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How to Grow Basil Indoors!

Lovely green basil leaves with tiny white blooming flowers

Introducing Basil

You’ve heard of basil. You’ve eaten basil, you love basil. We all love basil! This wonderfully fragrant herb is used literally all over the world as a staple herb item in any cooks culinary repertoire. Basil is probably one of the better known edible plant types and essential for your indoor gardening life!

Basil is part of the lamiaceae botanical family. The word “basil” is actually derived from the latin term, basilius, which translates to the “royal plant”. This is because these plants were used traditionally in the making of royal perfumes!

You’ve come to this article to discover all you need to know about growing basil indoors, and we’ll get to that. But first, there are a few interesting things we’d like to go over first so that you and the basil plant are properly acquainted before you live together.

What do Basil Plants Look Like?

Basil plants are super easy to identify not only by their leaves, but you’ll know one straight away simply by smelling it. Basil is super fragrant and a quick brush of its foliage will send a glorious scent through the room or garden.

Basil leaves are a rich green color and rather delicate to the touch. They are ovate in shape and can reach a length of anywhere from 1-5 inches depending on the species.

Basil grows from a thick taproot that sends out numerous, thin, lateral spreading roots. From here grows a central stem that holds all of those nice leaves.

When it’s ready, a basil plant will also produce flowers! These are tiny white flower clusters that emerge at the very top of the central stem. Not everybody knows that these are edible too! The taste is basically like a super potent basil flavor.

What are some Basil Types?

Two different types of gorgeous basil leaves

Sweet Basil (Ocimum Basilicum) – sweet basil (also known as Genovese basil) is probably the most popular type of basil on the market. This is tender annual that is known for its wonderfully spicy/sweet fragrance and flavour.

Sweet basil can grow to be anywhere from 12-18 inches tall (very manageable for an indoor plant) and has foliage that can range from a lovely maroon purple to that classic bright fresh green.

There is a very popular cultivar of sweet basil called ‘Spicy Globe’ which is essentially the same plant but it bears smaller true leaves and grows in an interesting rounded shape, hence the name, ‘Spicy Globe’.

Thai Basil (Ocimum Basilicum var. Thyrsiflora) – lesser known but just as lovely, we have thai basil. This is a super duper popular herb used in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.

Thai basil is known for having a sweet flavor, kind of similar to anise or liquorice. It differs in appearance in its purple stems, purple/green leaves and purple flowers too!

Lemon Basil (Ocimum Africanum) – even lesser known is lemon basil, which is a hybrid plant of the two above. Chefs delight once they discover this magnificent herb.

Lemon basil has the perfect flavor combination of that spicy sweet basil along with the fresh tang of lemon. The plant is slightly taller, 12-20 inches, with leaves that are more narrow and have serrated edges.

How are Basil Plants Used?

Person in the kitchen plucking basil leaves off indoor plant for cooking

Basil plants are absolutely essential in the kitchen. It’s always best to keep them around just in case you need a fresh splash of flavor to a dish, sweet and savory alike!

There’s nothing like plucking a fresh basil leaf just when you need one to top off an omelette or garnish a cocktail. You’ll need several plants to make a jar of pesto, but just a small bunch if you’re tossing them in a pasta dish.

You can use basil as a fresh herb or as a dried herb that will keep in your pantry for a long time. The fresh herb with have a fresh, spicy, sweet, tangy flavor, whereas the dried herb will be a more toned down version of that.

While basil is the best edible herb there is, they’re also really great for pollinators. If you get a chance to grow basil outdoors, you’ll find all sorts of bees, moths, and wasps will come to visit those tiny flowers. Gardeners love planting basil in companion planting because they not only attract beneficial insects, but they repel the pesky ones!

Where do Basil Plants Come From?

Basil plants are native to the tropical regions of southwestern Asia and Central Africa, though luckily for the rest of the world, they have become naturalized in all sorts of different regions as well.

In temperate climates, basil plants are treated as annuals, meaning that they will perish after their first and only flowering period has ended. In warmer climates they can be treated as short lived perennials.

Basil can exist happily outdoors all year long in USDA growing zones 10 and 11. But fear not! These plants are super easy to grow indoors, which we’ll go over in the next section.

How do you Grow a Basil Plant Indoors?

Gardeners hands filling pots with soil for basil plants

Now for the reason why we are all here: how to grow a basil plant indoors! This is very easily done and it can be accomplished at any time of year: you don’t have to wait until the spring! Plant basil in winter, fall, summer, whatever fits your fancy. First, you will need a few things:

  1. 4-6 inch individual pots
  2. high quality potting soil
  3. liquid organic fertilizer
  4. basil seeds
  5. grow light

– Take your potting soil. Make sure you pick a kind that is loaded with nutrients as basil plants are heavy feeders. Fill your small pots with the potting mix.

