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A Complete Guide to Growing Basil

Have you had trouble growing basil?

If you’ve experienced this trouble, you are not alone.  I often come across this complaint throughout the gardening community.
 
Basil has specific growing requirements. It is unlike many of the cold-tolerant herbs like dill, cilantro and parsley. Basil is an herb with growing demands similar to tomatoes, cucumbers and squash – all heat-loving crops.

After growing basil for many years and experiencing repeated fails and wins, I have found what works when growing basil.

In this post, I cover basil’s growing requirements from seed starting indoors to growing out in the garden.

When should you start your basil seeds?

After a delayed germination period of 5 to 10 days, basil grows quickly after emerging from the soil.  For this reason, basil should be started approximately 6 weeks before the final frost date, to have it ready at planting time. If you’re unsure of your specific seed sowing dates, please refer to my Seed Starting Calculator.

What if you’re sowing directly in the garden?

If you would prefer to sow your basil seeds directly in the garden, do so approximately 1 week before the final frost date.  My Seed Starting Calculator. can give you specific direct sowing dates for your location.

Don’t forget to succession plant

Complete Guide to Growing Basil

Basil plant before harvest.

Basil reaches maturity in 65 to 70 days from sowing. This does not mean that you can’t harvest your basil until the 65th day. It just means that your basil will grow from seed to mature, flowering plant in that length of time.  Basil may be harvested throughout its growth cycle, beginning after the plant has developed two sets of true leaves. 

With repeated harvesting, you may extend the lifespan of your basil plants. However, basil will eventually become fully mature and send out a flower stalk. The flavour and smell of the basil leaves will also mature into a more pungent flavour and aroma, similar to dried basil.  In order to have a continuous harvest of young basil leaves, consider sowing several cells or pots of basil seeds every 2 weeks.  Alternatively, use the same timing technique when sowing basil seeds directly in the garden.

How to Sow Basil Seeds Indoors:

You’re ready to plant your basil seeds. What do you need to get started?

Tools required:

Basil Sowing Directions:

  1. Moisten the seed starting mix.  When you open your bag of seed starting mix it will feel dry or lightly damp. Be sure to moisten it and mix it in well. Break up any clods in the soil. You want it to have a loose and crumbly consistency, not sopping wet.
  2. Fill your seed starting tray with seed starting mix, leaving a little room for topping up.
  3. Plant your basil seeds at a depth of 1/4 inch.  Sow 3 or 4 basil seeds per cell.  Basil will grow well together as a clump of 3 or 4 seedlings.
  4. Sprinkle a thin layer of seed starting mix over the top of each cell in the seed tray, gently firming it in.
  5. Lightly water the top of your seed tray, to ensure even moisture.
  6. Cover your tray with a clear plastic dome, or clear plastic wrap. If you would like to keep the wrap elevated above the surface of the soil, use toothpicks, popsicle sticks or another device to keep the wrap lifted.
  7. Set your seed trays under grow lights or your brightest south facing window.
  8. As soon as your seeds germinate and emerge through the soil, be sure to remove the plastic cover. If you leave it on, the moist conditions under the cover may cause your seedlings to rot or mould.

How to care for your basil seedlings?

Your seedlings are now growing well under the grow lights. You’ve witnessed them develop their first seed leaves, or cotyledons, and even their first true leaves.  To maintain their healthy green growth, basil requires consistent moisture. Be sure to water your seedlings on a regular basis. Don’t allow the soil to dry out, or the health of your seedlings will suffer.  This is evident when you see yellowing and darkening areas on the leaves.

Planting your basil seedlings in the garden

Basil prefers to grow in full sun. Choose a bright location that receives a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. Space your basil plants approximately 10 to 12 inches apart.  

Another option is to plant your basil where you plant your tomatoes. Basil will happily grow at the base of your tomato plants. Either plant them between each tomato plant, or at the end of the rows.  Not only does the basil fit in at the base of a tomato plant, it also makes for easier harvesting.

Back to succession planting

A Complete Guide to Growing Basil

The red line shows where to pinch.

You’ve transplanted your basil plants into the garden and they look green and healthy.  These plants are ready for harvest and you may begin to do so at anytime. However, if you would like to have a continuous supply of healthy green leaves, you need to consider sowing the next supply of basil. 

Decide whether you would like to start them indoors under grow lights, or directly in the garden.  If sowing directly in the garden, either sow them next to the existing basil plants or in a different location in full sun.  Make a small hole in the soil, at a depth of 1/2 an inch, sprinkle 4 or 5 seeds in the hole and cover with soil. Alternatively, make a small furrow in the soil at the same depth. Sprinkle your basil seeds in the furrow, then close the furrow. Water it in and wait.  You should start to see emerging basil seedlings in about a week. By the time these baby seedlings mature into small plants, your original basil plants will have come close to maturity and be ready for removal.

The correct way to harvest basil

A Complete Guide to Growing Basil

Basil plant after harvest.

I have found that there is a lot of confusion when it comes to the correct way to harvest basil. If done correctly, your basil plants will bush out and produce healthy green leaves for a long period of time. If done incorrectly, your basil plants will grow long and lanky and eventually stop producing new leaves.

When harvesting basil, be sure to pinch off along the top of a stem, directly above a set of leaves. If you look closely, you will see tiny leaves emerging in the joint, where the basil leaf connects to the stem. Pinch directly above this point and the tiny leaves will mature into larger leaves.  Below the leaves, new branches will develop causing the plant to become bushier.

The most important thing to remember with basil is the more you harvest from it, the more leaves it will produce. Leave it alone for a while and your plant will bolt, elongating at the top and forming flowers, which will mature into seeds. By continuously harvesting from your plants, you will extend their lifespan, rewarding you with a continuously flush of fresh basil leaves.

Watch the video below where I show you the correct way to harvest basil. And be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel by simply hovering over the top left corner of the video or by using the button below.

For more basil growing tips, check out my post, “The Best Way to Harvest Basil and other Tips“.

If you would like to add more herbs to your garden, check out my post, “10 Must Have Herbs for Your Vegetable Garden“.

Happy Gardening!


Here are the tools that I mentioned in the post.

Disclaimer: The links to some of these tools are my affiliate links. Meaning, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you, should you purchase the product through my affiliate link.
10 Proven Steps for a Successful Vegetable Garden

10 Proven Steps for a Successful Vegetable Garden

Having a vegetable garden that flourishes takes a big commitment. Learn how to create an enchanted kitchen garden oasis with these 10 proven steps.

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