Growing Basil

Basil in the GardenBasil is an annual with many varieties. It is a bit of a chameleon, coming in a range of sizes, leaf colors, leaf shapes, and aromas. A fast grower, basil is native to Asia and Africa, and has a solid, if not revered place in the kitchen.

Growing Basil

Cultivate basil in full sun and provide it with well-drained soil that has a layer of mulch to reduce moisture loss. Basil can't tolerate frost and doesn't like windy spots, so keep it in a sheltered area near a wall or fence. If providing consistent moisture is a problem, find a spot with afternoon shade, which basil will tolerate better than going dry between waterings. Plant seedlings eight inches apart, and avoid watering late in the afternoon or evening to discourage mildew.

Growing Basil Indoors

Basil is an excellent choice for an indoor herb garden. It isn't fussy, and starting a fall crop will keep you in fresh basil year round. Be sure to provide well-drained soil and afternoon light. Since consistent watering is important, if you sometimes forget to water your houseplants, basil's an excellent candidate for a wicking system.  It likes six hours of light a day, so keep it in a southern facing window.

Propagating Basil

Propagate basil from seed. The seeds are easy to germinate and the seedlings develop quickly. Plant seeds directly in the garden after the threat of frost has passed for the season, or sow them in peat pots or coins that can be moved to the garden without disturbing the seedlings.  Basil is a good candidate for starting in water too.

Harvesting Basil

You can use basil leaves and flowering tops. Pick leaves when they are young and tender. Allow flowering stalks to dry before harvesting basil seeds in fall.  Learn more:  Harvesting Basil 
and  Harvesting Basil Seed 

Storing Basil

Basil doesn't dry well, so freezing leaves in water and placing the mixture in an ice cube tray, or coating leaves with oil and then placing them in a freezer bag will work great.


  1. Anonymous12:44:00 PM

    How do you get seeds from a well developed
    plant? Do you use the dry flowers? My
    brother-in-law said the "seeds" are in the
    stems? Any comments?

  2. Hi,

    I wait for the plant to flower and the flowering tops to dry out. Then I cut the tops about eight inches from the tip and upend them into a paper bag and shake vigorously. The seeds will fall into the bag.

    I don't use the dried flowers unless I save a few sprigs for herb wreaths.

  3. Stewart Bauld3:29:00 AM

    I have grown basil hydroponically and it does very well that way.

    I have always found it easiest to take cuttings of the plant to then root in water. Like mint plants basil grows new roots very quickly from a cutting. Give it a try. Great for giving gifts of Basil.

  4. Anonymous9:51:00 AM

    If basil is an annual plant, if I do root in water from a cutting fromthis years plant will I actually get another year from the rooted cuttings?

  5. I've never tried it, but if you have enough indoor light to overwinter your cuttings, you could start them in fall and they might grow well enough to set seed the following spring. That's my guess, anyway.

    If anyone's tried this, chime in.

  6. Can I just leave my basil on a glass of water indefinitely? Will it keep growing or will it rot at some point? That will be pretty cool to do if it's possible.

  7. great site btw!

    any tips to help prevent basil from flowering too early? i find i only have to take my eyes off it for a minute or so and it has bolted, then flowered!

  8. Thanks Chilli King!

    Here are my tips to keep plants from bolting (or flowering and setting seed far too soon).

    Keep plants (including basil) in a cooler or slightly shadier location.

    Put them out in the garden a little sooner in spring so you can to extend the cooler growing season for them.

    Pinch back flowers further down the stem than you probably have been doing - about 1-1/2 to 2 inches.

    Start harvesting leaves while the plant is still immature. The more you harvest (and dry if you can't use leaves fresh), the more energy the plant will expend on leafing out rather than flower production.

    Harvest a quarter to a third of the plant throughout the growing season. Do this about four times from May through September (or whatever your season happens to be).

    That should help give you better production for your basil.

    Good luck.

  9. I was curious about companion planting. Basil is supposed to be good to grow with tomatoes. Since herbs require less fertile, more stressful conditions to grow properly and be more tasteful, how does that work when growing them in the more fertile and moist conditions that are required for growing good tomato plants? Just curious.

  10. Dear Growing Tomatoes:

    I'll explain it the way I understand it. If you stick a poor-soil loving plant in a spot where there's lots of fertilizer, some varieties will shrivel up and die while others will take what they need from the surrounding soil and ignore the rest. Basil is pretty versatile, and the ill effects of sticking it in your pampered vegetable plot are usually minimal and may include: milder taste, and a plant that could bolt sooner than you'd expect otherwise.


  11. The common basil plant that is in my garden with part sun/part shade is doing extremely well. I would like to bring it inside in the fall. If I do a gradual move by potting it, leaving the potted basil where it is, then move the plant in 4 different moves until it can be brought inside in October, will this improve it's survival on a west window sill? Thank you, Roz in Vermont

  12. Basil is an annual that won't overwinter the way you might hope -- you can take stem cuttings and root them in water over the winter, though. They'll be ready to plant out in spring. It's a nice compromise. You can also take seeds, of course.


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