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Home & Lifestyle

How to Grow Basil Indoors and Outdoors

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 2 min read

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Ron Finley Teaches Gardening

Fresh basil leaves are the sweet, peppery crown on most iconic Italian dishes, from pizza to pasta to the tangle of tomatoes and creamy mozzarella in a Caprese salad—and that king of sauces, herbaceous, olive oil-laced Genovese-style pesto.

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Ron Finley Teaches GardeningRon Finley Teaches Gardening

Community activist and self-taught gardener Ron Finley shows you how to garden in any space, nurture your plants, and grow your own food.

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Types of Basil for Home Herb Gardens

Growing your own basil means freedom to experiment with a host of basil varieties. Sweet basil may be the conventional type to plant, but stunning purple basil and citrusy lemon basil come in handy, too. Thai basil brings hits of sharp anise to South Asian soups, aromatic curries, and stir-fries.

How to Grow Basil

How to Grow Basil

Basil is a staple of any herb garden, and also makes for a good companion plant for other crops like tomatoes.

  1. Start from seed. Basil seeds take between one and two weeks to germinate and sprout. If the soil is already warmed up, seeds can be planted directly in the ground.
  2. Or pick the plants. Starter basil plants can be found at any nursery or gardening store beginning in early spring.
  3. Pick a spot. Basil plants love heat, so plant basil well after the last frost, in a spot that will get a good amount of full sun throughout the day (at least 6 hours of sun). Some afternoon shade may be beneficial for planting in warmer regions. Potting or planting in raised beds helps keep the soil moist, but well-drained. Surrounding the plants with mulch will also help with water retention, as well as keeping weeds at bay.
  4. Plant! Basil seeds or seedlings should be planted about ½ inch below the surface, with about 10–12 inches of space between them. (Larger starter plants or varieties can take a bit more space: think 16 inches.) Keep plants well watered, especially in particularly hot weather.
Ron Finley Teaches Gardening
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How to Grow Basil Indoors

If growing from basil seeds at the beginning of the growing season, start seeds inside (ice cube trays in a sunny windowsill works well for this) 6 weeks before planting outside. Growing basil indoors is a great way to have a generous supply ready at hand for any cooking needs: If direct sunlight is hard to come by, considering using grow lights on a timer.

When to Harvest Basil

Basil leaves can be harvested once the plants have gained some height: Wait for them to hit about 8 inches before removing any leaves.

How to Harvest Basil

As soon as the seedlings sprout their first 6 full leaves, at which point, the plant should be pruned back to just above the second set of leaves in order to encourage further branching. Snip and repeat with any new branches once they sprout 6 leaves; prune flower buds as soon as they appear at the tops of the plant.

Harvesting throughout the season can mean pinching off leaves as needed, or cutting full sprigs for larger projects like pesto. Store basil in a sealed freezer bag in the refrigerator and use promptly.

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