Growing Your Own Basil Plant: A Guide for Beginners

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Basil is easy to grow at home. It does well indoors and outdoors. Here we discuss growing your own basil plant. Basil is a woody plant that branches out. It loves warm weather and tends to grow extremely quickly when temperatures hit 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

When you choose to grow basil, you should keep in mind that two or three plants are plenty for a family. 

You can put a basil plant in your herb garden or in a container. It does very well in pots which makes it ideal for kitchen counters and small outdoor spaces.

Basil is also very easy to grow, and you don’t need a lot of growing talent or a green thumb to get a great bounty. 

How to Grow Basil 

Since basil is relatively easy to grow, you don’t have to worry too much about failure. Basil plants are annuals. This means they grow, set seed and then wither away. You can harvest and prune leaves to encourage a long growing season.

Before we get into how to grow basil, there are several things to keep in mind when growing this flavorful herb.

The first thing is that you should plant basil about two weeks after the last frost in your area. This ensures that you won’t have to worry about the plants dying from the cold.

When you plant basil, you should space it out correctly, too. In general, you should space the plants from 12 to 18 inches apart from each other.

The soil should be fertile and well-drained, and you should make sure that the pH sits between 6.0 and 7.0.

If you are planting the basil in your garden or garden bed, you should mix potting soil, organic material, or even compost into the first couple of inches into the soil.

Typically when you buy a basil plant, it will come in a small pot. You will want to replant it in a larger pot as it grows larger.

The best option is to get a bagged potting mix if you choose to grow the basil in a container.

Basil loves to grow in moist soil, so you should check the moisture levels regularly. If the top inch of the soil becomes dry, this is a sign that your basil plant needs more water.

When your basil gets anywhere from 4 – 6 inches in height, you should pinch off the top branches, which will force the plant to grow side shoots. This also makes the plant grow a bit taller.

Any blooms you see should also be removed, as you don’t want your basil to start seeding. Learn how to harvest basil to maximize growth.

You can feed your basil with plant food — choose organic fertilizer — which will help to promote more leaf production. However, if you plant it in nutrient rich soil, you likely won’t need fertilizer.

Basil is ready to harvest when it gets to about six to eight inches in height.

beginner basil growing
Basil leaves growing on plant ~ Image credit: Dawn Head

Collect the basil simply by pinching them off of the main stem.

Step 1: Choosing the Soil for Basil

Basil really likes rich soil, and it should be well-drained. You want to make sure that the pH is neutral, from 6.0 to 7.0.

If you have poor soil, you can add compost, cottonseed meal, or blood meal to the soil to add more nutrients. 

There are also potting mixes that you can buy from a local garden store that are specifically made for herbs like basil.

Most of these are light and well-draining, so they are perfect for containers. Choose the best soil you can afford and organic when possible.

The soil you choose is important. This is where the basil plant will derive its nutrients. 

Organic fertilizer for herbs is also available from your local garden store, which not only feeds the plant but also introduces microbes to the soil. You may choose to feed your plants with regularity, especially because you will be harvesting a lot of leaves from your plant.

Basil in a container

If you are planting basil in a container, you need to have a large enough pot. Planting it in a larger pot will keep you from needing to transplant it when it grows larger. The most common basil variety is sweet basil. This is what you’ll see most often for sale in stores. There are many types of basil, all of which do well in containers.

Step 2: Watering Basil Plant

We mentioned that basil requires a lot of water. You should make sure that you water it if the top inch of the soil gets dry.

If you plant your basil in a pot, it is likely to dry out much faster than if you plant it in a garden.

A pot that is larger in size helps to keep the plants from drying out too fast.  When the sun shines down on a smaller pot, it makes the water evaporate much more quickly. So, you have to water it much more.

Also, keep in mind that you may have to water more when the temperature rises.

If you want to extend the period between waterings, you can top the soil around your plants with mulch. This helps to keep the soil moist.

Step 3: Harvesting Basil 

Harvest basil leaves simply by pinching them off of the main stem. You should only do this, however, when the plants have grown to a height of six to eight inches.

You can push the plant to grow more, too, if you take the leaves from the stems. Even if you don’t use the leaves, taking them from the stems can greatly encourage growth.

It can also cause the plant to begin to flower if you don’t remove the leaves, though you only want the leaves, in most cases, not the flowers.

If the plant begins to flower, it will soon set seed. At this time it will stop growing leaves which is the opposite of what you want to do.

Step 4: Pruning

Much like harvesting basil, it’s important to learn how to prune basil to encourage more growth. Snip branches off the main stem, remove the lower leaves, and set in water. Once it roots, you can transplant into soil. Harden outdoors and soon you will have a new lush basil plant.

