It is easy to learn how to grow basil indoors as long as you meet its basic requirements of water, temperature, and light. Basil has a fast germination time and is very quick to production.
One of mine and my family’s favorite herbs has to be Basil. This fast-growing herb is a workhorse in the kitchen flavoring department with its many varieties available. Basil’s flavorful leaves can be used raw or cooked, from salads, soups and sauces to teas, sandwiches, oils and seasoned butters.
As a warm-weather plant basil needs a minimum of 6 hours of light a day and room temperatures of 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Grow lights can be used to supplement when enough natural light is not present.
How to grow basil indoors – Starting Basil Seed
Soil temperatures are important when getting basil seeds to germinate so I highly recommend starting basil in seedling trays with a seed starting soil or with pre-made soil pellets. These will be easier to keep warm by using a seedling heat mat than the larger permanent pot.
Basil seeds are small black seeds that germinate in 5 – 10 days.
- Fill your trays with seed starting mix and water until evenly wet but not soaking. If using pellets add water until they have completely expanded and the soil is evenly moist.
- For greater success plant 2 to 3 seeds per cell/pellet by placing them on the soil and gently pressing them into the soil about 1/4″. Cover over the seeds by lightly pushing the soil back over them.
- Cover the seed trays with a plastic cover or with plastic wrap. This will help to maintain heat and moisture in the soil. Place the seed trays on a seedling heating mat if available or in a warm place in your home.
- The soil evenly moist during the germination process, do not let the soil dry out. I prefer to mist it gently or water from below when possible whiles seeds are germinating to not disturb them.
- When seedlings begin to emerge remove the lid or plastic wrap and get them into a sunny window or under grow lights. Continue to watch the soil carefully and do not let it get dried out, your seedlings will not handle shocks well.
- As your first sets of leaves grow thin extra seedlings as necessary by trimming them off at the soil level. Do not pull as you can damage the roots of the remaining seedling.
- When your seedlings have grown their second set of leaves they are ready for transplanting into pots or containers.
Transplanting Into Pots
Basil likes well-draining soil so use a good organic potting mix. I recommend adding a little extra perlite or coarse sand to help increase the drainage. The container should have drainage holes so excess water can escape.
Mature basil, unless a smaller bush variety, can get rather large so consider that when choosing your pots. For a 6 to 8″ pot I would recommend 1 plant, 12″ pot a maximum of 2 to 3 seedlings. Basil will do well in longer window style planters as it allows more room for roots to expand across the bottom length of the containers leaving room for more plants.
Plant the basil seedlings just deep enough to cover the roots and apply gentle pressure to set the soil around your plant. Add additional water slowly around the new transplant keeping the soil evenly moist.
Growing Basil Cuttings
Basil is a very easy plant to propagate from a cutting of a mature plant. They will root very quickly in plain water or even in soil with the use of rooting hormone. I do not personally use the root hormone method as an organic gardener and prefer the water method.
To grow basil from a cutting you will need a healthy mature basil plant with a stem that will be at least 4 inches long with a minimum of 2 or 3 leaf nodes at the top. A younger cutting with smaller top leaves will root easier than one with larger leaves. If the cutting is trying to support very large leaves it will put more energy into the leaves instead of the growth of the new root system.
Use a sharp knife or pruning shears that will make a clean cut and not cause bruising to the plant stem. Make the cut at a slight angle between two leaf nodes making sure that you have a minimum of 4 inches. Remove any lower leaves that will not go into the water container by cutting them close to the stem but not damaging the stem itself.
Place the basil cutting in water to cover the bottom inch or two of the stem. Keep the container in a sunny location or under grow lights. Change the water out every few days to prevent algae, fungus or rotting issue with the stem.
Allow the basil cutting roots to grow 2 to 3 inches in length before transplanting into pots. Basil grows so well in water that makes an ideal herb for hydroponics systems as well and this would be an ideal time to make that transition as well.
Growing Basil Hydroponically
Basil roots love to stretch out and enjoy the luxury of a hydroponics and have great success with most soil-less methods. Rooted cuttings or cleaned seedling starts can easily be transplanted into a simple grow media like clay pebbles or coarse vermiculite. Seeds can be started in Rockwool similarly to soil starting and moved into hydroponics as well.
Basil prefers a pH level of 6.5 – 6.8 but tolerates levels as low as 5.8 making them versatile with other plants grown together. Green growth is the desired production from your basil so a simple grow vegetative formula is all that is needed for nutrients.
I have great success growing basil with salad greens hydroponically as they both require the same nutrient set-ups and grow at similar rates.
I have more information on hydroponics available on site if you would like to learn more. Hydroponics Herb Gardens – Soil-less Growing
How to Harvest Basil
Basil can start to be harvested when your plant reaches 6 to 8 inches in height and I encourage you to do so. Regular harvest, pruning, will also help your basil to get bushy and have stronger stems.
Harvest is also important in preventing your plant from going to seed, this is when your herb begins to flower. The flavor of your herbs, especially basil, can change significantly after it begins to flower causing it to go bitter or decrease in flavor.
- Pick a few leaves off each plant as you need them making sure to always leave the largest bottom two leaves growing. Try to pick off branch tips first as this will encourage the thickest growth from your plant and also halt flowering. These small tops make great garnishes.
- When you have heavier growth to harvest leave at least 6 inches of base growth and prune above a leaf pairing (node). Leaves are good for immediate use or preserving for later. If not hanging to dry the stems can be discarded or used in compost.
Basil Growing Tips & Tricks
- Water basil in the morning, it does not like going to bed with wet roots when growing in soil
- Companion planting with or near chamomile can help the flavor and growth of basil
- Basil does not grow well near sage and rue can hinder its flavor
- Keep basil from flowering to keep the flavor from turning bitter
- Basil likes humidity so growing on a saucer of damp stones or regular misting will keep it happy
Fresh Basil Uses
- Everyone loves pesto!
- Add to your salads or dressings
- Sandwiches and wraps
- Vinegar, oils and chopped up in butter for multiple uses
- Mix it up with fresh batch of bread dough
- Soups and Stews
- Sauces of all kinds
- Pasta loves basil but so does rice!
- Works great with seafood, chicken, beef and pork dishes!
Different Types of Basil
There are hundreds of varieties of basil from heirloom varieties to new developing hybrids all the time. I have made a list of some common varieties but this is just a small portion of what is available.
- Sweet basil type or Genovese: Several varieties will fall into this category and are the most common. These are often used in Italian cooking and seasonings. Most pesto is made using this type of basil.
- Lemon or lime type basil: This basil variety works well in teas and seasoning fish and chicken dishes. They look very traditional but process a lemon or lime like essence.
- Holy Basil: This variety is grown more for its medicinal purposes as it is said to boost your immune system. Also, referred to as sacred basil and honored by the Hindu religion.
- Dwarf and Bush varieties: This is a wide category as these can come in many types but made to grow in a more compact way and great for indoor container gardening.
- Thai Basil: And other spicy varieties add kicks of spice to dishes especially in Asian cuisine I also find they work great in marinades for beef and like the kick it offers to the dishes.
- Decorative type Basil: There are several varieties of basil that are beautiful accents to a garden or planter especially if left to flower like Cardinal and African Blue. Dark Opal type basil’s rich purple color makes a great garnish and colorful decor option in your inside garden.
What is Your Favorite Type of Basil?
I would like to hear from you now. Have you grown basil before or are you just starting out? I am here to answer any questions you have or just to share your experiences.
I would love to know your favorite variety of basil to grow and why, or maybe your favorite basil inspired dishes!
Happy indoor herb gardening!
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