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How to Care for Sweet Basil

Updated on March 7, 2015
Sweet Basil Leaves.
Sweet Basil Leaves.

Growing Sweet Basil -

Parsley and cilantro might be high ranking contestants when it comes to the most commonly grown herb, but sweet basil almost always steals the top spot! There's a good reason for it too. Sweet basil is a tender, fragrant, and flavorful herb that is a prized addition to many cuisines. If you've never planted this popular garden herb, then there couldn't be a better time than now! In this gardening guide, we'll walk through the basics of how to care for sweet basil plants. Pesto, bruschetta, and Margarita pizzas are right around the corner once you've mastered the easy art of how to care for sweet basil.

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Basic Necessities for Sweet Basil Plant Care -

When it comes to growing sweet basil, there's no "green thumb" required in order to be successful! In fact, you don't even have to have any previous gardening experience to grow a bountiful crop. As long as you keep the following necessities at hand, you'll always have plenty of basil to go around.

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  • Full Sun - As far as sweet basil is concerned, the more sunlight, the better! Although basil will tolerate a slight degree of partial shade, it will do best when grown in an area that receives at least 6-8 hours of full sun daily. For basil that is to be grown indoors, aim for at least 30 watts of full spectrum lighting for each plant. Indoor plants will need more light than outdoor plants, so plan on providing at least 10-12 hours of uninterrupted light.
  • Well Draining & Fertile Soil - Although sweet basil could be grown in less than ideal soils, you'll find that maximum growth and plant health will be achieved in fertile soils. Not only does the ideal soil contain a wealth of composted organics, it will also provide plenty of drainage. For basil that will be planted in the ground, prepare garden beds a month in advance by working compost into the topsoil. Container basil plants will thrive with a high quality organic potting soil that is amended with perlite for drainage.

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Sweet Basil Seedlings. Joe Macho
Sweet Basil Seedlings. Joe Macho

Grow Sweet Basil from Seed -

While you could go to the store and purchase a sweet basil plant, the best way to start your season is by growing basil from seeds. Not only will you be able to control ow your seedlings are looked after, you'll save yourself the headache of over-planted containers of basil at the local garden center. Here's a look at how to plant and grow basil seeds:

  1. Begin planting sweet basil seeds 4-6 weeks before the date of the average last frost in your area.
  2. Fill seedling trays with fine potting soil or seedling mix.
  3. Place 2-3 seeds per seedling container. Cover the seeds with just the slightest amount of soil. The seeds need some light to germinate, but also need the moisture from the soil covering them!
  4. Water the sweet basil seeds well, being careful not to flood the soil.
  5. Place in a brightly lit south facing windowsill, or allow to sit under artificial grow lights. Maintaining consistent moisture, your sweet basil seeds should begin to sprout in 6-10 days.

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Quick Guide for Growing Basil -

4-6 Weeks Before the Average Last Frost Date
The Week of the Average Last Frost Date
Week After Average Last Frost Date
Begin sowing sweet basil seeds indoors.
Harden off the basil plants.
Transplant basil plants outdoors permanently.

Thinning, Transplanting & Growing Sweet Basil -

Provided you had successful seed germination, there should be at least a couple of young basil seedlings per cup. Continue to provide moisture and let them grow until they've reached a size where two sets of true leaves are present. At this time, gently pull or cut weak plants at the soil line in each cup. Thin so that only the strongest basil seedling remains in each seed cup.

Sweet Basil transplant showing two sets of true leaves. Joe Macho
Sweet Basil transplant showing two sets of true leaves. Joe Macho
  1. Once the sweet basil seedlings have been thinned, return to your regular water and lighting regimen for the next couple of days before transplanting. This short resting time will provide the basil seedlings a recovery period from any root damage that may have been caused during thinning.
  2. At this point, the basil seedlings may be transplanted into a container double the original size.
  3. Continue to house the sweet basil plants indoors until the week of the average last frost arrives. At such time, the plants may begin the process of hardening off.
  4. After completion of hardening off, the sweet basil plants may be permanently planted into their final location or container.
  5. In its final location, sweet basil will need little maintenance. Just water and weed as needed. Your basil plants will appreciate a soil that is kept consistently moist, but never waterlogged. A good tip is to water only once the top 1.5 inches of soil have become dry.

