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How to grow fresh basil at home

Every year somewhere between late spring and early summer, one of the most popular Italian herbs makes it coming debut…. Basil.

In this article, I explain how to grow fresh basil at home. Anyone can do it, whether you have space outside or inside!

First, if you haven’t started your basil for growing yet, it’s okay.  It seems for most herbs, planting seeds start in late March after the last frost is most ideal, but even if you miss that, you can still plant the actual small seedlings/plants from a store around the end of May.   

Learning How to Grow Fresh Basil at Home

I’ve been growing basil for as long as I can remember and I now grow basil now all year round, even up here in Northern Ohio! 

Curious how I do that?   I’ll explain!  But this article gives you all the options for how to easily grow basil, whether indoors, in containers or in the backyard!

Name:  Basil – There are many types of basil.  I grow both sweet basil as well as Large Leaf basil.

Both varieties are great for Italian cooking, such as in homemade Italian sauce and my stuffed Italian green peppers recipe and my Italian meatless meatballs.

How to Plant Sweet Basil or Large Leaf Basil

If planting from seeds, you will want to start late March after the last frost.  Basil does not tolerate the cold (temperatures in the 60s) so make sure it’s warm if planting seeds directly in the soil.

If your basil is a seedling (the small plants you see at your local home improvement store) whether you buy them at the store or grew them from seed indoors, then the end of May is a good time to plant them in the soil, give or take a few weeks depending on which climate zone you are in. 

Where I am located, the zone is 6A, and last weekend (3rd week in May) the weather was in the 80s.   This weekend however it’s in the mid-50s.   It’s too cold to put them out quite yet.

I grow basil from last year’s seeds I saved.  I do this every year and haven’t had to buy any basil plants for over 10 years. 

In fact, I grow basil seedlings for my sister-in-law who then plants them in her own garden. 

I also currently grow basil using water and nutrients, which I talk about below.

How long does it take for basil to reach maturity? 

The seeds actually only take about 7 days to germinate. 

Germinating means it starts to show signs of growing.  Every year I get just as excited as the year before when I see the little tender green shoots break through the surface!

Here is a picture of my basil at just three weeks old!

ways to grow basil

However, the total time from seed to a full mature basil plant is 10 weeks or 2 1/2 months.   

So if you start the seeds April 1st, you’ll have a nice modest basil plant around Mid-June or early July.

I’ve had outdoor basil until mid-September.

How much Sunlight does Basil need?

No matter which method you choose, the requirements for sunlight don’t change. 

Basil needs full sun.   Full sun means at least 8 hours of complete sunlight. 

If using hydroponics or growing indoors (I explain how to do this below), you want full spectrum lights.  I use Florescent full-spectrum for all my herbs. 

We rigged up our own set up in our basement, but if it wasn’t for my handy husband, I’d have probably had to just simply purchase kits that you can assemble and have on a table top.

More on that later.

Pruning your basil for longer lifespan

When the first bunch of basil leaves come out, pick off the top leaves and this helps the plant become more bushy. 

Plus through periodic trimming, the life span of the plant can be prolonged. 

Pick from the top down and snip off the flowers if it’s before the end of the season.

Ok, so here is another cool thing, the flowers that you will see grow at the end of the season, if you plan on growing from seed, save those flowers.

Cut off the branches, let them dry in a brown bag in the garage or attic, or somewhere dry. 

Inside the flowers when dried, are little black seeds.  Save these in a container and keep in a cool dark place.  Next year, you can use those seeds instead of buying them at the store!

Now, let’s talk about the various ways of growing basil:

  • In the Soil in your garden
  • In a container outside
  • In a container inside (with soil)
  • Inside all year with EASY hydroponics (Kratky method is what I use)

 

Growing Italian Fresh Basil Directly in the Soil

How far apart should you sow the basil seeds?

When planting the seeds, you can plant them in a row in the soil, about ¼” deep.  Don’t worry about spacing too much, just scatter them along the row. 

Trying to space the seeds as you place them in the soil is almost impossible as the seeds are a dark black and blend right into the soil, leaving you wondering if you planted too many or too little.

So don’t worry about it, just scatter them and when they start to grow, go back and thin them to 6-8 inches apart. 

What is thinning and do I need to do it?

Thinning is when the plants from the seeds come up and they are too close together so you just snip some of them to allow the proper spacing of 6-8 inches.

Do not pull up the little seedlings which you do not need, because this can accidentally harm the roots of the plants you want to keep.  Just use a scissors to snip the unwanted plants at the base of the little stem. 

What type of soil should they be planted in for growing in the ground?

The soil acidity should be in a range of 5.5 to 6.5 with 1 being the highest and 10 actually being the lowest amount of acidity. 

To test the soil, you’ll want to use a soil testing kit.  You can buy ones that just test ph or ones that test for more soil properties.  These range in price and can be bought at your local Lowes, HomeDepot, or online at Amazon.

Same rule applies for hydroponics.  Just get a ph reader for testing the ph in water, they sell them on Amazon. (it looks like a thermometer).

