5 Tips for Growing Basil in Containers

basil growing in various containers

The Spruce / Lacey Johnson

Basil is one of the most useful and beautiful herbs you can grow. There are so many different 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.

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

Basil is not the easiest of plants to grow. Here are some tips which will help you grow beautiful, bushy basil.

  • 01 of 05

    Find a Sunny Spot

    finding a suitable spot for basil to grow

    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson 

    Basil 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, you may want to give your basil some afternoon 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

    Choosing a Container

    various container options for basil

    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson

    You really 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 them closer than the recommended 12 to 18 inches apart. Try them more like 6 to 8 inches apart. Basil is prone to fungus, so keeping airflow between plants is important.

    Make sure your pot has plenty of drainage and that you use high-quality potting soil. Basil doesn't like to be too wet, so you want to keep your soil moist, not soggy. Try using fabric pots like the one in the picture above. For a more finished look, you can put the smart 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 2 weeks after your last frost date. Basil needs some light to germinate, so don't plant the seeds too deeply—only 1/4" deep. Temperatures around 70 F are perfect, but you have some flexibility with the temperature. Plants will germinate for 5 to 10 days.

    Transplant carefully when the plants have 3 to 4 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 out (after hardening off) into your pot.

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  • 04 of 05

    Feeding and Watering

    watering potted basil

    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson

    Basil is picky about water. It doesn't like to be too dry or too wet, so make sure not to let your pot dry out because if you do, your basil may be toast. 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.

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

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  • 05 of 05

    Harvesting and Storing

    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. 

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

Watch Now: 4 Simple Ways to Preserve Basil

Article Sources
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  1. Basil. Clemson University Extension

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