How to Grow Basil Indoors and in Your Garden


Homemade pesto is not only delicious, but easy to make. While you can always buy some at your local supermarket, using minimal ingredients to make your own is worth every minute of your time because it’s delicious. Basil is a popular herb that can be grown indoors all year round, with sweet basil being one of the most common. If you’re looking to take your recipe up a notch, here’s how to grow basil at home as well as how to harvest it for cooking.

There are plenty of basil varieties to choose from, although sweet basil is what’s likely available at your local grocery store. Sweet basil has glossy leaves and spikes of white flowers. With its subtle anise flavor, it grows 1 to 2 feet high and requires 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily. The cultivars that are available all boast unique differences, from their appearance (there are purple-leaved types such as Dark Opal and Red Rubin) to their size and taste (some feature cinnamon, clove, lemon and lime overtones).

So grow his herbaceous plant and see how your pesto, homemade salad or tomato dishes will be enhanced in an instant.


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Different Types of Basil

All of the basil varieties are from the mint family. You’ll find that almost all types are used for culinary purposes, with some being more popular than most. Here are a few types of basil you may or may not know:

  • Sweet Basil: As previously mentioned, sweet basil is the most common type found in local stores, along with being used for making pesto. It thrives in hot temperatures.
  • Genovese Basil: Genovese is a variety of sweet basil. It’s flatter, pointier and has a stronger aromatic flavor.
  • Napoletano Basil: Although another variety of sweet basil, this type has a spicier taste. It’s also known as lettuce leaf basil or large leaf basil.
  • Dark Opal Basil: Because of its unique color, this variety makes a colorful addition to flower arrangements.
  • Lemon Basil: Include this lemon-flavored herb in your salads or fish recipes. It’ll also give your tea a natural lemony taste.
  • Holy Basil: Native to India, this herb can be used to protect your body against infection and can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol.

Tips on Growing Basil

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Start indoors in individual pots, plant seeds outdoors when frosts are over and the ground is warm, or buy bedding plants. If you start plants indoors, heating cables are helpful, since this is a tropical plant that doesn’t take kindly to cold. Plant in full sun, in well-drained soil enriched with compost, aged manure, or other organic materials.

Space large-leaved cultivars, such as Lettuce Leaf, 1½ feet apart and small-leaved types, such as Spicy Globe, 1 foot apart. Basil needs ample water. Mulch your basil plants to retain moisture after the soil has warmed. Pinch plants frequently to encourage bushy growth, and pick off flower heads regularly so plants put their energy into foliage production.

Grow a few basil plants in containers so you can bring them indoors before fall frost. Or make a second sowing outdoors in June in order to have small plants to pot up and bring indoors for winter. As frost nears, you can also cut off some end shoots of the plants in the garden and root them in water, to be potted later.

Basil can be subject to various fungal diseases, including Fusarium wilt, gray mold, and black spot, as well as damping-off in seedlings. Avoid these problems by waiting to plant outside until the soil has warmed and by not overcrowding plants. Japanese beetles may skeletonize plant leaves; control pests by hand picking.


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Common Basil Problems and How to Fix Them

Basil grows extremely quickly because they’re annual. While they’re great for beginners, the leaves are known to suffer the most. Here are some more potential basil problems and how to prevent and heal them.

  • Leggy plants: If this happens, this may mean you’re adding in too much fertilizer. Make sure to fertilize according to your package instructions. Other reasons include lack of sunlight, variations in temperature and incorrect watering.
  • Yellow leaves: Check to see if you’re giving your basil enough nutrients, especially nitrogen. Check for fungal infections and take note if you’re underwatering or overwatering your plant.
  • Brown spots: Basil is a sensitive plant so always protect it against frost and colder temperatures. Fungal infection and nutrient deficiency is another potential cause.
  • Curling leaves: Leaves start to curl if they get less than 4-5 hours of sunlight. Your basil may have pests, like spiders mites, that are sucking the chlorophyll out of the leaves. Neem oil or an insecticidal soap will completely remove the insects.

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The Right Way to Harvest Basil

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Begin using the leaves as soon as the plant is large enough to spare some. Collect from the tops of the branches, cutting off several inches. Handle basil delicately so as not to bruise and blacken the leaves.

You can air-dry basil in small, loose bunches, but it keeps most flavorfully when frozen. To freeze basil, puree washed leaves in a blender or food processor, adding water as needed to make a thick but pourable puree. Pour the puree into ice-cube trays and freeze, then pop them out and store them in labeled freezer bags to use as needed in sauces, soups, and pesto.

Pesto (a creamy mixture of pureed basil, garlic, grated cheese, and olive oil) will keep for a long time in the refrigerator with a layer of olive oil on top.

How to Cook With Basil

mortar of homemade pesto genovese

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This widely used herb enhances the flavor of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. It is great in spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and ratatouille. It’s also excellent for fish or meat dishes, combining well with lemon thyme, parsley, chives, or garlic. Try it in stir-fries or in vegetable casserole dishes.

Fresh basil leaves are delicious in salads. Use the lemon-and lime-scented cultivars in fresh fruit salads and compotes. Basil is also a staple ingredient in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine; cultivars such as Siam Queen give the most authentic flavor to these dishes. Basil vinegars are good for salad dressings; those made with purple basils are colorful as well as tasty.

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