One last thing about the soil… drainage.   

While basil does like moisture, it won’t survive if the water has no place to go and ultimately sufficates the roots.  Roots need oxygen and without it the poor little plants will sadly die. 

We don’t want that to happen. ☹

How do you Grow Fresh Basil in Containers

This is how I now grow all my basil. Primarily because our soil here is hard clay and it’s much easier to simply grow basil in containers.

Starting from seed or seedlings

The same rules apply as above with growing from seed. 

If growing from seeds yourself, simply start the seeds indoors to allow time for them to become seedlings when it’s time to put them outside.  Allow for 6-8 weeks.

If purchasing seedlings, well, just buy them at the store and plant when the weather is appropriate as mentioned above.

What type of soil can you use for growing in a container?

So, for container gardening, you must use a “potting mix”.  Do not buy regular soil, you need a mix that is specific for containers/pots.  

These mixes will contain a variety of growing medium such as perlite, vermiculite and a specific mix of nutrients.    They are designed to absorb and hold moisture so the soil doesn’t dry out quickly. 

Remember, basil needs moisture, but there must be drainage to allow excess water to drain out.   These mixes includes ingredients that prevent the soil from clumping into one hard mess.  

That’s why you’ll see small sticks and bark in there.  That’s fine, you want that stuff, unless it’s overly large and you think it might damage roots.  

This year, I spent the extra dollars and bought Miracle Gro’s Organic Potting Mix and I’m curious how that fairs compares to the cheaper ones I’ve used in the past.  

What type of container should you use?

Basil has lots of roots, so you don’t want them getting pot bound.  That means the roots are prevented from growing because the pot is too small.

I grow basil in 1 or 2 Gallon containers, although I’m not sure the exact size.   I’ve also planted them in the same large containers that have my tomatoes as the two plants help each other out.

basil in container

How much should you water your container basil plants?

This depends.  You don’t want them drying out, and in containers they will dry out much more quickly than in the ground.   

I mostly do the manual “finger-in-the-soil” test making sure the soil isn’t bone dry but is cool and slightly moist.

I also can tell by simply letting the basil show me by the way it looks.

On hot days, the basil will be wilted at the end of the day.   Sometimes all it needs a good night’s rest away from the hot sun and it’s bright and spry the next day.

Other times, I realize I forgot to water it and give it a good dousing (trying to avoid splashing the leaves) and it’s back to normal in the A.M.

Your leaves should be bright green, not turning yellow.   Any wilting that is visible in the morning, means you need to give it some water. 

I water either late in the evening or early in the morning.  Not during mid-day when it’s hottest!

I recommend always using container plates to help retain some of the excess water that drains out of the bottom. It not only helps keep the deck or patio cleaner, but it gives it that extra drinking water when it needs it.

How to Grow Fresh Basil Indoors

I feel like this could be an article in and of itself, but growing basil indoors is my latest and greatest adventure and I love it!  

I can grow basil year round, and when everyone else is starting their basil or waiting for the stores to stock them, I’ve already been using mine in multiple Italian recipes.

Growing indoors with soil

I’ve grown them indoors with soil, but it can get messy if the soil spills and you need to make sure it’s getting enough sunlight.  Plus replacing the soil after it loses it’s nutrient potency is a pain! 

Also, sunlight is a huge deal with basil. They love sun!

You can grow it using grow lights, and there are lots of grow light kits for herbs available online.

Growing indoors without soil

So, this is my new love… growing indoors, but without any dirt/soil!   Here’s a picture of one of my first plants!

bail in water

When growing plants with water and no soil, this is called hydroponics.  I’ve been using the Kratky Method which uses enough water and nutrient solution to submerge about half of the roots. This allows roots to get the air they need to breathe.  And yes, it works!

This video tell you exactly how I grow mine.. it’s so easy!

What you need:

  • Existing basil plant (to cut a stem from)
  • Neti pot (or a makeshift one, I prefer to just buy a pack)
  • Nutrient solution (I currently use Masterblend, Calcium Nitrate, and Magnesium Sulfate aka espon salt)
  • Water (don’t use tap – as that has chemicals you don’t want and can impact the ph balance)
  • A container that is large enough to grow the basil when mature (64 oz – 1 Gallon is good)

My Current Formula for mixing the nutrients:

I have a gallon jug of distilled water and I mix in:

  • 1/8 tsp Master Blend
  • 1/8 tsp Calcium Nitrate
  • 1/16 tsp Magnesium Sulfate

So far this mix is working well for me.  The rules for the ph go the same as soil, so if you’re a purist, you should look online for a ph reader for hydroponics.

Basically, cut a healthy branch off your basil plant, set it in water to sprout some roots.  When the roots appear, put them in a neti pot and set in a jar, and use a nutrient solution in the water.    As it grows, transfer it to a larger container because the roots grow fast and a lot!   

When the basil grows too tall, simply cut a new branch off and repeat the process… all year long!

I hope this information proves useful for you.  Let me know how it goes!

Liz

 

Multiple Ways for How to Grow Fresh Basil at Home