How to Grow Basil Plants Successfully

Basil is a very hardy herb that grows well in many climates and can be grown both indoors and outdoors. Keep reading and learn how to grow basil plants successfully.


Growing Basil Indoors

Lighting will be the biggest barrier when trying to grow basil successfully indoors. Although it will grow well in a windowsill, it tends to get leggy. The light coming in a window, even south facing, will not give you the same growth as an outdoor plant. For best results, be sure and use a grow light. Basil is usually started from seed indoors and later transferred outdoors into the garden after the last frost date.

Basil in the Outdoor Garden

This is where your basil will really come to life. Basil can be planted in the garden or in a container outdoors. Given the proper nutrients, soil, and a good location, even just a few outdoor basil plants can provide you with plenty of produce. Pruning properly will also help to maximize the amount of harvest.

What Soil Does Basil Grow Best In?

Basil prefers moist, but well-draining, soil with lots of organic matter. The ideal pH for Basil is in the neutral range between 6 and 7. A focus on location will help you determine how to grow basil plants.

Growing Basil in the Ground

Once the planting location is selected, dig a hole twice as wide and deep as the seedling container. Use good compost in the bottom of the hole. Set the plant in being careful not to bury the stem deeper than its container depth. Backfill the hole with more compost. Water daily well for the first week to ensure the plant sets good roots.

Basil Growing in Containers

For containers you can either use a good potting mix from the local gardening center. If you’ll be planting a lot of vegetables in containers mixing your own potting soil in bulk is usually the best option. 

Bulk potting mix recipe:

If using sphagnum moss, you should amend the above mix with an 1/8 cup of gardening lime to balance the pH since it tends to be acidic.

Container Size for Basil

Individual Basil plants can be grown in fairly small, one gallon, containers. However, if you plan on growing several plants in one container, a wide 10-gallon pot would easily support four or five basil plants. This is the method we use every year. Keep in mind… the smaller the container, the more frequently you’ll need to water. 

Is Basil a Good Companion Plant?

Basil is a natural repellant to some insects such as aphids. As such it can be included alongside plants prone to aphid infestation. Marigolds are another natural repellant so planting them in combination with basil can double down on your efforts to reduce pests. When considering companions for basil the primary focus should be on similar lighting and watering conditions.

We always plant basil at the base of our trellised indeterminate tomatoes. As the tomato plants grow, we eventually remove the lower leaves which allows plenty of light to reach the basil. Additionally, basil and tomatoes have similar watering requirements.

Best Companion Plants for Basil

  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Root vegetables
  • Chamomile
  • Beans
  • Some herbs (oregano, marjoram, chives)

Worst Companion Plants for Basil

  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Mint

Does Basil Need Lots of Sun?

Basil does best if it receives at least 6-8 hours of sun per day. Morning sun is best. If you live in a hot climate then basil plants might benefit from some shade from scorching mid-day and evening sun. 

If your plants are in containers, they can be left in all day full sun on milder days. Then move them into an area that receives afternoon shade during the hottest part of summer. 

How Often Should Basil Be Watered?

Basil has does well in moist soil. If the plants are in the ground make sure they receive at least one inch of water per week. Plants grown in containers may need more frequent watering. When watering be sure to give a good soaking to ensure water reaches the root level. Yellowing or pale green leaves can be a sign of overwatering.

What is the Best Fertilizer for Basil?

If your plants are in the ground and you amended with compost before planting you may not need to fertilize. If the plants seem like they are stunted or not very green you might benefit from a balance of 10-10-10 fertilizer.

Plants grown in containers often require supplemental nutrients because of the confined space. Nutrients can also get rinsed out the bottom of the pot when watering. We recommend the use of an all-purpose water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks when growing Basil in containers. 

Should Basil Be Pruned?

Pruning is usually performed when you harvest the Basil. You can start pruning once the plant reaches about 6″ to encourage branching. When pruning always make sure to cut above a node (where the leaves emerge) which will all new branches to form. You can be quite aggressive when pruning/harvesting. Basil is a very fast grower and it won’t be long before you’re ready to cut it back again.  

What Do You Do When Basil Flowers?

When you see flowers starting to form on your basil there are a couple options. If you’re still planning on harvesting leaves from the plant then simply pinch off the top growth down to the next node. This will encourage more branching. If basil flowers are allowed to grow the leaves will become bitter.

Basil grows some attractive tall spikes of flowers that the pollinators love. Consider planting basil around the yard for ornamental purposes or if you want to collect seed to grow more basil next year. To collect basil seed, allow the flowers to brown on the plant. Covering the spent flowers with an organza bag or gauze can catch the seeds before they fall to the ground. 

How Long Will a Basil Plant Live?

Basil plants are annuals. They will die off once the first frost hits and will not return the following year. They will, however, provide you with fresh basil throughout the entire growing season when properly maintained. 

If you’re looking for a good use for all that fresh basil then be sure and check out our Simple Garlic and Basil Pesto recipe!

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