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Sweet Basil. © Joe Macho
Sweet Basil. © Joe Macho

Harvesting Sweet Basil -

Sweet basil leaves may be harvested any time throughout the season, and should actually be done so quite often to promote new growth. To harvest the leaves, pinch off new growth at the nodes. Pinching is preferred over cutting with scissors as it causes less stress to the plants. In either case, be sure to remove growth and leaves as close to the stem as possible. This good practice will reduce the potential for disease and keep plants healthy for continued production. At the end of the season, basil plants will begin to flower. The plants can be left to complete flowering for seed collection, or the flowers removed for continued leaf production.

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Final Word - Sweet Basil Care

Caring for sweet basil is like riding a bicycle! Once you've learned the process, you'll never forget it! Realizing that there's a bunch of gardeners well versed in growing sweet basil, I'd like to welcome you to share any unique tips or tricks that have been successful for you. Thanks for reading this article on how to care for sweet basil plants. Happy gardening!

If you enjoyed this article on how to care for sweet basil plants, you'll for sure want to have a look through these other great gardening guides:

Don't see what you're looking for here? Maybe you'll find it in my extended list of how to's for the vegetable garden!

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    • profile image

      dadbuzzbee 16 months ago

      Actually I did try to grow some sweet basil in a pot outside and it got too wet from rain, dew, fog, etc., and died, even though the seeds came up nicely. Is it best to put directly in the soil --- the pot had good drainage, just don't know, but am hopeful. Thanks for the info. dadbuzzbee

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 2 years ago from Arkansas USA

      I've actually had pretty good success with basil in my garden. In fact, I'm very much looking forward to the upcoming growing season and planting again. Appreciate your very good advice!

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 3 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Oh dear, no wonder I have little success with basil. I've been doing it all wrong! Thanks for your advice

    • profile image

      Jennifer 3 years ago

      I planted basil and its doing great! I cover my pots with sandwich baggies and sit outdoors daily!

    • TheKatsMeow profile image

      TheKatsMeow 4 years ago from Canada

      I just started growing sweet basil so I am very happy that I found this Hub. Lots of important stuff in here: I moved it closer to the sun and will make sure it gets lots of light from now on, thanks!

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 4 years ago from Germany

      Thanks for sharing this hub. I have planted sweet basil in my kitchen and it´s about time for me to harvest them. I love basil with tomatoes and olive oil. Voted up and more.

    • Patsybell profile image

      Patsy Bell Hobson 5 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

      I love basil. Great post. Very helpful. tweeted and voted up.

    • profile image

      avantitexan 5 years ago

      We actually grew one that we picked up from the grocery store that was just in water (in the produce section), planted it and it grew very nicely. We live south of Houston with a very long growing season and actually left in on the back patio all winter and it survived. It continued to grow until we had to stake it to give it some extra support. Great on fresh mozzarella or grilled pizza!

    • Jojosi profile image

      Gillian Namele 5 years ago from Complicated

      Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow. It grows well in the outside garden just as well as in pots. How I love the smell of basil in beans! Good hub, voted up!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      My husband is in charge of the gardening, but I am directing him to put it under the eaves of our back porch area (it's ok, he's used to the advice!). Since the Florida sun is so intense, we want to do a container garden. You just can't beat the freshness of your own herbs in food.

    • Joe Macho profile image
      Author

      Zach 5 years ago from Colorado

      teaches12345 - Sounds great! Do you plant to have an outdoor or indoor herb garden?

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I love basil in stews and meat dishes. I have plans to start an herb garden this fall and this will help with basil. Thanks for sharing.