How To Grow Basil Indoors or Out

If you dream of a fresh Capreze salad sprinkled with ribbons of basil chiffonade, a tangy garlic, basil and pine nut pesto drizzled over penne pasta, or a grilled chicken Panini drenched in basil sauce, then you will love to know that you can grow your own stash of this delicious herb to use whenever you want. But how to grow basil, you may ask?

Basil adds a fresh, lively taste to many dishes and is a must for chicken with dumplings. You can choose to dry, crush or use fresh-cut leaves from this versatile plant. This article is about how to grow basil indoors or out.

​Although there are upward of 150 varieties of basil (most are offshoots of sweet basil), two types are most commonly used - Thai basil and sweet basil. Sweet basil is the base of many Italian dishes and adds a pleasant, savory flavor to soups, stews, salads, roasts and more.

Thai basil, on the other hand, has a sharper flavor with a hint of licorice and mint, working well with spicy-sweet Thai dishes. Since sweet basil is the more common of the two plants, this article will discuss how to plant, cultivate and use sweet basil.


​How to Grow Basil Indoors


​Growing basil is easily done indoors if you have a window that gets full sun for most of the day. Basil liked to stay warm and needs a lot of sunshine to develop the flavors. If you have a nice sunny windowsill that does not get cold, it is fine to set the pot right on the sill.

In the winter or cooler weather, it is best to set the plants on a table nearby, rather than in the window itself because it will get cold near the window at night. Also, make sure you don’t have air conditioning that blows directly on the basil plants. They do not like the cold, or cool breezes.

Indoor heating systems can further dry the air in dry climates. The soft leaves of the basil plant like to absorb moisture from the air so, just as with the air conditioning, make sure the warm air doesn’t blow directly on the plant.

A solution to both the problems of cold temperatures and dry air would be to cut the bottom from a two-liter soda bottle and place it over the plant. This will protect it from the cold near a window and act as a tiny greenhouse by trapping warmth and humidity around the tender plant. Make sure to leave the lid off so that overly warm air can escape. This will prevent overheating or heat-killing the basil plant.

​Start with a pot that has good drainage – a few pebbles in the bottom and a saucer or tray to set it on works great. Choose a soil that is loamy and full of nutrients. Commercial potting soil is fine for growing basil indoors. Lightly water it the day before planting so that the soil will pack nicely and stick together when working with it.

​Starting From Seeds

If you choose to start with seeds, you can buy the packets at your local garden center. Use a commercial potting soil so that it stays somewhat loose.
  • Fill the depressions of an egg carton two thirds of the way with soil and lightly pat down. Place two or three seeds on the top of the soil in the center of the cup.
  • Cover with a thin layer of potting mixture, one quarter to one third of an inch deep. Sprinkle a few drops of water in the center of each cup a couple of times a day to keep the soil moist through the germination process.
  • Place carton in a sunny window away from breezes and make sure the seedlings stay warm. Once the plants come though the soil, you can increase the water to a half-teaspoon each morning. When plants reach two to three inches in height, they will become root-bound if you leave them in the carton.
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    At this stage, you can transplant them to 4” pots in your windowsill. Keep the top of the soil in the pot even with the top of the soil from the carton. (See instructions below if moving plants outdoors to the garden.)
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    Once they are transplanted water daily for two weeks – just enough to keep the soil moist but not wet while the seedlings make the transition. After that, just check and water soil when it feels just damp to the touch.
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    Do not allow the soil to either become saturated or to dry out. Because basil loves humidity, you can also mist the plants, but avoid doing so when they are in direct sunlight, as it may burn the leaves. 
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    Once they are established, they may only need watering two or three times a week and can take a larger amount – just don’t allow them to sit in water-laden soil, as it can rot the roots.

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​Starting With Cuttings

You can also use root cuttings from another garden by placing cuttings in the depressions of an egg carton with loose soil and a rooting hormone to encourage new growth. Water – just a few drops daily at the base of the plant to keep the soil moist but not allowing it to become saturated. Rooting may take two or three weeks.

​The rest of the process is very much like planting outdoors, so rather than repeat it twice, just be aware you can use the following outdoor tips indoors as well.


How to Grow Basil Outdoors


You should be past the last frost. If your area has a shorter growing season and cool temperatures come sooner, you may want to get a jump on things by starting seeds indoors, as described above, four to six weeks ahead of when you want to plant your garden and then move the seedlings outdoors once you are certain the frost has passed, and the outdoor temperatures are hitting 70º.

You can start from either seeds, from starts grown from cuttings or from commercially bought plants. If starting from seed, make sure the soil is warm (at least 50ºF) and moist before planting. Prepare a garden spot for your basil by forming rows of gently mounded soil about 24 inches apart. Plant the basil seeds or seedlings about 12 inches apart. The mature plants will grow anywhere from 12 to 24 inches tall.

​Water and Fertilizer

Basil can benefit from a small amount of fertilizer each month. You can add it to a watering can and applied at the base of each plant. Never water your basil by sprinkler – the sun’s heat can burn the leaves or even kill the plants. A drip hose is an ideal way to water these delicate plants. Water every couple of days, checking in between to make sure soil is not drying out too much.

​Pruning and Care

​Place some organic mulch around the plants to help keep the moisture in the soil and curtail the growth of weeds. Make sure you know the difference between the small basil plants and a weed. Try to keep the basil as weed-free as possible, as the roots will compete for space and water, and the leaves of the weeds will keep your basil from the rays of sunlight that are so essential for its growth.

You should thin the plants as necessary to allow sunlight through to all of the leaves. This is done by picking off the smaller and weaker plants. Do not allow the basil to flower, as it will turn the herb bitter. Pinch off any blossoms or buds as soon as you find them to allow the energy from the water and sun to concentrate in the plant, not in the flowers.  

Regularly pruning the plants to maintain a 12 to 15-inch height will allow them to become bushier and encourage new growth. You can let the plants go to seed at the end of the growing season before you pull them out. They will drop the seeds into the soil, and some of them may germinate in the spring when the soil warms up.

In doing this, make sure that you got the right pruning tools on hand. 

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Harvesting Your Basil


basil on a pot as one of the ways on how to grow basil

​Once the plants reach a height of 12 inches, you can begin harvesting leaves as you wish. Take the small part of the stem below the leaf as well so that the plant will replace it. You should be able to get a fairly good amount of basil just from the pruning process as well. Use the basil leaves you trim off.

​Basil leaves can be used straight from the garden just as you would use fresh basil from the market. You can also dry the basil leaves on a piece of screen or tie a bundle of stems and hang it upside down in a dry place away from sunlight for a day or two. (Once basil is harvested, sunlight can rob it of its flavor.) 

When the leaves are dry, remove any stems that may still be attached and store the leaves in an airtight jar in a cool, dark cabinet. You can rough-chop it if you prefer, or you could use a coffee or spice grinder to powder the basil.

However, you choose to use it, it will be more satisfying knowing it came from your own garden or windowsill. Now that you know how to grow basil, it may become a garden staple. It is a simple and straightforward way to have an endless supply of this versatile and flavorful herb.

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Lucy M. Clark
 

Hi there! I’m Lucy, and I’m a self-confessed garden fanatic. Gardening has always been a passion of mine and will always be my favorite pastime. Now that I am married and have one adorable son, I have the time to write and share my personal experiences with other garden enthusiasts like me.

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