Growing Basil: A Full Guide For Indoor & Outdoor Gardeners

Growing Basil Guide

Basil is every gardener’s most loyal floral friend.

If you are embracing the natural lifestyle, then growing herbs is one of the simplest ways to begin nurturing your own food from home. 

No need to pop down to the local grocery store for those culinary herbs, when they are ready and waiting to be tasted, just a few steps away!

Basil is a must for all gardeners. Popular in Italian and Asian cuisine, it also makes a beautiful, aromatic ornamental in your garden.

 I can share by experience that Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow.  Whether you are an experienced gardener keen to learn more or just getting started, this guide will take you step by step through everything you need to know about growing this stunning herb. 

Knowing how to grow Basil is just a few simple steps away, so keep reading!

Basil Benefits & Uses

The name Basil is derived from the Greek word Ozo, meaning ‘to smell’. Quite apt for such a pungent herb, which smells similar to aniseed or cloves.

 Originating from southern Asia and islands along the southern pacific, most Basil plants arise from the common Sweet Basil (Ocimum Basilicum)

For hundreds of years, the leaves, flowers and seeds of the plant have been used in traditional medicines to treat a wide range of human ailments.

Basil essential oil has become a popular natural means to improve our overall health and well being. 

Basil ointments are used to improve the luster of skin and hair, and to treat various skin problems such as acne, blackheads and scarring. In our frantically busy and often stressful lifestyles, Basil oil can serve to alleviate symptoms such as mental fatigue, tension, depression and muscle pain.

Basil leaves

 

Image by growing_basil_ua from IG

And so, we appreciate Basil because of the following amazing properties:

  • High in vitamins & minerals
  • High in antioxidants to combat diseases
  • Anticancer
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-fungal & insect repellent
  • Antibacterial
  • Decreases stress and fatigue
  • Alleviates colds, whooping cough, asthma, bronchitis and sinus issues
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Eye care- alleviating bloodshot eyes
  • Eases itching- snake & insect bites.

Now for the fun part- selecting your Basil plant

purple basil

 

Image by marinka_boo from Freepik

At present there are more than 50 Basil species or cultivars out there, so plenty to choose from!

Here are some attractive Basil plants to try:

  • Sweet Basil 0.98 to 4.9 ft: annual, the most widely available; leaves are large, rich green and oval-shaped; with white flowers; carries a minty or aniseed aroma; grows bushy and upright.
  • Holly Basil 12 to 24 in: perennial, indigenous to India, with dark, purple foliage and flowers; clove-like aroma; hairy stems; known for its ornamental appeal.
  • Lemon Basil 12-18 in: lemon-scented with white flowers; leaves are similar to Sweet Basil but are narrower and serrated; used in Thai cuisine.
  • Aristotle Basil 8-10 in: short, compact plant, perfect for growing in pots indoors; lovely in salads.
  • Red Rumin Basil 2.3 ft: deep purple foliage with pink flowers; beautiful ornamental, known for its pungent aroma; used in salad dressings and garnishes.
  • Other hybrids include: Cinnamon Basil, Camphor Basil, African Blue Basil, Licorice etc.

How to grow Basil from seed

HOW TO GROW BASIL FROM SEED

Basil is easy to grow from seed and is often the cheapest method. It does not do well in very cold or humid conditions. Follow these growing guidelines before getting started:

  • For hot climates: sow Basil just before summer begins and then again near the end of the summer season.
  • For cooler climates: sow Basil in spring and then right through into summer.
  • Determine your local frost dates early on. Only plant once the threat of frost is well out of the way, and the days are warmer. To be better prepared, keep a note in your diary each year, regarding when and how long frost occurs each year.

How long does it take to grow Basil from seed?

Basil seeds take 7 to 10 days to germinate and then between 50 to 75 days before it is ready to harvest. It is easy to grow indoors and outdoors and flourishes with 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight. I recommend first planting the seeds indoors and then transplanting outdoors.

