How to Grow Basil in Your Kitchen (It’s So Easy!)

updated Apr 30, 2024
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Fresh basil herb in pot
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Basil is one of the most perfect herbs — especially when summer rolls around. I generously sprinkle it over caprese salads, top pasta with it, muddle it into Bloody Marys, and make sweet basil syrup for my sliced summer strawberries. And don’t even get me started about how liberally I toss freshly chopped basil on my pizza! And I know I’m not alone here.

But those packages or bundles of basil at the grocery store can really add up over time — and, after all, growing your own basil is incredibly easy. Plus, it’s way less expensive to buy an established basil plant and focus your energy on growing your own leaves. And it doesn’t get much fresher than basil you freshly picked two seconds ago!

Here’s everything you need to know about growing your own basil in a planter at home.

Why Should You Grow Your Own Basil?

There’s nothing like clipping fresh basil leaves from your garden (or windowsill!) and adding them right into whatever you’re cooking. Basil’s fresh, spicy, clove-y flavor profile is a natural addition to so many cooking styles and cuisines.

Just one well-pruned plant will supply you with about a 1/2 cup’s worth of basil every single week. Even if you’re limited on space, to grow your own basil, just a sunny windowsill and some well-draining soil can supply you with fast-growing basil for months!

There are plenty of different types of basil you can grow. Certainly the most common cultivar of basil is sweet basil or Genovese basil, but other culinary options — such as Thai, lemon, globe, and cinnamon — are also readily available. One of the main differences between basil and other herbs is the fact that it is a tender annual, and is very sensitive to the cold.

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

How to Grow Your Own Basil

Basil is a wonderful addition to any container garden or planter, even for beginner gardeners. To grow your own basil, simply find a sunny windowsill, fill a container with well-drained soil, and if you want, plant it among other herbs and vegetables. That’s all it takes to get basil for months! In a larger garden, plant basil among your tomatoes. It’s a one-stop shop for your next caprese salad.

  • Soil: Basil does its best in well-drained, moist soil with a neutral pH. I add a rich compost to the soil at the beginning of the (spring) season. Not much more soil amendment is necessary. In fact, if the soil is too rich, basil loses some of its flavor intensity.
  • Sun: Basil grows well in warm environments that receive about six hours of sun each day. I have a couple of basil plants growing in an area that receives only four hours of sun, but they aren’t as prolific as the others. My best basil plants actually grow in an east-facing area that doesn’t get the scorching, midday sun.
  • Water: Give basil water when the soil is dry to the touch, doing your best to water the plant at its base and not all over its leaves.
  • Spacing: Depending upon the variety, basil grows anywhere from 12 to 24 inches in height. Space basil plants 12 to 16 inches apart. If you’re limited on space or only grow in containers, consider spicy globe basil, which tends to form a small, mounding habit.

When to Plant Basil

Basil is easy to sow from seed and is relatively quick to germinate. When planting from seed, plant seeds about six weeks before the last frost. Basil is super sensitive to the cold, so whether you are transplanting seedlings from indoors or have plants in the ground, watch the early spring temperatures and cover if necessary. If you are planting a cutting or transplanting a seedling or smaller plant, make sure the ground temperature is at least 70°F. May is the best time to plant your basil!

How to Propagate Basil

In addition to sowing basil from seed, a cutting of basil will easily root when placed in water. Select a four-inch section of basil that has not yet flowered. Roots will form within a week in a glass of water. Transplant the basil directly into the garden or container once a healthy root system is apparent.

Companion Plants for Basil

Plant basil among other herbs and vegetables with similar lighting and watering needs, like tomatoes or parsley. Some gardening experts even say tomatoes taste better when they neighbor basil!

Outside of fruits and vegetables, plant basil alongside chamomile, lettuce, peppers, and oregano. I even like to keep a few pots of basil on my back porch to deter mosquitoes.

How to Harvest Basil (And What’s “Bolting?”)

Basil is a pick-as-you-go kind of herb. You may harvest only what you need, or if you have an abundance on hand, you may clip a mass harvest. Harvest basil as you would mint, snipping a stem just above the point where two large leaves meet. Regular clipping encourages a more rounded, less leggy plant.

It’s always better to harvest basil before the plant flowers, or “bolts.” If you don’t have time to harvest any leaves, just pinch off the flowering portion. The flowers are actually edible, but if you pinch them off, the plant can now direct its energy on growing tasty leaves. Additionally, be sure to harvest no more than two-thirds of the entire plant, so it can continue producing.

The Kitchn’s Favorite Basil Recipes