If the thought of nurturing your very own basil plant from a single seed stirs excitement in you, you're in good company. Basil is a garden favorite (and a personal favorite!) that effortlessly thrives in warm weather, making it a perfect addition to any summer garden.
This guide will walk you through the steps of organically growing, harvesting, and preserving basil, all beginning with that seemingly modest seed.
As a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), basil claims a well-deserved spot as one of the most sought-after culinary herbs. A warm-weather annual, it thrives when introduced to the outdoors once temperatures consistently exceed 50°F.
Basil offers a wide variety of types with distinct colors and flavors, from the refreshing aroma of Lemon Basil to the rich hues of Purple Basil. Below are 5 favorites with very different characteristics we love adding to our summer garden, or growing indoors during the cooler months.
When To Start Basil Seeds
Indoors: If you’d like to get a jump on the season, start your basil seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last predicted frost (find out your last frost date here).
Transplant seedlings outdoors once temperatures are consistently 50 degrees or warmer. Remember basil is a frost-sensitive herb and needs warm weather to thrive.
You can also keep basil indoors in a sunny windowsill, under a grow light or in a hydroponics or aeroponics system year round. Check out our Indoor Gardening article for more tips for a successful indoor herb garden.
Outdoors: Direct sow seeds into your garden 2-3 weeks after your last frost when temperatures are consistently 60 degrees or above.
How to Plant Basil
For indoor seed starting, use an organic, sterile, seed starting mix – we use our Organic Compress Potting Soil to start all our seeds. Avoid using raised bed or outdoor potting mixes as they have larger particle sizes that could inhibit germination. Look for a light and fluffy mix that allows delicate roots to easily travel through and has good moisture retention.
For outdoor direct sowing, plant in well draining, but moisture retentive soil amended with compost. Make sure the location gets 6-8 hours of direct sun.
- Plant seeds ¼” depth and lightly cover
- Keep soil consistently moist, but not wet
- For indoors, plant 2-4 seeds per seed cell or 5-10 seeds per 4” pot
- For outdoors, plant 2-4 seeds every 10”
Basil Basic care
Basil plants need only light fertilization to excel in your indoor or outdoor garden. Use a balanced organic fertilizer like our 4-4-4 All Purpose Fertilizer to lightly top dress the soil monthly.
Water soil when it starts to dry out. Basil likes moist soil, but does not like soggy overly wet soil. If your basil plant starts to wilt, this is a good sign it needs more water.
For outdoor planting, add compost around your basil plants as a mulch. This will help with moisture retention and improve your soil structure and drainage over time.
If you want full and bushy basil plants, pruning is essential. When you neglect to prune your basil plants, they will become long and spindly and go to flower much quicker, shortening their lifespan.
Once your basil plant is 4-6” tall and has several sets of leaves you can start pruning. First prune the top of the main stem (removing some of the leaves as well) to just above a node (a place where two little leaf buds are just starting on either side of the stem). Use your fingernail or a sharp pair of snips or scissors to make the trim.
To keep your basil plant bushy and producing, continuing to prune as you did for the first initial prune, but now on a larger scale. From that first prune, multiple stems were produced. Trim all the new stems back several inches to new sets of nodes. This will in turn produce even more stems. Harvest in this manner approximately every two weeks to keep your basil bushy and thriving!
Enjoy all the harvested basil in your cooking, pestos and salads. If you can’t use it all, I have more tips later in the article about how to store and preserve basil for later use!
Pests and Diseases to Watch Out For
Unfortunately, you aren’t the only one who enjoys basil. There are a number of pests and insects that love the taste of basil as well as some diseases you want to be sure to avoid.
Common Basil Pests
The simplest way to get rid of aphids is to wash them off your plants with a strong blast of water. A garden hose is perfect for this job. If they persist, make a homemade organic soap solution to spray on the affected areas. To make the solution use 1 tablespoon organic soap (I use Dr. Bronners Peppermint Castile soap) to one quart of warm water.
- Slugs and Snails
The best way to get rid of slugs and snails is to handpick them out of your garden or use beer traps to catch them. To make a beer trap use a wide and shallow container (empty tuna cans work great). Place the container in the area slugs like to visit and bury the container so only the top rim is level with the ground. Fill the can ¼-½ full. The yeasty, fermented smell of beer will lure the slugs into the can.
Common Basil Diseases
Fusarium wilt, mold, mildew, and other fungus-related diseases pose the biggest risk to basil. Luckily, by using proper watering techniques and planting in healthy soil, you can prevent most of these issues. Here are a few additional tips for preventing and controlling fungal diseases.
- Keep your soil well-drained and not damp.
- Keep the basil leaves dry by not allowing moisture to sit on them for too long. Watering in the morning is best so the sun can dry leaves quickly, rather than watering in the evening when leaves may stay wet overnight.
- Remove infected leaves. If you find diseased leaves remove the section of the plant (or the whole plant if needed) and dispose of it so the disease cannot spread.
Basil Storage and Preservation
The simplest way to store your basil is to put the cuttings into a jar of water (like flowers in a vase). This will stay fresh on your counter for a week or more. For longer term storage, you can freeze basil by simply placing your whole or chopped basil leaves into a ziplock bag and putting them in the freezer. My favorite way to preserve basil though is to make it into pesto and store that in the freezer for later use (lasts up to one year).
Drying basil is another storage option. While dried basil will stay good for up to two years, the drying process removes some of its flavor. To dry basil, spread your leaves on a cooking sheet and place them in the oven on the lowest setting for 2-4 hours. Next, put your dried basil in an airtight container and store it at room temperature.
Companion Plants For Basil
Basil is an excellent companion to many vegetables, herbs and flowers. Growing basil alongside other plants can improve growth and flavor. Basil is also a natural insect repellent protecting those around it with its strong aroma. Here are some of the best companions plants to grow with basil:
Plants to Avoid Planting Near Basil
Cucumbers are sensitive plants, and when they are planted near basil or other aromatic herbs, their fruit flavor is negatively affected, and their growth is stunted. Additionally, basil should not be planted near sage and thyme due to their distinct watering requirements. Sage and thyme prefer dry and sandy soil, while basil requires moist soil to thrive.
I hope you enjoyed this grow guide and grow lots of bushy and fragrant basil in your summer garden or indoors!