Growing Basil Plants

Basil Leaves From the Top

Basil is among the most popular herbs to grow in the world.

Why? Well, it’s easy to grow, has a delicious harvest, and adds aesthetic to any windowsill or garden.

In this guide, we’ll cover what you need to know to grow your own basil plants.

Planting basil plants seeds

If you are starting your basil plants from seed, the timing of your planting will be a bit different. Aim to plant the seeds with enough time for them to germinate, sprout and mature before you plant them outside.

Most basil plant varieties will germinate in 7 to 14 days, meaning you’ll be able to see the basil seedling emerge from the ground at that point. Once the seed is germinated, it will take another 4-6 weeks until the plant is ready to plant outside.

To plant the basil plant seeds, purchase some potting soil and fill a container or tray with the potting soil. It doesn’t have to be a deep container — even a shallow tray will be fine for basil plant seeds. 

You can purchase plastic pots or packs to plant them, or use something you have lying around your home, such as an egg carton.

Once the container is full of potting soil, poke a hole in the soil with your finger no deeper than the first joint in your finger. Then, place the basil plant seed in the hole and cover it up lightly with potting soil.

To initiate the seed’s growth, water the basil plant seed lightly.

Try to keep the soil in direct sunlight as much as possible. You can cover it with some clear plastic to keep the humidity high as well. 

Make sure to keep on watering the soil lightly whenever it dries out. The soil doesn’t need to be more than damp, but it does need to be consistently moist for the basil plant seed to germinate.

Transplanting basil plants seedlings

After the basil plant sprouts, you’ll want to let it grow a little bit to establish a root structure. If the seedling is planted with its own space to grow, you won’t need to transplant it until it grows its own root cube. 

However, if the basil plant seed was planted with other basil plant seeds in its own space, it should be planted earlier so that its roots aren’t in competition for limited space.

As long as the roots have room to grow, you’re fine to keep the basil plant in its container. 

If you notice that the basil plant seedling is drying up fast, this may be a sign that it’s time to plant it in a larger container. You can transplant a basil plant however many times you’d like before planting it in its final destination, but typically just one transplant is adequate.

To transplant a basil plant, pinch the bottom of the container as you gently pull the sprout up. If the seedling is very small, you can turn the pack upside down as you do this for each sprout so that the plant and its early root structure fall out into your hand. Use gravity to your advantage. 

If the basil plant is rootbound, meaning that the roots are tightly wound together forming the shape of whatever container it was in, then you’ll want to gently rip the roots apart once before transplanting the basil plant into its next container.

After you have transplanted your basil plant, water it in and make sure it gets some sunlight for continual growth.

Planting basil plants outside

Whether you are growing your basil plant from seed, or you purchased a young basil plant from a local garden center or greenhouse, eventually you’ll want to plant it outside.

To plant your basil plant, gently squeeze the bottom of the container and pull the plant out of its pack.

Then, use a trowel or your hand to remove soil from where you’d like to plant it. 

If the soil is hard and packed down, consider using a tiller to break it up, or just push a shovel in the soil a few times to break up hard soil.

Best soil type for basil plants

You can check your basil plant plant’s tag for specific information regarding soil needs.

In general, basil grows best in soil that is well-draining, moderately fertile, and moist.

If you are planting your basil plants in a container, it is very important that the container has holes in it, so that draining water has an exit. If water puddles with basil roots it can make the plant susceptible to root rot.

You may need to mix in some potting soil or other soil additives to get your soil to the ideal consistency.

When to plant basil plants outside

Choosing when to plant basil plants outside is an important consideration. If you plant them too early, there’s the risk of a late frost killing them off.

As a general rule of thumb, typically if you wait until after Mother’s Day you’ll be fine to plant basil plants outside. That being said, in Central PA we have had late frosts later than Mother’s Day, so make sure to check the forecast for your area in the spring to make sure that there isn’t a deep frost on the horizon.

In some cases, planting basil plants outside before Mother’s Day is definitely doable. Some annuals are just hardier than others, so you’ll want to consider the hardiness of your basil plant, too. Ask about how hardy the basil plant is if you are unsure about this.

Ultimately, the answer to when to plant basil outside depends on the plant’s size, maturity, hardiness (did the greenhouse you purchased the plant from “harden it off”?), and spring weather.

Where to plant basil plants

Once you have your basil plant, you’ll need some soil and a spot to plant it in.

If you’re going to be planting it directly outside from the pack you purchased it in, you have the option of planting the basil plant in the landscape, in a hanging basket, or in a pot. A basil plant will do great in any of these locations.

Sunlight requirements for basil plants

If your basil plant receives too little or too much sunlight exposure, it will likely still live, but may not grow as abundantly and could require more care.

In general, basil plants will grow the best with full sun or at least sunlight exposure for the majority of the day.

There are general sunlight requirements for all basil plants. For specific sunlight requirements for the variety of basil plants that you purchased, make sure to check the plant tag.

Best temperature and humidity for basil plants

Most areas have plenty of temperature swings, so an easy way to determine if your growing area will work for basil plants is to check your USDA growing zone.

A basil plant will grow well in most USDA growing zones, but the length of its season will vary depending on the region.

Watering basil plants

One of the most important factors in keeping your basil plant looking healthy is to diligently water the basil plant throughout the summer. 

For basil plants, you’ll know they need water when the top 1-2 inches of soil is dried out. To check, you can stick your finger into the soil down to the first joint in your finger. If it’s moist, no need to water the basil plant. If it’s dry, you’ll want to water it in.

Be careful that you don’t overwater the basil plant. A basil plant can be susceptible to diseases if it gets too much water. 

