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How to Grow Basil From Seed

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Attention all aspiring gardeners! Have you been dreaming of growing your own herbs? Then you’ve come to the right place. 

For beginners, growing basil can be a fun and rewarding experience, and it’s one of the easiest herbs to grow at home. If you’re not sure where to begin with this popular herb, fear not, because this guide has everything you need to know about growing new basil plants.

From popular varieties to troubleshooting common issues, we will walk you through the steps to help your basil plants thrive. Get ready to impress your friends and family with delicious, homegrown basil. Let’s get started!

Before we get into planting your basil (ocimum basilicum) seeds, let’s take a moment to talk about the different varieties of basil. There are so many out there that it’s difficult to know what will suit your culinary and gardening needs. Here are the most popular varieties of this annual herb and their qualities:

  • Sweet basil: Possibly the most common variety, there are many other types of basil that can add unique flavors and aromas to your dishes. You may this type of basil for sale as plants or stems in the produce section of the grocery store. 
  • Thai Basil: We grow this purple basil every year in the early spring and harvest all summer long. With its purple stems and spicy flavor this is a staple of Thai cuisine. It is delicious in a multitude of dishes, but we really love it in Thai Basil Beef. 
  • Spicy Globe Basil: The small leaves on this globe basil make it easy to harvest and use just a bit in recipes. This is a fun variety to grow. 
  • Lemon basil: as you might expect, has a refreshing citrus flavor that pairs well with fish and salads.

Other varieties include cinnamon basil, which has a sweet and spicy flavor, and holy basil, which is used in Ayurvedic medicine for its healing properties.

When selecting your basil seeds or plants, consider the flavor profile you want to achieve and the dishes you plan to use the basil in. It’s also worth considering the size of the leaves and the growth habits of the plant, as some varieties may be better suited to containers while others can thrive in outdoor gardens.

With so many varieties to choose from, experimenting with different types of basil can add new dimensions to your cooking and make your basil-growing experience all the more exciting.

The Best Soil for Basil

Whether planting basil in a vegetable garden, herb garden, or container garden, you want to pay attention to soil. The best soil for basil will have good drainage and be a nutrient-rich soil. This could mean a potting mix from a plastic bag at the garden center, or a homemade DIY potting soil; you can grab my recipe here

Most bagged garden soil will contain peat moss or sphagnum moss, top soil, compost, and possibly some fertilizer as well. While some soil may be labeled as organic soil, it seems these things are more difficult to trust, so I encourage you to find a soil company as local as possible. We have a great option here called Daddy Pete’s. See what you can find near you!

Do pair good quality soil with an organic fertilizer; I personally like to use Espoma Garden Tone for most of my vegetables and herbs. 

Planting Your Basil Seeds

Before planting your basil seeds, make sure to choose a location that gets plenty of direct sunlight and has well-drained soil. If planting in a container, make sure it has holes for drainage and use a potting mix specifically formulated for herbs or containers.

To plant basil seeds, follow these instructions:

1. Sprinkle them sparsely on top of the soil and cover with a thin layer of additional soil. Always keep in mind that each seed is a potential plant, so how many basil plants can really grow in the space you’ve chosen.  

2. Keep moist soil by watering regularly, but be sure not to overwater as this can cause the seeds to rot. To test to see if your basil needs to be watered, simply insert your finger into the soil and if it comes out dry, it’s time to water. 

3. Once your seeds have sprouted, thin out the weaker seedlings to give the remaining plants room to grow. If planting in a container, make sure there is enough space for the basil seedlings to grow and consider transplanting young seedlings to a larger pot as needed.

With the right planting techniques and care, you can create optimal growing conditions for your basil plants and ensure a bountiful harvest. Next, let’s dive into the specifics of creating those conditions.

Creating the Optimal Basil Growing Conditions

With the proper growing conditions, basil can be a prolific and rewarding plant to grow. Optimal growing conditions include: 

  • Make sure the plants receive ample sunlight, water, and nutrients.  The plants prefer full sun.
  • Plant basil after the last frost has occurred because basil thrives in warm weather. 
  • Check the soil temperature and aim to plant once the soil reaches 70 degrees. 
  • Make sure to plant your basil in well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter (raised garden beds are great for this). If you’re planting in a container, use a high-quality potting mix (I personally like espoma and Daddy Pete’s.)
  • Check basil seed packets for additional information that may be specific to your variety of basil.

One essential aspect of basil growth is water. It’s important to keep the soil consistently moist, but not waterlogged. Basil plants require approximately one inch of water per week, so make sure to water them deeply and regularly. If you notice the leaves start to wilt, it’s a sign that the plants need more water.

Basil growth can also be enhanced by adding organic matter to the soil. Consider using compost, aged manure or worm castings to add nutrients, create better soil structure and help retain moisture. In addition, adding a slow-release fertilizer to the soil can provide the basil plants with the nutrients they need to grow strong and healthy.