– Moisten the potting mix thoroughly before planting the seeds. Let all of the water drain out before getting your seeds ready. Soil temperature should be warm.

– Sprinkle a few seeds into each small pot. Make sure each seed has enough room to grow. Cover the seeds with a very light layer of soil, as the seeds will need light in order to germinate.

– Pick a spot in your home that has a south facing window. It is also important not to choose an area where the temperature fluctuates a lot (ie a window over a heater) as basil plants do not tolerate this.

– If you don’t have a south facing window (or if it’s winter time) you can also use a grow light! Set the timer so that it is on for 14 hours a day.

The seedlings will tell you if the lighting is right. If they become leggy, the light is too far. If the leaves start to get white spots on them, the light is too close!

– Once the seedlings start to grow, feel free to pinch away any seedling that is growing too closely to another basil seedling.

– Apply a liquid organic fertilizer once a month during their growing season to keep them happy and growing, and don’t forget to keep that soil moist! The leaves will droop and become wilted if they aren’t watered enough, so keep an eye on that.

– Once basil plants are nice and established, it will be safe to transplant each plant into a larger pot or container. Be careful when transplanting! Be gentle with the roots. Potted basil plants can also be moved outdoors to get that ideal level of sun exposure.

*Here’s a pro tip! Once your plant start to produce a little flower rosette, snip it away! Once a plant produces flowers this means it’s reaching the end of its life cycle! If you snip away the rosette it will encourage the plant to last a little bit longer (and not to mention, those are some tasty flowers to use for a garnish!)

Lovely image of lush basil leaves

FAQs

When is a good time to harvest basil?

Harvesting basil will totally depend on how big your plant is and when you planted it! Harvesting basil can happen at any time of year, you just want to make sure that your mature plant is nice and established before picking the leaves.

A good rule of thumb is to wait until leaves are about 2-3 inches in length before plucking them away. Additionally, pick the leaves that are on the lower portion of the plant first, and leave the upper ones to continue growing.

Are basil plants deer resistant?

A superb reason why gardeners love planting basil outdoors is because they are a repellent to certain types of pests! Plants that tend to have really fragrant leaves will repel aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, and even larger pests like deer!

What are the damaging agents to basil plants?

Basil plants are rather susceptible to root rot if they are watered too much. Indoor basil doesn’t face a lot of the issues that outdoor basil will, so no need to worry too much about pests!

Is it better to grow basil indoors or to grow basil outdoors?

If you happen to live in USDA growing zone 10 or 11, it would be awesome to grow basil outdoors! Though they would likely need to be watered more often because they’d being growing in direct sunlight, basil is great for companion planting as it repels unwanted pests and attracts beneficial insects.

Are basil plants perennials?

In temperate climates, basil plants are treated as annuals, meaning that they will perish after their first and only flowering period has ended. In warmer climates they can be treated as short lived perennials.

How often should a basil plant be watered?

Watering a basil plant should be happening nearly ever day. The leaves will very quickly start to droop if they aren’t receiving enough water, so at least it’s easy to tell what they need! But remember, over watering can be harmful too, as these plants are rather susceptible to root rot.

It’s a fine balance between moist soil and soggy soil. Soil moisture will also vary according to how much sunlight the plant is receiving. Dip your finger into the soil to see if moist soil is being maintained.

Should a basil plant be pruned?

It’s always a good idea to prune away any foliage that is yellowing or dying, but there is another aspect to basil pruning that you may not know about. Once a plant starts to produce its flower rosette, that means it is approaching the end of its life cycle. If you snip away this rosette (and use it as a tasty garnish) it will encourage the plant to keep growing for a little bit longer.

Do basil plants prefer full sun or partial shade?

Basil plants love sunlight and won’t be too happy if they receive too much shade. They can grow outdoors in an area with full sun, in a south facing window, or they will be happy underneath a grow light as well.

Where can I buy basil seeds?

Basil seeds can easily be found in any local garden centre or nursery, or you can very easily order them online as well.

What is the ideal soil type for a basil plant?

It is important the basil plants grow in soil that is well draining and very rich in organic matter. They are very heavy feeders because they grow so quickly and need all the nutrients that they can get in order to keep truckin’!

What is the easiest way to propagate a basil plant?

Basil plants just want to grow. Purchasing seeds and growing those is easy to do and the plant will have leaves large enough to eat in just a few short weeks. Otherwise, you can always transplant one of those already started mature plant you can find in a grocery store or nursery.

How tall do basil plants get?

The height of a basil plant will vary according to the species, though they will usually only reach heights occurring between 8 and 20 inches.