It’s best to maximize the growing season with regular harvesting and pruning. Let the basil plant go to seed when it starts turning cold and there is a threat of frost. Then you can collect the seeds to replant the following year.

Step 4: Storing Basil 

If you aren’t ready to use the fresh basil, you can learn how to dry basil. Then you can have dry basil in your cabinet at all times.

Another thing you can do with your basil is to freeze the leaves. Other ways to use basil are in a vinegar solution. You can also use basil leaves in oil.

These are some of the best ways to preserve the flavor of the basil. 

It is possible to cut the stems of the basil and place it in water for a few days. This will fill your home with a gorgeous fragrance. 

You can also grow new basil plants from stems that you root indoors. More on this below.

Protecting Basil from Frost

If you think that there is going to be a frost, you should harvest all of your leaves. Basil that is left in the cold weather will turn black.

In order to protect your basil plant from frost, cover them with plastic sheets, drop cloths, bed sheets, etc. You must be sure whatever you use doesn’t touch the plant. Use stakes to prop up the cloth.

If you have harsh winters, you can snip off some healthy branches in order to save what you can from the basil, and root them indoors. After they grow roots, you can pot them in the winter and then plant them outdoors in the spring.

Much depends on your climate and your hardiness zone. 

Uses for Basil  

If you want to get the most flavor out of your basil, you should add the fresh leaves to your dishes in the last few minutes of cooking.

  • Basil is delicious in dishes with tomatoes. It also pairs well with any type of olive oil or Italian cheeses.
  • You can use basil to add flavor to chicken and beef dishes.
  • It is also good in salads, pasta dishes, soups, and sauces.

You can nicely blend the flavor of basil with other herbs, including oregano, sage, parsley, thyme, and rosemary.

Considerations to Keep in Mind About Basil

Though basil is very easy to grow, there are some things that you should keep in mind about this delicious plant.

First, though basil is generally not bothered by pests, they could attract slugs, aphids, and Japanese beetles on occasion.

Another big issue that you might have to deal with when growing this herb is drainage issues.

Basil could be prone to root rot, so you should make sure that the soil is well-drained.

On the flip side, however, you don’t want to allow your basil to get too dry. If it does, it could stunt the growth of your plants.

The opposite is also true. If it gets too out of control and too mature, you won’t get a great abundance of leaves.

Since basil is an annual, you should not cut away at the main stem. Only cut the leaves from the branches. If you want to grow more basil, snip branches from the main stem.

Companion plants to basil include beefsteak tomatoes, oregano, and peppers.

Growing Basil Indoors 

So far, we have generally discussed growing the plant outdoors, but do you know how to grow basil indoors? Basil is exceptionally easy to grow in the house. The biggest issue people have with growing the herb indoors is giving it enough light.

If you remember, when growing the plant outdoors, you must make sure that it gets a lot of light.

The same holds true when growing it in the house. You really need to make sure that it gets a minimum of four hours of sun a day.

If you have your basil in a place where it doesn’t have a chance to get that much sun, you can also use a grow light. You don’t need a fancy growing light to grow basil, though. Instead, you can simply use a regular fluorescent light.

That is all you need to keep a fresh supply of basil all year long.

growing basil plant at home

The Best Indoor Growing Conditions for Basil


Outdoors, in the sun, you should give your basil at least 6 hours of light. Indoors, however, when under a bulb, you need to keep the light going a bit longer.

In fact, it is recommended that you shine the light on the plant for about 12 hours a day. Just keep in mind that you must not allow the plants to get too close to the bulbs.

It is possible that the basil will burn, as temperatures can get pretty warm under these lamps. A good rule of thumb is to make sure the light bulb is two inches to four inches from the leaves.


Basil likes a lot of water, too. In the house, you should keep the soil your basil is growing in moist. If you notice that it begins to wilt, you should water it ASAP. It also helps to mist the basil.

Basil really thrives in temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but in the house, that is probably much too hot. So, indoors, try to keep the temperature where the basil is at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Loose, nutritious soil

You should plant your indoor basil in a well-draining, loose potting mix. It might even be best to choose a potting mix that is formulated specifically for herbs.

Finally, when you are growing your basil, you should give it an organic fertilizer every season. This is optional but will boost growth.

Growing Indoor Basil

You can easily start basil from a seed, even if you don’t have an overly green thumb.

There are many different types of basil you can plant, so you may want to experiment with different seed types. This may be fun if you plan to use it for cooking certain types of dishes.

Most of these varieties will germinate in 5 – 6 days when kept at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

If the temperature is lower, the germination time will be a bit longer than that, generally anywhere from 5 – 10 days.