By ensuring that your basil plants have the optimal growing conditions, you can expect to have a successful harvest in just a few weeks. Next up, let’s explore how long it takes for basil to grow.,

How long does basil take to grow?

Basil is a fast-growing herb that can be easily grown from seeds or propagated from cuttings. However, the time it takes for basil to grow can vary depending on several factors such as the growing conditions, climate, and variety of basil. 

On average, basil seeds take around 5-10 days to germinate, and the seedlings will start to grow it’s first true leaves within two weeks. With proper care and optimal growing conditions, basil can reach maturity in about 4-6 weeks. It’s important to note that some varieties of basil may take longer to grow than others, so it’s best to check the seed packet or plant label for specific information.

Factors that can affect the growth time of basil include temperature, light, and moisture levels. Basil prefers warm temperatures between 70-80°F (21-27°C) and requires at least six hours of sunlight each day. Make sure to water your basil consistently and thoroughly to avoid drying out the soil or causing root rot.

Once your basil has at least three sets of new leaves, you can begin to prune your basil plant which is the vest way to grow bushy plants. Pruning basil forces the plant to grow out instead of up, and it’s a great way to harvest basil and promote growth at the same time. See my full article on How to Prune Basil for Larger Yields, complete with step-by-step video!

Caring for Your Basil Plants

After planting basil, it’s important to care for it properly to ensure it grows healthy and strong during the growing season. 

In addition to watering, make sure your basil is getting enough sunlight. As mentioned earlier, basil requires at least six hours of sunlight each day to thrive. If your basil isn’t getting enough sun, consider moving it to a sunnier location or supplementing with a grow light if indoors.

Another factor to consider is temperature. Basil prefers warm temperatures between 70-80°F (21-27°C) and doesn’t do well in cold temperatures. If you are growing basil outdoors, be mindful of the first frost date in the fall and make sure to protect your plants if temperatures dip. 

Finally, be sure to prune your basil regularly to encourage bushier growth and prevent it from becoming too leggy. Pinch off the tips of the stems and any flowers that appear to keep your basil producing flavorful leaves.

By caring for your basil plants properly, you can ensure a bountiful harvest of fresh and aromatic leaves. You can also take snippets of basil from pruning and use those to root new plants. See my full instructions for How to Root Basil from Cuttings

How to Harvest Your Basil

Once your basil plants have reached six to eight pairs of leaves, you can start harvesting the leaves for use in your cooking. The best time to harvest your basil leaves is in the morning after any dew has evaporated but before the hot sun causes the leaves to wilt. 

To harvest the leaves, use a pair of sharp scissors or pruning shears to cut off the top few inches of each stem (I love these sharp and affordable pruners from Mueller Garden), just above a pair of leaves.

Be sure to only harvest a third of the plant at a time to avoid damaging it. And if you plan on storing the basil for later use, avoid washing it beforehand as this can cause it to wilt. Instead, gently pat the leaves dry with a paper towel before storing them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

You can also harvest basil along with some stem (like when you’re pruning) and keep it stem side down in a glass of water on the counter top. The basil cuttings should stay fresh for several days and provide a nice decorative touch to your counter!

Troubleshooting Common Basil Issues

One of the great things about growing basil is that it’s relatively low maintenance, but that doesn’t mean that issues won’t arise. Here are some common problems you may encounter while growing basil and how to deal with them.

1. Yellowing Leaves: If you notice yellowing leaves on your basil plants, it could be a sign of overwatering. Basil plants prefer soil that is consistently moist but not waterlogged, so be sure to let the soil dry out slightly before watering again. Alternatively, yellow leaves could be a sign of a nutrient deficiency, so try fertilizing your plants with a balanced fertilizer.

2. Wilting: Basil plants are prone to wilting in hot weather or when they’re not getting enough water. To prevent wilting, make sure your plants are getting enough water and consider placing a shade cloth over them during the hottest part of the day.

3. Pests: Basil plants are susceptible to a number of pests, including aphids, spider mites, and white flies. To deal with these pests, try spraying your plants with a mixture of water and dish soap. You can also introduce beneficial insects like ladybugs or lacewings to your garden, as they will help keep pest populations under control. See my full post on how to deal with garden pests naturally. 

4. Fungal Diseases: It’s important for basil to have good air circulation to prevent disease. Keeping your basil well pruned and not overly crowded will help with this. 

By addressing these common issues promptly, you can ensure that your basil plants stay healthy and productive all season long.

Growing fresh basil can be a satisfying experience for any beginner gardener!

By addressing these common issues promptly, you can ensure that your basil plants stay healthy and productive all season long.

Growing fresh basil can be a satisfying experience for any beginner gardener!