It is easy to learn how to grow basil indoors as long as you meet its basic water, temperature, and light requirements. Basil has a fast germination time and is very quick to produce.
One of my 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 butter.
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.
Contents of the Article
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.
- Plant 2 to 3 seeds per cell/pellet for greater success 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 while seeds are germinating, not to 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 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.
Find out how to source seeds online and what to look for.
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 containers’ bottom length, 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 straightforward plant to propagate from a cutting of a mature plant. They will root very quickly in plain water or even in soil using the 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 huge leaves, it will put more energy into the leaves than the new root system’s growth.
Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to make a clean cut and not cause bruising to the plant stem. 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 issues 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 it 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 hydroponics’ luxury 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 product 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. Your herbs’ flavor, 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 always to 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 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 a 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 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 are made to grow more compactly 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 dishes’ kick.
- Decorative type Basil: Several basil varieties are beautiful accents to a garden or planter, especially if left to flowers 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? 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, why, or maybe your favorite basil-inspired dishes!
Happy indoor herb gardening!