If you planted the basil plant in a container, make sure that it has holes in the bottom for excess water to escape. Otherwise, the water can collect at the bottom of the container and cause root rot, or other diseases.

Fertilizing basil plants

Another important factor for plant health is keeping your basil plant fed with nutrition.

If the basil plant is planted in the ground, you can lessen the amount of fertilizer it’ll need by building up the soil with compostable material in the year(s) leading up to your planting. Otherwise, you’ll want to fertilize the basil plant throughout the summer. 

A good rule of thumb for fertilizing basil plants is to give the plant a water-soluble fertilizer every third watering. This rule helps to account for the change in temperature and weather throughout the season. For example, in May you won’t be watering your basil plant as much as in the heat of the summer in August. So feeding the plant every third watering helps to provide basil plants what it needs throughout the season, no matter the weather conditions.

It’s also recommended to plant the basil plant with a slow-release form of fertilizer to feed the plant slowly throughout the summer. You can add this in with your potting soil in a pot.

Growing basil plants in a hanging basket

If you’re growing basil plants in a hanging basket, you’ll want to make sure you don’t overfill the basket with plants. Plants will generally fill in the space you give them, so if the hanging basket isn’t packed full when you first plant it, that’s great.

The more basil plants you plant in your hanging basket, the more you’ll need to water the hanging plants. In general, if you have more plants competing for water and soil, it’ll take more maintenance to keep the hanging basket looking beautiful.

If you’re watering your basil plants in a hanging basket, you can check if it needs water by lifting the basket from beneath. If the basket is noticeably light, it could use some water. 

You’ll know you overwatered your basil plant in a hanging basket if water comes dripping or streaming out the bottom of the basket where the holes are.

Growing basil plants in a pot

As mentioned above, be careful you don’t plant too many basil plants in a flower pot.

The answer for how to care for basil plants grown in a pot will vary according to the size of the pot. In general, make sure that it has plenty of room to grow and has adequate sunlight exposure where the pot is placed.

A basil plant that is planted in a container, whether it’s a pot or a hanging basket, will need to be watered more than basil plants grown in the landscape since they won’t be able to pull natural water from the ground.

Growing basil plants in the landscape

Choosing basil plants for your flower beds or other landscaping is a great choice. They make for great borders and can help add beauty to your yard.

Since you’re planting them in a permanent spot, you’ll want to be extra careful when planting basil plants in the ground outside. Make sure that there’s little chance of frost and that the basil plants are in a spot that matches their sunlight needs.

If you do have a late frost, and your basil plants are already in the ground, you can cover them overnight with a bucket or sheet to protect them in most cases.

Basil and blooms

Ideally, you’ll keep your basil plant from blooming.

When a basil plant starts to bloom, it produces small white flower clusters at the end of a stem. If left alone, the plant will put its energy into maintaining and producing more flowers, which leaves the rest of the plant weaker.

If you continue to harvest your basil, your basil plant “going to seed” shouldn’t be an issue.

Deadheading and pruning basil plants

You can deadhead your basil plants to promote future growth.

Cutting back or pruning your basil plant can be healthy for the plant. You shouldn’t need to do this more than a few times throughout the summer. It can be good to do this if the plant is overgrowing its area or overpowering another plant in a container.

Common diseases for basil plants

A basil plant is more susceptible to common diseases, such as downy mildew, black mold, early blight, powdery mildew, or root rot when it isn’t cared for properly. That being said, even basil plants that are given the correct care can fall victim to some diseases.

Consult with your local garden center if you notice that your basil plants have a disease.

Overwintering basil plants

While it is possible to overwinter your basil plants, this is not common for basil plants. Most basil plants will have grown past their peak after one growing season and will die when colder weather sets in.

A basil plant is an annual, meaning that it lives for one growing season and then dies. If you’d like to grow a plant that comes back every spring, you’ll want to grow a perennial.

Pest control for basil plants

Typically, natural predators are enough to take care of bugs and pests that eat your basil plants. For example, ladybugs will eat basil’s #1 pest, aphids, and can help control them.

However, in some cases, you will need to take extra measures to kill off plant pests. Again, consult with your local garden center for a specific solution to your pests.

Companion plants for basil plants

There are many other plants that grow great with basil plants. These are what we would call “companion plants.” This means that if they are planted together they will generally complement each other with their colors and growing styles.

When looking for companion plants for your basil plants, look for plants that have similar growing needs. This is an easy way to find plants that grow well. For example, if two plants love the sun, require similar fertilizer needs and one is taller while the other is a spreader, they will probably be great companion plants in a pot or hanging basket.

Since most herbs have similar growing needs, pretty much any other type of herb is a great companion plant for basil plants.

Varieties of basil plants

There are many varieties of basil plants. In general, their growing needs will be consistent across these varieties, but it’s always best to check the plant’s tag to make sure there aren’t specific instructions for your variety of basil plants.

Here are some examples of popular varieties of basil plants:

  • Sweet Basil
  • Genovese Basil
  • Thai Sweet Basil
  • Purple Basil

Propagating basil plants

It’s possible to propagate basil plants. 

To do so, you can cut off a small piece of the plant and put it in water for a week or so. Soon, the basil plant should start growing fine roots.

Eventually, you’ll be able to plant the basil plant cutting into the soil.

For some varieties of basil plants, propagating and then selling your cuttings as plants once they are established is illegal. Make sure there isn’t a patent on the basil plant variety before you would do this.

Some annuals, such as sun coleus, can be propagated just by placing the cutting directly in potting soil. This may work for basil plants as well, but your best bet is going to be to start by placing the stem in water first.