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A Guide to Growing Basil: Tips for a Flavorful and Abundant Harvest

Updated: Feb 7, 2023


Ocimum basilicum or Basil originates mainly from Southeast Asia and Africa where it was used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Basil has since developed vast popularity and is now one of the most commonly used herbs throughout the world.

Types of Basil

Basil has an anise or clove-like taste that can vary in its flavor profile based on the type. The most common types are:

  • Sweet ‘Genovese’ Basil

    • Sweet with a mild clove flavor.

  • Thai Basil

    • Less sweet with a stronger clove flavor.

  • Tulsi ‘Holy’ Basil

    • Less sweet with a strong clove & pepper flavor.

    • Used to make herbal tea.

    • Sacred plant for Hindus.

  • Lemon Basil

    • Very fragrant with a lemony taste.

  • Purple Basil

    • Less sweet with a strong clove flavor.

  • Cinnamon Basil

    • Less sweet with a spice flavor.


Basil is a versatile culinary herb used in a variety of cuisines including Italian, Thai, Indonesian and Vietnamese. The most common basil used in the United States is sweet basil where it can be found in mainly Italian dishes such as pesto, pastas and pizza. It is also the most common type of basil grown in the home garden.

The essential oils in Basil are what give the plant its pungent flavor, fragrance and health benefits. These essential oils have been found to have antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties in the human body. The fragrance the essential oils in Basil create can deter insect pests in the garden which makes it a great companion plant. A companion plant is one you place near other, more vulnerable plants to help protect them from pests.

Growth Patterns

Basil is a sun loving plant that thrives in full sun or a sunny windowsill during the summer months and can grow up to 24 inches tall. The more sun the plant gets, the bigger and stronger it will grow. It is commonly grown as an annual, but can be grown as a perennial in warmer climates. The trick to getting your basil plant to last longer is to not let it produce mature flowers. Pinch the flowers off as soon as they begin to develop. Once mature flowers begin making seeds, the plant will develop woody, inedible stems and the plant will stop making essential oils causing the leaves to taste bitter. If your basil plant does develop mature flowers, you can collect the seeds to grow more plants the following year.

To help your basil plant grow strong stems and produce more leaves to harvest, prune each stem back to a set of leaves. The plant will branch out at each of these spots, creating more stems to produce leaves. Often, basil grown indoors without a lot of sunlight will grow weak, leggy stems. Prune back leggy stems regularly to promote stronger, fuller growth opposed to one, long stem with few leaves.

Basil is fairly easy to grow in the home garden and can be grown from seed, transplants or cuttings.

Growing Basil from Seed

If growing from seed, the seeds must be started indoors during the late winter or early spring when temperatures are cold outside. Start your seeds indoors six weeks before your region’s last frost date. This will give you a head start on the growing season. The most important thing is to keep your seeds and seedlings warm. Basil needs soil temperatures between 50°F - 70ºF to grow properly, otherwise the seeds won't germinate or the seedlings can develop a fungal disease and die.

Tools You Will Need

Seed Starting Steps

Step 1: Fill seed tray with seed starting mix and place on a warming mat. (if using peat moss pucks, just place the tray on the warming mat.)

  • Planting in individual celled trays puts less stress on the seedling’s roots when needing to pull them apart in open trays.

Step 2: Poke ¾” holes in each cell. (Peat moss pucks are designed to already have holes poked.)

Step 3: Moisten the soil medium you are using. (Peat moss pucks should be soaked until they expand.)

Step 4: Place one seed per tray cell or puck ¼” deep. (Seedlings will compete for space and nutrients if multiple seeds are planted in a single cell.)

Step 5: Lightly cover the seeds with the soil medium and press firmly. (soil medium that is covered too loosely can uncover the seed when watered)

Step 6: Fully water the soil medium until it holds onto moisture.

Step 7: If using a dome, place it on top of the tray. Plastic wrap can be used in place of a dome. This allows the soil to hold onto moisture and warmth.

Step 8: Turn on the grow light. Grow lights will provide warmth and will help the seedlings grow strong.

Step 9: Keep watering the soil medium, ensuring it does not dry out. This can be done with a watering can or mister.

Step 10: Leave the grow light and warming mat on until the plants are ready to be transplanted outside. Plants are ready to be transplanted when they have at least two sets of true leaves.

Growing Basil From Cuttings

Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow from cuttings because of how quickly it roots. Cuttings will have more success at rooting if taken from a healthy, established plant. When taking cuttings, ensure there are at least 2-4 nodes along the stem. Nodes are the points along the stem where new growth forms such as a set of leaves. Make your cut right below one of these nodes. This is where the roots will form after being placed in water.

The stem that the cutting was taken from will branch out from the place the cutting was taken, giving you more stems to produce leaves.

Propagation Steps

Step 1: Disinfect your pruners or scissors with isopropyl alcohol or warm soap and water.

Step 2: Find a healthy stem and make a cut right below a node at a 45° angle to make a larger surface area on the stem for roots to grow.

Step 3: Remove bottom sets of leaves, leaving only the set at the top. Removing the bottom leaves allows the stem better access to the propagation container and prevents them from sitting in the water.

Step 4: Place cuttings in room temperature water to promote quicker root growth. Replace the water every few days to when roots form to add oxygen to the water. Without oxygen, the plant’s roots will drown.

Step 5: Place the cutting near a window where the cutting will get bright light most of the day. The cutting still needs sunlight to photosynthesize, even without roots.

Step 6: Pot the rooted cuttings into an all purpose potting soil when the roots are at least 3-4” long. The initial roots that form will be brittle and will become more flexible the longer they grow. Let the roots grow long enough until they have curvature to them before potting the cutting into soil.

Step 7: Fertilize with an organic fertilizer for herbs and vegetables.

Transplanting Basil

Basil is very sensitive to cold temperatures and can almost immediately be affected by turning black and mushy, so whether you are transplanting seed grown or store bought transplants, wait until the night time temperatures are above 55° F and the last frost date has passed. Transplants should be brought inside or covered with garden fabric if nighttime temperatures drop below 55° F. You can find the dates to plant your basil by typing in your zip code here.

Transplanting Steps

Step 1: Dig about a 3” planting hole (Increase or decrease the size depending on the size of the plant.)

Step 2: If planting multiple plants in the ground, dig holes at least 12 inches apart.

Step 3: Place the plant in the planting hole up to the bottom leaves, burying the entire stem.

Step 4: Water the plant until about a 6” diameter of soil is wet.


To grow strong, bountiful Basil plants all summer, it is necessary to fertilize regularly throughout the growing seasons of spring and summer. Avoid fertilizers high in nitrogen, especially in young plants. High nitrogen levels can cause your Basil plant to grow quickly, but the stems will be leggy and not very strong.

If you are growing basil to consume, it is best to go with Organic fertilizers. Here are some highly rated, organic fertilizers:

If you have any more questions about how to care for Basil, we will be happy to assist you in a virtual telehealth appointment with one of our Plant Specialists. Please click on one of the options below to book an appointment.


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