Our 7 step Basil growing guide:

Now, let’s get those GARDENING gloves dirty…

Make sure you have the following:

  • Basil seeds
  • Compost/ potting soil
  • Seed tray/ container
  • Large rectangular tray
  • Lid- preferably transparent and perforated
  • Gardening gloves
  • Watering apparatus- spray bottle
  • Starter pots/ containers (3 to 4 inches)

Still finding ways to reduce, reuse and recycle? Here are some creative container ideas:

Try reusing or up-cycling things around the house. Keep aside any shallow containers from your grocery store, and use these as seed containers. Even better if they come with a lid as it creates an ideal little greenhouse for germinating seeds indoors. Other reusable items include: ice-cream containers, egg trays and milk cartons. If you enjoy up-cycling things, then try using tins or jars as seed containers. Remove the labeling, tie around a colourful ribbon or fabric, and Voila, you have a uniquely designed starter pot.

Video via Nadine from the Royal Botanical Gardens

Basil Seeds Are Small & Tricky To Handle- Here’s A Quick DIY Tip On How To File Your Seeds

STEP 1: Get your seed tray/ container ready

  • Select your container. Insert small holes at the bottom of your container to encourage soil drainage.
  • Fill your container with compost until 3/4 full.
  • Place the large rectangular tray underneath the seed container.
  • Moisten the soil with water.

STEP 2: Plant your Basil seeds

  • Place a few pinches of seeds into the palm of your hand.
  • Sprinkle seeds across the soil.
  • Don’t be shy with your amount of seeds- it is perfectly fine if they overlap.

STEP 3: Cover seeds with compost

  • Approximately 1/2 an inch deep.
  • Press compost down firmly.
  • Water with a spray bottle, ensuring the soil is moist all the way through.
  • Place lid or covering over the tray and position on a sunny windowsill.

STEP 4: Keep the seeds warm, well-watered and covered

  • Seeds should germinate in 7 to 10 days.
  • Keep watering every day until the plants germinate. Once germinated, remove the covering and keep in a sunny position.

basil sprouts

 

Image by indiarain_designs from IG

STEP 5: Transplanting

  • Once the seedlings have 3 sets of leaves they are ready for transplanting.
  • Transplant carefully into starter pots or containers. For indoor gardening, transplant into a bigger container.

little basil plants

 

Image by Chris Lambton from Fiskars

STEP 6: Hardening-off

  • If you are planting your Basil outside, then it is essential to acclimatize your precious seedlings for living in outdoors conditions.
  • Place seedlings outside on warm days for a few hours a day, then keep indoors overnight. Once your days start reaching 70 F, place them outside in a sheltered position for a week.

STEP 7: Planting outdoors

  • Select a position that receives full morning sun. If you experience very hot midday’s, then rather plant where it will receive shade during the hotter periods of the day.
  • Some thoughts: Basil and tomatoes make great ‘gardening buddies.’ Basil is also a natural insect repellent, deterring the harmful insects and attracting the good insects such as bees, making it a beneficial herb to scatter throughout your garden.
  • The garden bed or outdoor container must be at least 8 inches deep.
  • If assembling Basil side by side, plant them 5-7 inches apart.
  • Soil must be rich in organic material and have good water drainage. If needed, mix compost into your soil.
  • Place an inch of mulch around the base of your plant. This can be a mixture of leaves, bark and grass clippings.
  • Water well.

planting basil

 

Image by garden_nursery from IG

How to grow Basil from plant

Basil plants do not require a great deal of maintenance, however they will flourish under regular pruning and harvesting (see method below). To ensure a healthy plant, make sure your Basil is kept moist and in a sunny position.

When you notice the plant requiring more room for its roots, then relocate to a larger pot or garden bed. Basil is known for re-shooting itself, so keep a close eye around the base of the plant and carefully remove and replant each of the new shoots.

How much water does Basil need?

Basil is not a ‘greedy-water-guzzler’, however it doesn’t like to be forgotten when it comes to watering! Certain types, such as the Sweet Basil varieties can be drought-tolerant, but thrive better and produce more leaves when watered regularly.

It is important not to over water your plant, therefore aim to keep the soil damp- giving your Basil a deep watering at least once a week. It is also ideal to water in the mornings.

If living in warmer climates, ensure that you water twice or three times a week. Keep in mind that Basil plants in containers will dry out quicker, so water these more regularly.

Common pests and diseases & how to manage them

Basil can be susceptible to some pests and diseases, particularly in areas with a high humidity.

