Growing Basil:
How to Grow Basil Organically

Growing basil is about as easy as gardening gets. It can be grown from seed indoors or outdoors, in pots or directly sown into the garden.

The only caveat is warmth. Basil needs six to eight hours of sunlight each day, so if growing indoors, a sunny windowsill is perfect.

Growing Basil: Plant Snapshot (Ocimum Basilicum)

Growing Basil
  • Family: Lamiaceae (Ocimum Basilicum)
  • Annual or Perennial? Annual: Ready to harvest 45 to 70 days after planting.
  • Recommended varieties: Italian Large Leaf, Siam Queen, Nufar, Magical Michael
  • Cold tolerance: Warm Season – Will not survive frost and their seeds will not germinate in cold soil. Plant them at about the average date of the last 32 degree F (0 degree C) temperature in spring
  • Required Sun: Full sun (at least 6 hours each day)
  • When planning vegetable crop rotation, group with crops from this family: Lamiaceae, lemon balm, sage
  • Companion plants (see Companion Planting Charts for more info):
    • Companions: Pepper, Tomato, Marigold
    • Avoid: None
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Growing Basil: Planting the Seed

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For an earlier harvest, start basil seeds indoors about four to six weeks before the date of the last expected frost. Plant the seed thinly in containers, enough for a few seedlings in each. Place the container in a warm place until germination takes place about 7 days after the initial planting.

Some gardeners cover the container with plastic wrap until the plants emerge for a mini greenhouse effect. Transplant to your garden when the plants are 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) high.

Basil likes warm weather (at least 70 degrees F/21 C), so plant outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. A well dug, fertile seed bed is essential for basil plants outdoors, while potted basil needs a good organic potting soil.

If starting basil outside, choose a sunny spot that is sheltered from any cool springtime winds. Sprinkle the seed on the soil, and then lightly cover with more soil and water gently. Basil seed planted outside take longer to germinate than those started indoors.

Snapshot: Planting Basil

  • Planting depth: about 1/8 inch ( 3.175 mm)
  • Spacing in rows: about 2 inches (5.08 cm)
  • Germination soil temperature: 60 to 65 degrees F (15.5 to 18.3 degrees C)
  • Days to germination: 5 to 10 days
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Growing Basil: From Germination to Pre-Harvest

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Once the basil plant has begun to sprout and develop leaves, you will want add mulch to the base to help retain moisture and also to keep down garden weeds. Keep the soil moist (don’t ever let it dry out), but not wet.

Pinch off the flower buds when they start to emerge to help the plant become more bushy and full. Use a liquid organic garden fertilizer biweekly for the first two months of growth and once monthly near harvest time.

Snapshot: Growing Basil

  • Preferred soil pH (see soil pH tester for more information): 5.5 to 6.5
  • Growing soil temperature: 60 to 65 degrees F (15.5 to 18.3 degrees C)
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Growing Basil: Harvesting Time

One of the secrets for high and bushy basil plants lies in the frequency of harvest. It’s best to wait until the plant has four to six sets of leaves, and then harvest those leaves (whenever their size suits you), also cutting the stem off right above the second set of leaves. Though this seems drastic, done every three weeks or so this will lead to bigger plants with more leaves.

Whenever flower buds emerge, cut them before they open.

Snapshot: Harvesting Basil

  • Time to harvest: About 12 weeks after planting
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Storing Basil and Freezing Basil

Herb Storage

For general herb storage advice, see...

If you will be using freshly harvested basil within a short period of time, you can place it in a glass of water and cover it with a plastic bag. Basil stored in this manner will keep for seven to ten days. Change the water in the glass daily. It is best not to refrigerate the glass, as basil is susceptible to cold.

Freezing basil will conserve its usefulness for up to a year. You can either freeze the leaves in a plastic bag or freeze them after blending in a food processor with a small amount of water.

Any leftover basil seeds are viable for two to three years.

Snapshot: Storing Basil & Freezing Basil

  • Storage temperature: 60 degrees F (15.5 degrees C)
  • Humidity:80 to 85% relative humidity
  • Storage life (unfrozen in above conditions): 7 to 10 days
  • Storage life (frozen): Up to one year
  • Seed longevity: About 2 to 3 years
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Growing Basil: Pests & Diseases

The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Basil. For more information about preventing and controlling them, see Organic Garden Pest Control.

Pests

  • Banana rind thrips
  • Banded greenhouse thrips
  • Beet armyworm
  • Chinese rose beetle
  • Garden fleahopper
  • Grass bagworm
  • Lantana hispid
  • Palestriped flea beetle
  • Pinkwinged grasshopper
  • Southern green stinkbug
  • Stevens leafhopper
  • Yellow flower thrips
  • Whitefly

Diseases

  • Bacterial leaf spot
  • Basil shoot blight
  • Downy mildew
  • Fusarium wilt
  • Root Rot
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