basil seeds inside, it can be done about six to eight weeks before you would normally plant them outside so you can get a good head start on the basil plant growing season. You might want to do this if you are growing basil seeds like “Purple Ruffles,” which is a slow-growing variety.

You will want to make sure you water your basil every seven to 10 days to make sure your plants get enough water. This depends, of course, on the amount of rainfall in your area. Remember that, when growing basil seeds, container plants will dry out quicker than those you plant in the garden, so remember to water them as well.

Once your basil plant seeds are fully grown, it is nice to pick the leaves and let them dry so you can use them in sauces and soups. Basil is wonderful with tomatoes, so if you have a vegetable garden, be sure to include planting basil seeds among the vegetables. Further, no herb garden is complete without basil, and it is one of the easier herbs to grow and keep healthy.

Basil is grown for its leaves, which are used in many different Asian or Western dishes. Basil plant seeds are also used in some Thai foods. It is easy to learn how to plant basil seeds. This article will help. ]]>