5 Tips for Growing Basil in Pots

The Right Amount of Sun for Outdoor and Indoor Growth

basil growing in various containers

The Spruce / Lacey Johnson

Growing basil in pots is easy and it's one of the most useful and beautiful herbs you can plant. There are many types of basil with more appearing every year. Try curly basil, dark opal basil, and the traditional Genovese. The tiny leaves of the bush basil are very tasty as well as lovely to look at. Basil grows fast so you'll have delectable leaves in no time.

There are as many uses for basil as there are types. You can put basil in bouquets, teas, soups, and almost any fish dish. It also dries and freezes well, so you can have the herb to use all winter long. For instance, classic basil pesto freezes well in small jars or ice cube trays.

Basil plants do not last very long indoors or outdoors since they are annuals, so don't worry if your plant dies within months. Fortunately, basil grows readily from seed so you can keep a crop of basil growing in your indoor herb garden year-round. Here are some tips that will help you grow beautiful, bushy basil indoors or out.

  • 01 of 05

    Find a Sunny Spot

    finding a suitable spot for basil to grow

    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson 

    Whether you are growing basil indoors or outdoors, it needs a warm and sunny spot to thrive. Six to eight hours of direct sunlight is perfect, though if you live in a really hot climate, give your basil some afternoon shade for relief. Basil can get too much sun and if it does, it can develop leaf burn. But do not grow basil in the shade.

    For basil to take off, the soil and air need to be fairly warm, so don't rush putting out your plants in the spring. Wait until about two weeks after your last frost before putting out your plants, and don't forget to harden them off.

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  • 02 of 05

    Choose a Container

    various container options for basil

    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson

    You can grow basil in almost anything. All kinds of containers will work, including a kiddie pool or even a laundry basket. Basil likes room so air can circulate around the plants. It also doesn't like to dry out completely, so you should use a large pot. You don't want to crowd your plants, though if you are making your pot for looks as well as function, you can put plants closer than the recommended 12 to 18 inches apart. Try them more like 6 to 8 inches apart. However, basil is prone to fungus, so keeping airflow between plants is important.

    Make sure your pot has plenty of drainage holes and that you use high-quality potting mix. Basil doesn't like to be too wet, so keep your soil moist, not soggy. Try using fabric pots. And for a more finished look, you can put the fabric pot in a larger vessel.

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  • 03 of 05

    Start From Seed

    basil sprouts from seed

    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson

    Basil is incredibly easy to start from seed. You can direct seed or start your seeds inside about a month before your last frost date. Note that you will want to set them outside about two weeks after your last frost date. Basil needs some light to germinate, so don't plant the seeds too deeply—only 1/4 inch deep. Temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit are perfect, but you have some flexibility with the temperature. Plants will germinate within five to 10 days. Transplant carefully when the plants have three to four sets of leaves.

    You can also root basil in water. Take the stem of a plant, and put it in a clear vase or glass of water. When roots appear you can transplant it out (after hardening off) into your pot.

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  • 04 of 05

    Feed and Water Your Basil

    watering potted basil

    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson

    Basil is picky about water. It doesn't like to be too dry or too wet. You can also water basil from the top or bottom. (Bottom watering from a pot's saucer or bowl encourages root growth and avoids spreading fungal problems due to excess moisture on leaves.) To know if you should add water to your pot, stick your finger down into the soil about up to the second knuckle. If the soil feels dryish, add water. Keep in mind that basil growing in pots outdoors will dry out more quickly than basil planted in the ground or growing indoors.

    Mix an organic fertilizer into the potting soil when you plant. Before you do this, read the label on your potting soil to make sure that it doesn't have fertilizer already in it. Unless your potting soil has a time-release fertilizer already included, add a diluted liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks.

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  • 05 of 05

    Harvest and Store Your Basil

    harvesting and freezing basil in ice cube trays

    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson

    It is important to pinch your basil back often for it to grow bushy instead of tall and lanky. Start pinching from the time it is about 4 inches tall, taking off the top leaves. Pick basil without killing the plant by gently pinching off the leaves so the stems remain intact. You can also use a small, sterile scissor to cut leaves at the base.

    To store basil, you can make pesto and freeze it in jars. You can also make a slurry by blending basil with a little olive oil, which you can then make into ice cubes.

Article Sources
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  1. Basil. Clemson University Extension.

  2. Growing Basil in Home Gardens. University of Minnesota Extension.