Here is a list of the most common diseases:

  • Fusarium wilt
    • Characteristics: leaves wilting and turning yellow; brown marks on the stems; leaf drop and severely twisted stems.
    • Cause: fungus carried in the soil or seeds.
    • Cure/ prevention: no cure; immediately remove the plant and do not grow in that section for 2 – 3 years.
  • Bacterial leaf spot/ Basil shoot blight
    • Characteristics: brown or black spots on the leaves and streaks on the stem.
    • Cause: bacteria Pseudomonas cichorii, spread by water and infected soil splashing onto leaves.
    • Cure/ prevention: difficult to cure but can be managed by providing adequate air circulation around the plant and watering carefully at the base.
  • Downy mildew
    • Characteristics: leaves turn yellow, with a fuzzy grey growth on the underside.
    • Cause: due to very wet conditions.
    • Cure/ prevention: decrease overhead watering and ensure adequate air movement.
  • Common pests include:

Some eco-friendly alternatives for deterring pests:

The most ideal way is to use nature itself! You can do this by attracting insect predators such as Ladybugs and Lacewings, which can kill common pests like Aphids and Thrips for you.

Mint, Fennel, Dill, Yarrow or Dandelions will attract these beneficial predators straight to your garden. You can also limit ant populations in your garden, as ants are naturally sworn to protect aphids. To do this remove the bottom leaves from your Basil bush, and apply a sticky substance to the lower section of your plant.

Ants and Aphids don’t like Chrysanthemums, Lavender and Petunias. There are also many homemade pest sprays and natural preventative methods to try, which will help keep those tiny unwanted critters away. I recommend staying away from using liquid soap sprays in your garden, as this can be harmful to the garden.

How to harvest and prune Basil

Pruning and harvesting can be done simultaneously and should be done regularly to encourage leaf production. You can begin harvesting leaves when there are at least 6 pairs of leaves on your plant.

Pruning Basil should be done in the morning while the leaves are the most aromatic, and at least once a week to prevent your plant from going into bloom. When you see an emerging flower, simply pinch it off as you pass by.

To prune your Basil, snip stems off with scissors about 1/2 an inch above a node, above 2 or 3 sets of leaves, then keep the leaves aside for cooking .

If you wish to preserve your Basil leaves, then store them in beeswax wrap– a wonderful, eco-friendly, food wrap alternative to cling wrap or tin foil, that actually keeps them fresher for longer.

So here’s how the pruning is done-

Video via Jag Singh

How to grow Basil from cuttings

You can nurture many more Basil plants if you so desire… 🙂

Video via Jag Singh

So, are you ready to grow Basil now?

Absolutely! Growing herbs can be one of the most rewarding activities for those taking the steps to a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle, so I encourage you to give it a try.

The most important thing is to enjoy the gardening journey. Once you start harvesting those stunning Basil leaves, making your own pesto and adding fresh Basil leaves to your salads, you won’t ever want to say goodbye to your trusty Basil bush. Gardening also requires patience, so keep sowing seeds and keep nurturing those seedlings each year, until you achieve your desired results.

Happy gardening! 🙂

HOW TO GROW BASIL FROM CUTTING

 

Image by growing_basil_ua from IG

References:

Growing Basil: https://southwestgardener.com/growing-Basil/

Anti-Inflammatory, Antioxidant, and Anthelmintic Activities of Ocimum Basilicum (Sweet Basil) Fruits: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jchem/2020/2153534/

Biological and Pharmacological Properties of the Sweet Basil (Ocimum Basilicum): British Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. 7(5): 330-339, 2015, Article no. BJPR. 2015. 115

Basil fact sheet: https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/CropFactSheets/Basil.html

MIGardener blog- container gardening on a budget: https://migardener.com/container-gardening-on-a-budget-migardener-blog/

Grow to Eat. The Gardener Magazine. Autumn / Winter 2019 Edition. Page 66. www.thegardener.co.za

Diseases and problems with growing Basil: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/herbs/Basil/what-are-varieties-of-Basil.htm

Cornell University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, Basil Diseases:  http://plantclinic.cornell.edu/factsheets/Basildiseases.pdf

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