How to Grow Basil

Fresh basil is one of the best things about summer! Want to grow your own at home? Here’s everything about how to grow basil.

How to grow basil

Fresh basil is one of the very best parts of summer cooking. Its peppery, herbaceous flavor makes any dish irresistible. Pizza Margherita with fresh garden basil? Perfection. Caprese salad? Heavenly. Even adding just a few leaves of basil on a simple pot of spaghetti makes it sublime.

It’s much easier and cheaper to grow basil at home than purchasing it at the store. Luckily, it’s very easy to grow basil at home: you don’t even need a garden! It works perfectly in a pot on a sunny ledge. Alex and I grow fresh basil every year and could not not recommend it more! Here’s everything about how to grow basil at home.

Related: Best Basil Recipes

How to grow basil

How to grow basil

If you’re never grown basil before, it can seem overwhelming to grow it at home! However, it’s quite easy after you know a few tips on how to do it. Here’s how to grow basil at home:

How to Grow Basil

How to Grow Basil

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

Fresh basil is one of the best things about summer! Want to grow your own at home? Here’s everything about how to grow basil.

Materials

  • Basil starts
  • Pot (or garden bed)
  • Potting soil

Tools

  • Trowel

Instructions

    1. Buy a basil start at a farmers market or garden store. The most reliable way to grow basil is to grow from a start (small basil plant). If you are experienced at growing from seeds you also can grow from seeds: see this Farmer’s Almanac guide for more.
    2. Plant the basil in full sun in a pot with drainage, raised bed, or soil. Use potting soil or a garden mix to plant the basil in a pot, and make sure the pot has holes in the bottom for drainage. If you have a garden, basil does well in raised beds because of the drainage. Basil works best in a place that gets 6 to 8 hours of full sun per day. Avoid planting near driveways or busy roads where exhaust could settle on the plant.
    3. Prune the basil plant regularly. Removing basil leaves helps to encourage the plant to start branching, which makes it into a large bushy plant. Every time a branch has six to eight leaves, pinch off the stem and leaves back to the first set of leaves. If you see that flowers start to grow on the basil, cut them off immediately. Make sure to pick and use the leaves regularly: it helps the plant to grow!
    4. Water the basil regularly. Keep the soil around the basil moist. We water our basil every few days.

When to plant basil?

The best time to plant basil is in the spring: in Indiana, we plant in early May. You’ll want the weather to be warm enough that there won’t be a surprise frost. Basil loves the heat! You could plant in a pot as late as June or July.

Basil lasts until the first frost. Here in Indiana, we usually have basil through September until early October: but of course this all varies based on your location! At the end of the season, we always harvest all the basil and then make a big batch of pesto.

How to grow basil

Is basil a perennial?

Is basil a perennial; does it come back each year without having to replant it? No. Basil is generally considered an annual plant, meaning that you’ll have to re-plant it each year. There are some climates where it can survive as a perennial, but typically you’ll have to treat it as an annual and plant it again each year.

Types of basil

A quick note on types of basil. The type of basil that we grow that’s commonly used in Mediterranean style recipes is called sweet basil. This is the type of basil used in pestos, caprese salads, and marinades. Sweet basil is the type of basil that’s shown in the photos here. Sweet basil is the type of basil we’d recommend growing.

However, there are many other types of basil that are worth growing too! Thai basil has darker, pointed leaves and an anise flavor. It’s used in lots of Asian dishes, like our Vegetarian Spring Rolls. Lemon basil also has a tangy citrus flavor and is a fun basil variation.

How much sun does basil need?

Basil loves the sun! Plant basil in a location that gets about 6 to 8 hours of full sun per day. Can you grow basil indoors? It’s possible. However, Alex and I have never been able to successfully grow basil indoors. Because basil loves heat and sun, it’s easiest to grow it outdoors in a pot in full sun.

How to trim a basil plant

How to trim a basil plant

Trimming a basil plant is the hardest part about growing basil. Removing leaves makes it seem like it would hurt the plant, right? Wrong. Removing leaves on a basil plant is actually very good for the plant! It encourages it to grow and become a more bushy plant, making it much more prolific. Here’s how to trim a basil plant:

  • Removing basil leaves helps to encourage the plant to start branching, which makes it into a large bushy plant.
  • Once a branch of the basil has six to eight leaves, trim back the stem and leaves to the first set of leaves. Continue to do this throughout the growing season.
  • If you do see that flowers start to grow on the basil, cut them off immediately.
  • Make sure to trim (and use) the leaves regularly: it helps the plant to grow!

How to keep basil fresh

Let’s say you’ve grown your basil and you have to harvest some stems with leaves to keep the plant healthy. If you can’t use it all in your cooking right away, how to keep basil fresh?

Alex and I have found a great method for keeping basil fresh inside. Here’s what we’ve found works best:

  • Find a canning jar that is large enough that the basil stems won’t have to be squished or packed.
  • Place a few inches of water inside the jar, then place the basil branch inside with the cut side in the water.
  • Screw on the lid of the jar.
  • Store refrigerated. This keeps the basil fresh for up to 3 to 5 days.

You may notice that even if you place the basil stems in a cup of water on your counter, they wilt after an hour or so. So we were excited to find this method!

Can you keep basil leaves fresh? Unfortunately no. Basil leaves that have been removed from the stems don’t keep well. We recommend using them the day of harvesting: if you need to, make a batch of pesto!

How to grow basil

What to cook with basil

There are so many great things to cook with fresh basil! Its peppery flavor takes any dish to the next level. Plus, the feeling of satisfaction you get from cooking with basil you grew yourself can’t be beat! Here are a few of our favorite recipes to make with fresh basil:

pesto

Questions about how to grow basil?

What other things do you need to know about how to grow basil at home? Let us know in the comments below!

For a technical gardening resource, head to the Farmer’s Almanac Guide on Basil.

Related

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

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