How to Grow Basil Indoors - A Family Favorite

by Christina Lopez

It is easy to learn how to grow basil indoors as long as you meet its raw 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. You can use grow lights to supplement when enough natural light is not present.

How to Grow Basil Indoors (Starting Basil Seed)

Soil temperatures are essential when basil seeds germinate, so I highly recommend starting basil in seedling trays with a seed starting soil or 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 tiny black seeds that germinate in 5 – 10 days.

  1. Fill your trays with seed starting mix and water until evenly wet but not soaking. If using pellets add water until they have entirely expanded and the soil is evenly moist.
  2. Plant 2 to 3 seeds per cell/pellet for tremendous 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. As your first sets of leaves, grow extra thin seedlings as necessary by trimming them off at the soil level. Do not pull as you can damage the roots of the remaining seedling.
  7. 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.

Review of two great seed sources that you can use to get you started. Seeds now and Amazon.

Transplanting Into Pots

Transplanting Into Pots
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.

Unless a smaller bush variety, Mature basil can get rather large, so consider that when choosing your pots. For a 6 to 8″ pot, I would recommend one 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 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 supports 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 branch 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 a perfect 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 successfully 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 essential in preventing your plant from 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 taste.

  • Pick a few leaves off each plant as you need them, making sure always to leave the most significant 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 suitable for immediate use or preservation for later. If not hanging to dry, the stems can be discarded or used in compost.

How to Grow Basil Indoors: 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!
  • Marinades
  • Works excellent with seafood, chicken, beef, and pork dishes!

Fresh Basil recipe ideas here!

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 standard varieties, but this is just a tiny portion of what is available.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Dwarf and Bush varieties: This is a broad category as these can come in many types but are made to grow more compactly and great for indoor container gardening.
  5. 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.
  6. Decorative 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? Do you know how to grow basil indoors, or are you just starting? I am here to answer any questions you have or 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!

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About Christina Lopez

Christina Lopez grew up in the beautiful city of Mountain View, California, where she spent eighteen ascetic years as a vegetarian before stumbling upon the exquisite delicacy of a strange chicken thigh. She’s been a city finalist competitive pingpong player, an ocean diver, an ex-pat in England and Japan, and a computer science doctoral student. Christina writes really late at night as spending most of her daytime enchanting her magical herb garden.

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