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How to Plant Basil

Basil is one of the most popular herbs to grow, and for good reason! This fragrant herb is delicious and easy to cultivate. With regular harvesting, basil grows quickly, giving you fresh herbs all summer long.

A woman planting basil starters.

If you want to learn how to plant basil, keep reading! You’ll find answers to all your questions, including how to start basil from seed, how to care for basil, how to prune basil for a plentiful harvest, and more.


Why Grow Basil

Growing basil is simple and so rewarding. Fresh basil is absolutely delicious and has many uses. Beyond the obvious uses like making pesto and topping pizza, you can use basil for so much more! Sprinkle some on a salad, add it to avocado toast, make strawberry basil lemonade, or even add it to ice cream.

Basil is high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which are important for keeping our bodies healthy. Nutrients like vitamin A and vitamin C are good for the immune system and boost heart health. Antioxidants can improve cell function and help fight disease.

Green basil on a cutting board.

Growing your own basil is much cheaper than buying it at the store, especially if you eat it regularly. Just one well-tended basil plant can yield as much as 1/2 cup of leaves each week.

Another reason to learn how to plant basil is you can grow less common varieties of basil that are hard to find or too expensive at the store.


Varieties of Basil

Purple basil on a cutting board.

The most well-known type of basil is probably sweet basil. Genovese and large Italian are two popular varieties of sweet basil that are familiar to many gardeners and chefs.

In addition to these, there are many different varieties of basil, each with a slightly different flavor profile. Here are some varieties to try:

Basil Varieties

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Genovese Basil

Large Italian Basil

Thai Basil

Siam Queen Basil

Purple Ruffles Basil

Lemon Basil

Holy Basil

Mammoth Basil

Cinnamon Basil

Dwarf Greek Basil

Red Rubin Basil

Licorice Basil

Corsican Basil

Persian Basil

Fino Verde Basil


How to Plant Basil

Growing basil is easy and fun. There’s nothing like seeing a big healthy plant grow from a tiny seed or seedling.

Should I Grow Basil From Seeds or Seedlings?

Basil can be grown from either seeds or seedlings and either one is an excellent choice. The method you choose depends on your personal preference and goals.

Seeds are cheaper than plants and you can grow many plants from one small packet of seeds.

With seeds, you can grow an entire garden bed full of basil plants for the same price as one potted plant from the store. Basil seeds are readily available online year-round or at nurseries and garden centers during the growing season.

Seedlings are faster than seeds and are relatively easy to find, especially in the spring. You can get basil seedlings at nurseries and garden centers in spring to early summer. Many grocery stores carry small plants year-round.

A Greek basil plant.

Location

Basil can be grown indoors or outdoors as long as the location is warm with plenty of light. Basil does well in pots, raised beds, and directly in the ground.

Soil

Basil likes fertile, rich, soil that stays moist and is well-draining. Adding compost to the soil before planting is a good way to ensure there is enough nutrient-rich organic matter available for the plants to thrive.

If growing in pots, use a good-quality potting mix in your containers.

Sunlight

Basil likes full sun. Plant basil in a location that gets at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day.

In very warm climates, basil does well in partial shade.

If you’re growing basil inside, put the pot in a sunny window where the plant will be exposed to plenty of direct sunlight. If you don’t have a location that will work, you can use a grow light to grow basil indoors successfully.

Three basil plants growing in pots on a windowsill.

Temperature

Basil is a heat-loving plant. It grows best in temperatures between 70-80 degrees. During the summer, basil grows quickly but in very high heat, it may slow down.

Basil is very sensitive to cold. Even a light frost can kill it. When planting basil outdoors, wait until all danger of frost has passed before planting.

If you’re growing basil indoors and you keep your house on the cooler side, you may need a heat mat to keep the plant warm.


How to Start Basil from Seed

A starter tray of basil seedlings.

You can extend the time you get to enjoy basil by starting basil seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before the last frost. This is especially helpful if you live in a climate with a short growing season.

To start basil from seed you’ll need a few basic pieces of equipment.

Seedling Starting Equipment

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Hoss Germination Mat

Indoor Seed Starting Light Kit

SunGrow Black Gold Seed Starting Mix

48 Cell Seed Starting Kit

Gardening Gloves

Garden Shovel

Spray Bottle

Watering Can

Garden Labels

Good seed-starting equipment is well worth the investment, especially if you plan to start more seeds. You can use the equipment over and over again and high-quality equipment will last for many years.

Of course, you’ll also need basil seeds — the table we provided earlier has a great selection to choose from. You can even grow more than one kind so you can see the difference the varieties make in your cooking!

