How to Grow Basil Outdoors and in a Pot

How to Grow Basil Outdoors and in a Pot? There’s nothing like delicious homemade pesto, and if you want to take your recipe up a notch, growing your own basil could be the perfect solution. In addition to saving money on store-bought basil, this popular herb can easily be grown indoors all year round.

There are a multitude of varieties, although sweet basil is the most common. With its shiny leaves and spikes of white flowers, it has a subtle anise flavor and grows 1 to 2 feet tall. The cultivars available all have unique differences, from their appearance (there are types with purple leaves like dark opal and red ruby) to their size and taste (some have nuances of cinnamon, cloves, lemon, and lime).

If you’re ready to add this herb to your own garden and use it to improve your pesto, salads, or tomato dishes, scroll down to see our helpful guide to growing your own basil.


Tips on growing basil

potted basil, close-up

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Start indoors in individual pots, plant the seeds outdoors when the frost is over and the soil is warm, or buy bedding plants. If you are starting plants indoors, heating cables are useful because it is a tropical plant that does not get cold. Plant in full sun, in well-drained soil enriched with compost, aged manure or other organic matter.

Space large leaf cultivars, such as lettuce leaf, 1½ feet apart and small leaf types, such as spicy globe, 1 foot apart. Basil needs a lot of water. Mulch your basil plants to conserve moisture after the soil has warmed up. Pinch the plants frequently to encourage bushy growth and regularly pluck the flower heads so that the plants put their energy into foliage production.

Grow a few basil plants in containers so you can bring them inside before the fall frost. Or make a second sowing outdoors in June to have small plants to put in pots and bring indoors for the winter. As the frost approaches, you can also cut some end shoots from the plants in the garden and root them in the water, to put them in pots later.

Basil can be subjected to various fungal diseases, including Fusarium wilt, gray mold, and black spot, and damping-off. Avoid these problems by waiting to plant outside until the soil has warmed up and not overloading the plants. Japanese beetles can skeletonize the leaves of plants; control pests by handpicking.


The right way to harvest basil

holding a basil plant with bare hands detail on the hands

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Start using the leaves as soon as the plant is large enough to save. Collect from the top of the branches, cut several inches. Gently handle the basil so as not to crush and blacken the leaves.

You can air-dry the basil in small loose bunches, but it keeps the tastiest when frozen. To freeze the basil, puree the washed leaves in a blender or food processor, adding water if necessary to obtain a thick but pourable puree. Pour the puree into ice cube trays and freeze, then take them out and store them in labeled freezer bags for use in sauces, soups, and pesto as needed.

Pesto (a creamy mixture of mashed basil, garlic, grated cheese, and olive oil) can be stored for a long time in the refrigerator with a layer of olive oil on top.


How to cook with basil

Homemade Genoese Pesto Mortar

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This widely used herb enhances the flavor of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. It is excellent in spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce and ratatouille. It is also excellent for fish or meat dishes, combining well with lemon thyme, parsley, chives or garlic. Try it in stir-fries or in vegetable casseroles.

Fresh basil leaves are delicious in salads. Use the lemon and lime cultivars in fresh fruit salads and compotes. Basil is also a basic ingredient in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine; cultivars such as Siam Queen give the most authentic flavor to these dishes. Basil vinegar is good for salad dressings; those made with purple basils are colorful and tasty.

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