How to Grow Basil, Summer’s Favorite Herb

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One of the common goals of both novice and experienced gardeners is to grow an endless supply of herbs for the kitchen. Basil often lands at the top of this list because who doesn’t love the idea of ​​picking fragrant, beautifully cut leaves and scattering them over a homemade pizza or happy hour cocktail?

I admit that I have had real struggles with basil in the past. I forced him to push in places that I sought it to grow. . . and in turn, he showed me that he was not happy. It wasn’t until a few trials of successive container gardening and sowing that I was able to determine reliable, full-season production of gorgeous soft greens (and purples!). And luckily, it’s not that difficult.

Consider this your crash course in how to grow basil. By following a few of these tips, you’ll see just how easy it can be to grow any herb, but especially delicious basil to use anywhere.

Some like it hot

Basil is pretty easy when the right conditions are right, the first being warm weather. Specifically, warm soil (ideally 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit), which promotes germination and steady growth. Start seeds or begin transplanting in a spot that gets 6-8 hours of sun a day in well-drained soil – I’ve had my best luck growing in large containers where I can keep soil healthy and constantly watered. Bonus points if you can place basil in an area you check often, like outside the kitchen or patio door.

Seeds vs nurseries

Seeds can be sown indoors as early as six weeks before the last frost, or sown directly outdoors in a location of your choice. Common problems when starting from seed are planting too deep or too close together. Sow the seeds no more than 1/4 inch deep – and once the sprouts have 2-3 leaves each, thin the plants to 10-12 inches apart. I know thinning is painful, but at least you can mix these microgreens into a sandwich.

If you’re looking for basil quickly, nursery plants are a great option. In fact, I like to do a combination of nursery starting and seed sowing in the same container to have a continuous source of plants to harvest throughout spring and summer. When buying plants, look for an abundance of healthy green leaves (no yellowing or brown spots) and, if possible, choose one with little or no flowering.

For bushier plants – whether you started from seed or starting – pinch off several sets of leaves from the top of the plant, leaving behind at least two sets of leaves on each stem. This will encourage additional branching (aka: fewer long plants and more leaves to harvest throughout the season).

Watering and fertilizing

Moisture is your friend: basil likes it best with constant watering and very little drying out between drinks. Like most garden plants, try to avoid any overhead watering that will splatter soil onto the leaves, saving you (most) future pest or disease problems.

Mulching is a great way to retain moisture in the warmer months; experiment with compost or garden straw, but avoid touching the stem of your plant. I prefer to use compost as a mulch because it doubles as a fertilizer and improves soil health, but you can also use a 5-10-5 fertilizer sparingly. Basil really doesn’t need extra care, so don’t worry too much.

The worst

Japanese beetles, slugs, and aphids are your top three suspects when it comes to insects on basil. Manual pest removal is preferable to pesticides (crude as that may sound), so keep an eye out for early nibbles or leaf color changes to stop pests before they spread. I like to use a strong stream of water to get rid of these insects.

Bacterial leaf spot, or basil shoot blight, is a major problem when it comes to pathogens. With proper watering (i.e. never drench the plant’s leaves or splash soil on the stems), remove dead or damaged leaves, and harvest regularly to increase airflow, you’ll keep the plant happy and strong.


The beauty of herbs is that the more you harvest, the more you harvest. . . when it’s done right. Always work from the top of the plant down, pinching over a set of two leaves to stimulate new growth. If you want to lengthen the leaf production of the plant, simply cut off the flower buds to send the energy back into the plant rather than letting it go to seed. In other words, feel free to pick up your wares.

Additional credit

There are two gardening techniques I like to incorporate when growing basil, and they’re both easy and will give you a longer, more productive growing season:

Succession sowing

It is the practice of sowing seeds several times during the season to bridge the gap between the first harvest and subsequent regrowth. I like to sprinkle new seeds every two weeks to sprout new plants.


Did you know that some plant friends work together to resist pests? and make your food more delicious? Try planting basil next to marigolds to deter pests, borage to attract more beneficial bees, chamomile chives or oregano to enhance aroma, and tomatoes to boost their yields as well as flavor. .

Varieties of basil to add to your mix

It is estimated that there are over 150 species of basil cultivars and hybrids. Here are four unique, yet easy-to-find varieties to add flair to your next basil crop:

cardinal basil

Grown more for its beautiful blooms than its leaves, these giant purple pom poms are so beautiful you’ll want to harvest them for a vase instead of a dinner party. Well, the cinnamon-clove flavor and aniseed notes are also quite irresistible.

Dark Opal Basilisk

These deep purple hued leaves are a beautiful addition to your basil bouquet. I love to sow them sequentially between other Italian varieties of sweet basil for a steady supply of herbs; its unique, sweet-salty, earthy flavor is a great addition to more common basil varieties.

holy basil

A popular medicinal herb also known as tulsi, this basil is most commonly dried and used for tea, but is also a delicious addition to Thai cuisine.

African blue basil

This particular variety is a staple in my garden; I have several large bunches of these and love the herbal minty flavor the leaves add to my salads and caprese. Perennial grass that bees love, it grows back year after year even with severe pruning. Remember to let them flower so they can attract pollinators.