Basil is a popular aromatic herb that is a beautiful addition to an herb or vegetable garden. Basil plants produce leaves with intense flavor and an appealing scent that is widely heralded around the world for cooking and medicinal benefits. They often make excellent companion herbs to neighboring crops and pair well with many culinary dishes. Check out our robust guide for growing basil: planting & care tips for information and strategies for how to get the most out of these delightful herbal garden treasures.
Basil Soil Preparation and pH
When growing basil plants, provide them with nutrient-rich, well-draining, loamy soil that measures 6.0 to 7.0 on the pH scale. If you are not sure of your soil’s pH level, you can obtain a simple and inexpensive soil test kit from your local garden center. Amend your garden soil with rich organic matter and well-decomposed compost, and provide one to two inches of mulch around plants for optimal results.
Water and Nutrients for Growing Basil
Basil plants thrive well in moist soil that is not soggy. Like most herbs, basil plants need more water during hot weather. Water them more regularly in hotter climates and as temperatures rise. In addition to planting basil plants in nutrient-rich soil, they should be fed every couple of weeks with a balanced organic fertilizer or blood meal.
Spacing Basil Plants
Basil is a reasonably self-sufficient herbal plant. When growing basil, it is best to space plants 12-18 inches apart so that they have room to spread. Basil plants can reach heights of 12-24 inches.
Light and Temperature for Growing Basil
When growing basil: planting & care tips like ours recommend that you consider light and temperature when planting. The ideal soil temperature for basil seed germination is between 70- and 80-degrees Fahrenheit. Plant basil in an area of the garden that receives between 6-8 hours of full sunlight after all frost danger has passed. Frost will kill a basil plant, so be sure to check the last frost date for your grow zone and plant outdoors two weeks after that estimated date. Protect plants from frost with row covers if a freeze is imminent.
How to Plant Basil
When growing basil from seed, you can start seeds indoors six weeks before the last frost date in your grow zone, or you can directly sow seeds outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. Follow these simple steps for how to plant basil seeds successfully.
- Seeds should be planted ¼ inch deep.
- Sprinkle soil over the seeds and tap the soil to firm.
- Water basil seeds in well.
- Maintain consistently moist soil throughout the germination period of 8-14 days and until plants get established.
- Sow successive crops of basil seeds every 2 to 3 weeks for a continuous fresh harvest of herbs.
Keep an eye out for their unique feather foliage popping through the soil.
Where and When to Plant Basil
Plant basil plants in the spring and successively through fall. Basil is an excellent option for growing in containers, raised garden beds, and in-ground backyard gardens.
- Containers: Basil plants can be grown successfully in containers. Be certain that you have a nice large pot or growing container full of enriched potting mix and water regularly. Growing in pots and grow buckets offers gardeners the flexibility of moving plants to different locations as needed. It also allows you to have fresh herbs right outside on your porch or patio.
- Raised Bed: Growing basil in raised beds takes much of the guesswork out of supplying a nutrient-rich and well-draining soil for plants. You can control your garden’s soil quality in a raised garden bed, and plants and seeds will stay warmer earlier in the season than if they are planted in the ground.
- Backyard Garden: Basil plants can be quickly and easily grown in a backyard garden as long as the soil is well tilled and amended with organic material and well-decomposed compost. Mulching can help with moisture retention, reduce soil erosion, regulate soil temperature and prevent pesky weeds from propagating in your garden.
Pruning Basil Plants
While not essential to the basil plant success, pruning the basil plant as it grows will encourage new shoots and a bushier plant, making for a more robust and productive plant. If pruning is practiced vigilantly, it will extend the plant’s lifespan and heighten your yields considerably.
- After basil seedlings have sprouted six leaves, snip them back to their second set of leaves. This will encourage more branching of the leaves, resulting in a fuller plant with more yields.
- Each time a branch sprouts six to eight leaves, repeat pruning the branch back to its second set of leaves.
- After about 6-7 weeks, pinch off the center growth stem to discourage the plant from flowering and going to seed.
- Allowing the basil plant to flower decreases the flavor of the leaves and can inhibit future leaf production.
Companion Planting Basil
Growing basil plants in your garden bed can be mutually beneficial for your plants. Basil is an excellent companion plant to others in the garden and can also benefit from other plant pairings.
- Plant basil with tomato plants to improve the taste of your tomatoes. It also deters the destructive tomato hornworm.
- Pair basil with asparagus to draw in ladybugs, which work to deter aphids, Japanese beetles, and bean beetles.
- When allowed to flower, basil plants attract beneficial pollinators to the garden
- Improve the taste of your basil leaves by planting it next to the friendly herb, borage.
Basil Pests and Disease
As always, the best defense against pests and disease is planting with intention, providing plants with space for airflow, utilizing companion planting practices, and providing plants with essential nutrients, water, and soil conditions. When growing basil plants: planting and care tips can help reduce the impact of pests and disease.
- Aphids – A few sharp sprays of water from the hose and companion planting will keep aphids at bay.
- Fusarium Wilt – Choose disease-resistant varieties and keep leaves dry by providing airflow and watering at the plant’s base.
- Japanese Beetles- Handpick leaf mulching beetles off of the plant and drop them in a jar of soapy water.
Harvesting Basil Plants
Basil plants attain maturity 68-75 days after sowing seeds. Harvest basil leaves by pinching or snipping them from their stems after the plants have grown to a height of 6 to 8 inches. Continue to pinch off branch tips and leaves from stems to boost new branch and leaf production. For best tasting leaves, harvest basil in the morning, when the essential oil content is highest.
Recommended Basil Varieties
There are many different varieties of basil plants that vary in height, color, and flavor. Here are some of our favorite selections when growing basil plants.
- ‘Lemon basil’
- ‘Lime basil’
- ‘Dark Opal’
- ‘Minet Greek’