Basil is one of the easiest and most useful herbs you can grow at home. You can add fresh basil to sandwiches, pizza, spaghetti, and even used it to make pesto! However, basil is a strictly warm-weather plant. Once the weather gets under 50 degrees Fahrenheit, your garden-fresh basil will quickly die outdoors.
However, just as you do not have to shiver in the cold, neither does your basil! With only a few tools and a little know-how, you can have a constant basil supply by growing the herb indoors. This article will tell you what you need and what you need to know to get started.
Can You Grow Basil Indoors over Winter?
If you already grow basil in your outdoor garden, you may simply be wondering how you can keep your plants alive during the winter months. You can transfer your garden basil inside during the cold months and then transplant it again in the spring.
To transplant a mature basil plant, you will need to dig around its roots carefully. Place the removed plant in a pot and fill it with fresh potting soil. Once inside you will need to put your basil in a sunny location and keep the soil moist, especially during the initial time after transplanting.
Your basil plant should thrive all winter as long as it gets plenty of light and sufficient water. Once the temperature outside has risen to above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you can move your basil back outdoors.
How Long Can Basil Live Indoors?
While overwintering basil is one option, you can also grow basil indoors all year round to save yourself the trouble of transferring and replanting. Basil will grow well indoors as long as you can create an ideal growing environment: warm, well-lit, and moist.
Growing outdoors at least part of the year has its own advantages though. Basil thrives with a lot of light, and without the assistance of a grow light for indoor plants, there is no way to mimic the full sunlight exposure of long summer days indoors. Basil also likes it warm, and most of us do not keep our houses quite as warm as a hot day in mid-summer.
Your plant will grow full and healthy indoors. Still, it may do better outdoors during the summer (depending on the weather in your area) because of the temperature and extended sun exposure. Whether you choose to do basil all year or just in the winter, the only way to have homegrown basil all year round is by bringing the growing process inside!
What You Need to Start Growing Basil Indoors
Whether you are growing from seed or transplanting, you will need some supplies to successfully start growing, namely a place to grow your basil and something in which to grow it.
1. Where Should You Place Your Indoor Basil?
Many of us want to put our fresh herbs in the kitchen where we can have easy access. However, basil above all else needs light. When selecting a place to grow your indoor basil, light exposure should be your number one priority. Basil needs as many hours of sunlight as it can get, preferably over 12 hours a day.
Basil’s need for enough light means that a windowsill is typically the best place for your indoor basil. However, it also hates the cold, so check to make sure your sunny location is not drafty and will stay warm. Windowsills also work well for this as the sunlight tends to warm these areas.
If you cannot find a location with the needed natural light exposure, you will need to invest in a grow light. With grow lights, you can place your indoor basil just about anywhere, but remember to ensure that the location you pick is not prone to drafts or excessive cold.
2. How Big of a Container Does Basil Need?
The size of the container you will need depends mostly on how big you want your basil to get. Unlike fruits and many vegetables, you do not have to wait for your plant to mature to gather the edible part. As soon as your basil grows substantial leaves, you can harvest.
If you plan to harvest regularly, then your basil plants may never get very big. A 4-inch pot could be big enough for a plant kept near a kitchen window and continuously used. If you want your plant to get bigger, then you need a bigger pot.
A good rule for indoor basil is to start with a 4 to 6-inch pot. If you find that you are not harvesting enough to prevent it from growing this size, you can move up to a bigger size.
3. What Type of Soil is Best for Basil?
Basil is not an incredibly picky plant when it comes to soil. Loose and thereby well-draining soil is essential as it will keep your basil from becoming waterlogged and developing rot.
If you’re raising your basil in a container, use a gallon-sized pot and fill it with any well-draining potting mix, preferably a soil-less mix made with aged bark and peat moss.
If you start your from seed, make sure to get a nutrient-rich mix to give your seeds the best start!
How to Get Your Basil Started
Once you have the necessary supplies, you can plant basil! There are several methods you can use to get your basil started indoors.
Can You Plant Living Basil from a Grocery Store?
At most grocery stores, you can buy small living basil plants. These plants often come in tiny containers, and if you want a long-term plant, they will need to be replanted in a better environment.
The steps here are similar to transferring basil from your own garden. Being careful not to disturb the roots, remove the set of leaves from the store packaging. Replant in a bigger pot with a fresh potting mix.
The time immediately following the transplanting is crucial. Keep your plant well-watered and in full light. If it survives the first few weeks, then you have a healthy plant!
Can You Regrow Basil from Stems?
Besides transplanting an already established plant, you can also grow basil from stems. Whether you get the stems from the store, from a friend’s basil plant, or from some basil you already have growing indoors, you can grow more basil.
Growing basil this way requires nothing more than some jars and water. Put about an inch of water in the bottom of your jars. You may add some plant food if you wish. Place the cut basil in the jar with the stem in the water. All of the leaves should be above the lid of the jar.