Two packets of basil seeds from Hoss Tools.

Starting Basil Seeds

When starting basil seeds, the first thing to do is set up your seed starting spot. I like to use a table in front of a sunny window with a large heat mat and a grow light to keep the seedlings warm and happy.

If you’re just growing a few seeds and your house is warm, a sunny window and a few small containers are enough to get started.

Fill Seed Trays

Fill your seed trays or small pots with a good quality seed starting mix and gently press it down. I like to use a spoon to fill trays and press the mix down. A spoon fits well in the containers and is less messy than using a garden shovel.

Plant Seeds

This year I’m growing Italian basil and purple ruffled basil. The Italian basil has a classic, sweet basil flavor that goes well with so many dishes. The purple basil is both delicious and attractive, perfect for sharing with friends and neighbors!

To plant seeds, add the basil seeds to your seed trays and cover lightly with 1/4 inch of seed starting mix. You can poke small holes, drop the seeds in and cover, or set the seeds on top and cover with more seed starting mix.

Make Sure it Stays Moist

After planting seeds, water thoroughly using a spray bottle. A spray bottle works well to moisten everything without displacing the seeds.

After the seedlings emerge, you can use a watering can to water them without worrying about disturbing the seeds.

If you have a humidity dome, you can use it to cover the seed trays to keep everything warm and moist.

A humidity dome over a seed starter tray.
A humidity dome.

Seedlings will emerge after about 7-10 days. After 3-4 weeks, they’ll be ready to move to a bigger pot or container.


How to Plant Basil Seedlings

Small seedlings started from seed or purchased from the store should be planted in larger containers to give them room to grow.

If the weather is warm enough, basil seedlings can be planted directly into their permanent location outdoors. Otherwise, move seedlings to larger containers indoors.

Fill your container with potting soil and make a hole for the seedling. Gently move your seedling from its previous container into the new pot and fill the rest of the hole with soil. Water thoroughly.

If planting in large containers or in the ground, space seedlings at least four inches apart. If using smaller containers, put just one plant in each pot.

Person potting up basil plants.

Caring for Basil Plants

Water

Water your basil plants regularly and deeply. You want the soil to stay moist but not soggy. A light mulch can help keep moisture in.

Fertilizer

For the most prolific basil plants, fertilize about once a month with a balanced fertilizer.

Growing Basil in Containers

Basil plants grown in containers may need more frequent watering and fertilizing because containers tend to leach out moisture and nutrients faster.


How to Propagate Basil

Once you have a basil plant established, you can easily propagate it to make more plants.

To propagate basil, trim a stem from the plant that’s about four inches long. Remove the lower leaves from the stem and save them to use in the kitchen. Put the stem in a cup of water and place it in a sunny location.

A basil cutting that has been propagated in a glass of water.

Roots will start growing in a few days. Once the roots are about 1-2 inches long you can plant the stem in a container prepared with potting soil.


Pruning and Harvesting Basil

Pruning is an important part of growing basil, and learning how to do it right makes a big difference in how your plant grows.

Pruning and harvesting basil the right way signals the plant to produce more branches and leaves, giving you an even bigger harvest.

When to Prune Basil

Pruning early and often encourages the plant to grow but pruning too early can slow down growth. Wait until the plant is established before pruning.

You can start pruning your basil plant when it’s at least six inches tall and has at least three sets of opposing leaves.

How to Prune Basil

To prune and harvest basil, snip off the stem about 1/4 inch above the first pair of leaves. This will encourage two new stems to grow. Harvest the leaves that were pruned, they are ready to be used!

Person harvesting basil leaves.
Harvesting basil leaves.

Check on the plant every few days, or more often when the weather is warm. Prune regularly by trimming stems above opposing leaves. You can trim up to 1/3 of the leaves at one time.

With effective and regular pruning, the plant will grow low and bushy rather than tall and slender. This is a sign of a productive basil plant!

What about Flowers?

Healthy basil plants produce flowers in summer, usually when it starts to get really hot. Flowering signals the plant to slow down its growth, and it can cause basil leaves to turn bitter.

Unless you want to save the seeds, pinch off flowers as soon as they appear.


Wrapping up How to Plant Basil

Closeup of a sweet basil plant.

With these tips on how to plant basil, you’re sure to have an abundant harvest this season.

For more planting and growing tips, don’t miss the Seed Starting page on our website. There you’ll find planting guides for all kinds of herbs, vegetables, and flowers, plus product recommendations and tips and tricks to help you care for your garden.