Basil is one of the most popular (and healthy) herbs around. Find out just how easy it is to grow your own—all year round!
Like any plant, once you understand what basil wants / needs, she is easy to grow. There are lots of different varieties—here we're going to concentrate on the most popular variety - Sweet Genovese Basil (Ocimum basilicum) - this is the variety you've probably seen in the grocery store with broad, rounded leaves.
Propagating Sweet Basil from Seed
Basil is best grown from seed. It's actually so easy to get started it makes a great first crop for kids or if you're just starting out as a grower yourself! Sweet Genovese basil seeds are tiny black ovals. Simply place a seed or two into a moistened propagation cube (e.g. rockwool, peat pellet, Jiffy), into a cell tray filled with seedling potting mix, or directly into a pot with some richer potting mix. Avoid planting basil in seed trays / flats as basil forms a long, delicate tap root and gets upset if you damage this during transplanting. Always use a propagator to maintain relative humidity around the seeds / sprouts.
You don't need to sow basil seeds very deeply. Just barely cover them!
How to Grow Sweet Basil—Warmth, Shelter and Regular Watering!
Look closely at a basil leaf—see how delicate and tender it is? This should give you a clue to the type of conditions basil enjoys. Warm and sheltered. If you're growing basil outdoors, avoid drafty spots—your basil can dry out and die in a day! Water around mid-day so that it has a chance to dry out a little before darkness—basil does not like going to bed with a wet bottom!
Always be careful with basil. It's a delicate creature—especially as a seedling. Keep in medium to high relative humidity by using a propagator. Do not remove the propagator lid until the seedlings are well developed otherwise desiccation (drying) can occur very quickly.
Basil will not tolerate frosts! It's originally from India (it only made it to the Meditarranean in the 16th century) so keep it warm!
Regularly pinch out the growth tips to help the basil maintain a bushy form and to promote continuous growth. The young, tender leaves have the sweetest flavor—always harvest from the top to encourage new growth. Water regularly as any drought stress will cause your basil to form flowers prematurely.
How To Grow Sweet Basil Year Round Indoors Under Grow Lights
If there's one crop that seems perfectly designed for indoor gardens, it's basil! You'll only need a T5 fluorescent grow light to give basil all the light it needs and it thrives in warm conditions. Be sure not to point your oscillating fans directly at your plants—as mentioned earlier, basil is particularly susceptible to drafts and drying. Keep relative humidity levels above 60% using trays of water or a humidifer if necessary. Keep temperatures in the high 70s, low 80s Fahrenheit.
As well as rich, fertile soils basil adores being grown with hydroponics. A non-restrictive growing media like clay pebbles is ideal for basil. Use a grow / vegetative formula, add to good quality water. The perfect nutrient concentration for basil is EC 1.0 to 1.4 (700 - 980 PPM). The best pH for hydroponic basil is 6.5 - 6.8. Use a more dilute nutrient concentration in warmer weather / hotter indoor gardens.
Some growers have reported that basil, like many culinary herbs, responds favorably to nutrient stress (i.e. low EC) by producing more of the alkaloids that are responsible for its medicinal properties (digestive and sleeping aids, antiseptic). And, of course, don't worry if you grow too much as there's always room in life for more pesto!