Now simply put your jars in a window sill with plenty of light, and watch them grow! You can either harvest from these plants or, if you want a permanent plant, wait until the cuttings develop roots about 2 inches long. They can then be replanted in a pot with soil for a long-term source of fresh basil.
Can You Germinate Basil Seeds in Water?
Besides getting started with a mature plant or with cuttings, there is yet another way to start your basil growing. Basil seeds can be germinated using nothing but water, a paper towel, and a clear bag.
To germinate your seeds this way, first, soak a plain white paper towel with water. Wring it out so that the paper towel is damp but not dripping. Next, place your basil seeds on the paper towel. Spread them out so that none of the seeds are touching.
Now fold the paper towel over and place it in a clear sealable container. A Ziploc bag works well for this. The container should then be placed in a warm location. Your seed should germinate in about ten days.
This method is an excellent way to test the viability of a batch of seeds. It also has a higher success rate than germinating seeds in the soil. Once your seeds have sprouted, you will need to transfer the sprouts to pots with soil for further growth.
How to Start Basil Using Seeds and Soil
You can also start your basil growing the traditional way with seeds and soil. Fill your pots with loose potting soil. Sprinkle your seeds on top, and then cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil. Water your seeds gently, preferably with a mister.
Always plant extra seeds since it is likely that some seeds will fail to sprout. If the sprouts are overcrowded once they emerge, make sure to thin your seedlings using scissors.
How To Care for an Indoor Basil Plant
Now that your basil is planted, it is time to worry about caring for it. Plants are living creatures, and although basil is a relatively easy plant to grow, it will still require some tender loving care to keep your plants flourishing.
How Long Does Basil Take to Sprout?
After you have planted your basil seeds, you will need to keep the soil moist and in a lighted area to encourage your seeds to sprout. However, at what point do you know that something has gone wrong?
Basil seeds should take about seven to ten days to sprout. You should give your basil a full week after planting before expecting any green, but if two weeks have gone by with no sign of growth, then you may not be giving your seeds the best-growing environment.
How Often Should You Water Basil?
Once your seeds have proven viable by sprouting, you naturally want to keep your basil plants healthy and thriving. As with any plant, giving your basil the correct amount of water is a crucial component of care and, unfortunately, is an area where many plant owners often go wrong.
Basil likes moist soil. You should water it enough that the soil feels damp to the touch, but not enough that water pools or appears when pressing the soil. Because basil needs consistently moist soil, it is essential to use well-draining soil and make sure that your pot has drainage holes to prevent your basil from becoming waterlogged. An alternative, if you want to have a hassle-free growing experience is to use an indoor herb garden kit.
What Should Not Be Planted Near Basil?
If you plan to grow an indoor garden, you need to know how different plants affect each other. Basil is not a picky plant, but some plants do not grow well with basil.
You should not plant basil with cucumber. While cucumbers are easy to grow, they are almost composed mostly of water. Cucumbers grown with aromatic herbs like basil will take on that herb’s taste instead of preserving its natural flavor.
In terms of other herbs, there are three prominent companions to avoid with basil: rue, sage, and fennel. Fennel is thoroughly disliked by most herbs. Basil planted with fennel will not grow. Rue and sage are two other herbs with which basil does not thrive.
In general, basil tends to do remarkably well as a companion plant to most vegetables. When planting with other herbs, it may be best to keep basil in separate pots and avoid planting anywhere near fennel, sage, or rue.
Harvesting and Preserving Basil
Once you have successfully grown your basil, you want to take advantage of all that hard work! However, you also want to make sure that you do not damage your basil plants in the process of harvesting basil and that what you do harvest does not go bad before you can get to it.
To ensure that you do not damage your plants, harvesting basil should be done with scissors. Cut the stems above the node where two basil leaves start. You should never harvest more than 2/3 of the basil plant at a time if you want it to keep growing. About 1/3 of the basil is a healthy harvesting ratio.
Harvesting basil should be done regularly as this encourages new growth on your basil plants. If you are not going to use your basil immediately, they are several ways to preserve it.
- Drying: Bind the stems to create a bunch and then place them in a paper bag with holes. Hang the bag in a dark, dry room until needed. You can also dry using a food dehydrator.
- Freezing: Before freezing, basil should be blanched for around two minutes and then placed in an ice bath. After completely drying, basil can be frozen.
- Preserving in Oil: Instead of freezing, blanched basil can also be added to oil for a lighter basil flavor. Blend basil with 1 to 2 cups of olive oil and a little salt for an easy way to add a hint of basil to any dish. The oil mixture will stay good in the fridge for a week or be frozen like ice cubes.
Basil is a versatile healthy herb when it comes to cooking, and growing your own will allow you to spice up your food and save money! In most areas, growing basil indoors is the only way to keep the plant alive year-round, and with plenty of hours of light and a good start, basil can flourish as an indoor plant. If you want an indoor herb garden, basil is an excellent place to start.