Interested in starting your own basil plants from seed? Then you’ve come to the right place! Whether growing plants indoors or outside, we’ve got all the information you need for starting seeds, including when to start them, how long they take to grow, step-by-step planting instructions, and how to care for your young seedlings after germination.
Choosing between basil seeds and plants
Deciding whether to start plants from seed or buy young plants comes down to your preference—both ways have advantages and disadvantages. Some people like to grow as many plants from seeds as possible, some don’t like starting seeds, and others opt for combining the two methods.
- With seeds, you have more options in terms of varieties to choose from, seeds are cheaper than buying plants, and you can grow plants from seeds controlling the types of fertilizer and pesticides (if needed) used.
- Buying young plants is easier than caring for seedlings, and your plant is likely ready for harvesting when you purchase it.
Is it difficult to grow basil from seed?
Not at all! Basil is one of the easiest herbs to start from seed, and it is often recommended to beginners when they are looking to start their own herb garden or start garden plants from seed. You’ll be rewarded with a thriving, robust plant if you have the right supplies and tend to young seedlings correctly.
How much time do I need to grow basil from seed?
- After planting, basil seeds take about seven to ten days to germinate.
- Depending upon the growing conditions, seedlings are typically ready to be transplanted into the garden within six to eight weeks, as long as the conditions are suitable.
- Plants are ready for their first harvest when fifty to sixty days old.
Where can I grow basil plants?
One of the great aspects of growing basil is plants do well whether grown indoors or outside. Some people prefer to keep a pot of basil on their kitchen windowsill for easy access when cooking, and others like to add it to an outdoor herb garden with others like rosemary, cilantro, and parsley.
Indoor plants are often grown as perennials because of the stable indoor environment. You can keep growing a single plant as long as it continues to produce new foliage.
Depending on your available space and gardening preference, you can grow plants directly in the ground or containers when grown outdoors. In colder climates, you will either need to grow it as an annual plant or plant basil in a container that you can bring indoors for the winter.
When can I plant basil?
Figuring out when to plant depends on where it will live. If you’re keeping your plant inside, you can start seeds anytime. But outdoor plants don’t have the same ease. Basil is a tender herb and does not tolerate frost or a hard freeze. When growing plants outside, it’s best to start seeds indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last frost.
Do I need to do anything to basil seeds before planting?
When starting plants from seed, it is sometimes recommended to soak the seeds before planting or prep them in another way to speed up germination and improve the number of seeds that successfully sprout. Basil sprouts well on its own and doesn’t require any extra steps before planting, but you can soak seeds if you wish.
If you want to soak the seeds, put them in a cup or shallow bowl of water and let them absorb water for a few hours or overnight. Soaking helps soften the seed coat, providing water to the embryo inside and kick-starting growth.
Supplies needed for planting seeds
- Containers – Depending on how many seeds you try to start, you can begin basil seeds in seed trays or individual pots. When opting for pots, choose either plastic or clay (glazed or unglazed), depending on your preference. An 8-inch pot is sufficient for a single plant. A 12-inch container will hold three plants.
- Growing Media – Commercial potting soil and coconut coir are both excellent options for starting seeds. Both growing media are lightweight and have excellent water retention without staying saturated. If you choose potting soil, you can select a special seed starting mix or a standard potting mix.
- Supplemental Lighting – Indoor-grown plants need a lot of light for vigorous growth and maximum yield. In many cases, homes don’t get enough sunlight to mimic conditions outside, so plants benefit from extra light from a grow light. Supplemental lighting keeps plants from getting tall and spindly, keeping them bushy and full.
Step-By-Step Planting Instructions
Starting basil from seeds follows basic planting methods:
- Fill your container(s) with pre-moistened potting soil or coco coir.
- Sow a small number of seeds about one-quarter inch (¼”) deep, covering them lightly.
- Place the container(s) where the air temperature is at least 70°F. It’s helpful to put them where it’s slightly warmer than this, if possible. The top of your refrigerator is warm, and a seed starting mat is another excellent choice.
- You can put a dome over seed trays or a plastic zip-top bag over the container to raise the relative humidity.
- Keep the growing substrate moist but not saturated. Water from the bottom or use a spray bottle to prevent disrupting or dislodging the seeds.
Caring for your basil plants
Making sure your plant gets enough sunlight
Indoors you want a spot in your home where plants can get a solid 8-10 hours of sunlight, if not more. South or west-facing windows provide the best sun exposure. South-facing windows have light streaming through them all day; westwardly windows get a lot of bright direct sunlight but are often shaded during the hottest part of the day.
If your plant starts looking “leggy,” try moving it to another stop in your home and give it an extra boost of sunlight with a grow light.
If you move your plant outdoors, it needs to be planted in a full-sun location where it gets more than six hours of direct sunlight every day.
Correctly watering your plants
Basil is native to tropical regions where it’s humid and warm, but it doesn’t like to sit in soggy soil. Whether you grow basil in containers or directly in the ground, allow the top inch or two of soil to dry before watering. When you water your plants, water the soil directly to avoid water on the leaves.
Do I need to fertilize my basil?
Basil plants benefit from a low dose of fertilizer periodically, but they don’t need nutrients as often as other edible plants like tomatoes or peppers. Using a water-soluble, all-purpose fertilizer, you want to fertilize your plants at half strength every four to six weeks. Fertilizing too much encourages prolific vegetative growth and weakens or dilutes the leaves’ flavor.
Transplanting seedlings into the garden
At some point, you need to transplant your seedlings outside if you plan to grow them in the ground. Since plants are so sensitive to cold weather and frost, you must wait until the threat of a spring frost has passed. It is recommended to hold off for 10-14 days after the last spring frost date before you move them outdoors.
About a week before it’s time to transplant them, start acclimating plants to outdoor conditions by putting them outside for a few hours daily, increasing the time they are out until it’s time to transplant.
What types of basil should I grow?
One of the great things about growing basil is the different flavors and aromas the species offer. This variety gives you many different options—it’s thought there are between fifty and one hundred and fifty different species—to try growing yourself. This is fantastic considering many different types aren’t available locally to purchase as plants.
- For those interested in the classic basil for pesto or recipes with tomato sauce, you want to grow Genovese (Ocimum basilicum), commonly called sweet basil.
- Purple ruffles basil has a traditional basil flavor with deep purple, ruffled leaves making it a great addition to salads.
- Lemon basil adds a bright lemony flavor to southwest Asian dishes.
- Thai basil is a staple in curries, pad Thai, and other Thai dishes.
- Cinnamon basil has a touch of cinnamon and licorice flavors that add warmth and depth to your favorite recipes.
- Dark purple opal basil has leaves so dark they almost look black! It’s another stunning variety to add to salads and as a garnish.
- Holy basil, or Tulsi, is medicinal and frequently used in homeopathic and Ayurvedic medicine instead of being used for culinary purposes.