Re-Potting Basil Indoors

Most people who grow basil eat their herbs before the plant ever needs a re-potting.

If you are growing from a seed, you should re-pot the seeds into a four-inch pot, which is enough room for the plant to thrive and grow indoors.

Once the re-potted plant is established, you can consider pruning it to get more leaves.

Though pruning the plant promotes new leaves, keep in mind that indoor basil likely will not grow as large as one that grows outdoors.

Choosing a Basil Variety

There are dozens of basil varieties. Some of these include Thai basil, lemon basil, purple basil, and many others. Genovese basil and Sweet basil are among the most common. All of these basil types can be grown indoors.

growing basil plant outdoors
Snip flowers on basil to encourage new growth ~ Image credit: Dawn Head

FAQs about Growing Basil

1. What is the herb basil good for?

Depending on how many basil plants you choose to plant, you might find that you have an abundance of this delicious herb. So, you might be wondering, what is the herb basil good for?

Most people use basil to flavor their foods, but there are also a lot of benefits to this plant.

For example, basil is very good as a digestive aid. It has some anti-inflammatory properties, and it can be a good option for people who have chronic headaches and insomnia.

Because of the anti-inflammatory properties, basil is also good for fevers, sore throats, coughs, colds, and arthritis. Basil might also help to lower the risk of developing heart disease.

People also use basil as a way to soothe the skin. It can help to clean the skin and remove impurities that can clog pores.

You can even make a paste out of crushed basil leaves, rose water, and sandalwood paste. Apply this paste to the face and allow it to sit for about 20 minutes before rinsing it off with cold water.

Some people also claim that basil helps to fight anxiety and depression, as it stimulates neurotransmitters in the brain.

Finally, basil helps to support the function of the liver, and it even helps to detoxify the body.

2. How does basil grow best?

So, how does basil grow best? Basil grows best in hardiness zones 2 – 11. As with all plants, there are perfect conditions that you can try to create to boost the production of your plants.

The perfect location for basil is an area that gets at least six hours of full sun each day. Eight hours of sun, however, is best.

If you are growing the plant indoors under a light, it is best to allow the light to shine on the basil plant for at least 12 hours.

Basil also requires moist soil, and you shouldn’t allow the dirt to completely dry out. Check the soil, and if the top inch of the soil is dry, you should water the plants. Well-draining soil that is at a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 is best.

Though you can plant basil directly in the ground, the best option is to plant the herb in a raised bed or container. This ensures that the plant has good drainage.

If you don’t have well-draining soil, the basil can develop root rot, which is extremely difficult to treat.

If you want to cook basil, make sure that the soil and the container are clean. You also should not use any insecticides or other poisonous substances on the plant.

Additionally, do not plant basil near a road or driveway, as the exhaust from cars can settle on the plants.

No matter where you plant basil, make sure to wash it before eating it.

3. How long will a basil plant live?

Basil is a good plant for beginning gardeners. It’s hardy and adaptable. It’s very easy to grow.

Basil is an annual plant. This means that it has a life cycle that begins and ends. Basil begins as a seed, and its lifecycle ends when it dies away.

Even if you don’t harvest the leaves of the plant, it will begin to grow flowers, and when the flowers die, so will the plant.

In general, you can expect basil to live around six to eight months when grown in the ground. However, with some low maintenance, if you are in a hardiness zone with mild winters, you can expect it to last longer as long as they aren’t affected by frost. 

Basil plants in pots indoors can live for 8 – 10 months on average. It all depends on the conditions, including the soil, light, temperature, and water.

4. Are coffee grounds good for basil plants?

Using coffee grounds has it place to support basil growth. You just have to be careful when you use it. Basil likes soil that is neutral to slightly acidic. However, coffee grounds can add a lot of acid to the soil.

As such, you must be careful when adding coffee grounds. Nevertheless, coffee grounds can help to fight disease, fertilize, and keep insects away. It’s best to use compost that has coffee grounds in it rather than incorporate them directly into the soil.

Growing Your Own Basil

Basil is a very rewarding plant to have in your garden. It grows equally well indoors and grows well in greenhouses. We hope you learned that growing your own basil plant is easy to do. 

In addition to being easy to grow, basil isn’t badly prone to diseases nor pests, and it tastes delicious.

You can get more out of your basil by keeping it pruned, so as soon as the leaves look like they are ready, feel free to start taking them from the plant.

Just keep in mind that the taste of basil can change throughout the plant’s lifestyle. If it begins to develop flowers, it can taste quite bitter.

You can still eat the basil after flowering begins, just know that it might not taste like the basil you are used to. Continue to remove the flowers to encourage new growth.