One of the most popular and widely used culinary herbs is sweet basil. The tender, aromatic herb has a spicy flavor. The leaves can be used fresh in salads, sandwiches, made into pesto, or cooked into foods as a seasoning. Basil is also easy to dry for shelf stable seasoning to use all year.
Growing sweet basil at home is very easy, as long as you provide suitable light and temperature levels. Sweet basil needs rich, moist and well-drained soil with a slightly acidic or neutral pH of 6 to 7. This warm-weather annual plant grows very fast and requires little maintenance.
Even those who do not have enough space for a full vegetable garden or are new to gardening can easily grow this herb in a pot. After about 2 to 3 months, the plant will be ready for harvesting when grown from seeds.
A few pots of sweet basil will supply you with enough fresh leaves to use year-round. Just one well-pruned plant will provide about ½ cup of sweet basil each week.
When grown in a pot, this herb also serves as a beautiful decorative plant in patio for a balcony containers or in the garden.
Steps to Grow Organic Sweet Basil in a Pot
Things you’ll need:
- Large pot 6-8” diameter
- Organic potting soil
- Organic compost, store-bought or homemade
- Coffee filters or landscape fabric
- Gloves (optional)
- Spray bottle
- Large bucket (for mixing the soil)
- Hand Trowel
- Mulching sheet
- Garden marker to label (optional)
Step 1. Prepare the soil and plant the seeds
In the bucket mix 3 parts potting soil and 1 part compost together rubbing it with your hands to get all the lumps out and ensure it is thoroughly mixed.
Put a piece of coffee filter or landscape fabric at the bottom of your planter to retain the soil and the needed amount of water. Too much water can kill your plants, so it necessary to have holes at the bottom of the planter, but partially closed.
Fill the planter with the soil mixture you created. Soil mixture should not be packed in tight, but not overly loose, or it will just sink when it is watered. Fill the soil up to ½” below the edge of the pot, and then gently tap the pot on the work surface to settle it a little.
Basil seeds are very tiny. Take a few out in your hand so you can see them easily; you will want about 6-10 seeds for one planter. Lightly scatter the seeds across the surface of the soil. It is not necessary to put more soil on top of the seeds, but you can very gently press them into the soil, so they make good contact. Remember, you don’t want to pack it down.
Step 2. Water the soil, cover, and provide sunlight
Water the soil thoroughly, but be careful not to overdo it. It is best to moisten the soil with a spray bottle because the seeds are so tiny that they easily get washed away.
Cover your pot with a mulching sheet. It doesn’t need to be tight, just draped over is fine. Set the pot off to the side out of the sun until the tiny plants begin to emerge. Make sure you check daily watching for signs of green emerging.
Step 3. Allow the seeds to grow
Once your plants are starting to grow, remove the plastic and place the planter in a sunny spot. Basil thrives in full sun and needs a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight a day to grow properly. You can grow basil indoors, but it has to have proper sunlight for most of the day. Special grow lights are best if you plan to keep the planter indoors.
The seeds will germinate in about 5 to 7 days. Now that the plants are up and growing you need to make sure the soil doesn’t fully dry out. Using a watering can or gentle stream of water from a garden hose to water the planter until water runs out the bottom drainage holes.
Depending on how hot the weather is and how much sunlight you have; you decide how frequent you water your plants. The soil should begin to dry, but not get fully dry. The basil plant will wilt if you let it get too dry.
When the seedlings are about 4” high, remove half of the plants. If you started with the recommended planter size, you could keep 3-5 plants in the planter. You can simply cut the extra plants off with scissors at soil level, or carefully dig them out and transfer to a second planter.
Step 4. Ongoing care of your plants
Once the plants are 6” tall, you can begin pinching the plants which make them bushier. Bushy plants have more useable leaves. Either pinch with your fingernails or a pair of scissors. You will pinch off the tips of the plants to about ¼” above a set of leaves. The plant will now branch out and make 2 or 3 new branches where there was only one before. As the plant grows, you also need to pinch off any flowers that begin to form.
Check the moisture in your planter soil daily. Make sure it doesn’t dry out completely and water thoroughly as needed. When watering, make sure to avoid showering the leaves and stems. Along with watering, proper sunlight during the growing season will help it grow lush and full. If your plant is thin and floppy, it isn’t getting enough light.
Make sure to protect the plant from harsh wind and frost. Even sustained cool weather can damage the plant. Basil doesn’t like temperatures below 50 degrees and anything below 45 degrees will likely kill it. Basil loves hot weather, but too much heat can also kill the plant, especially when grown in a planter.
Step 5. Harvest the herb
As soon as your plant is ready to begin pinching you are ready to start harvesting. Those bits you pinch off are usable, so no waste.
For larger harvests as the plant grows, you can cut the plant back pretty severely without harming the plant. Basil grows quite quickly and will soon be larger than ever in a few short weeks. It’s a great idea to have more than one planter to stay in steady supply if you plan to harvest a large quantity all at once.
If you would like to dry leaves, you can place them on a paper towel on a sunny windowsill for several days until thoroughly dried. This gives you a continuous supply year-round. You can also dry leaves quickly in the oven on low heat settings, or in a dehydrator overnight.
Once your plants start flowering, pinch off the flowers immediately. If left untrimmed, seeds will develop from the flowers and the plant will die soon after. Flowers will even lead to a bland taste.
Tips for growing sweet basil in a pot
- As the leaves are harvested at regular intervals, add a little fertilizer to the plant to support new growth. Remember that fertilizer should be organic since you plan to eat the leaves.
- As this plant is very frost sensitive, protect it from extreme winter spells. If exposed to frost, the leaves will quickly turn black.
- You can store dry basil leaves, however, freezing them will help preserve the herb’s flavor. Wash, dry, chop and pack into ice cube trays. Then top off with olive oil and freeze for easy use.
- Don’t keep fresh basil leaves in the refrigerator, as they will turn brown.
- To keep the leaves fresh put the stem with a few leaves in water just like a cut flower.