Our top 16 basil plant care tips (and tricks)

Basil is one of the more popular aromatic herbs to use in the kitchen as well as to plant and care for by home gardeners. Here today we will share easy to follow basil plant care tips to help you grow, care for and harvest basil in your home garden.

And it is important to know how to care for your basil plants. The difference between knowing and not knowing what to do often means the difference between a nice looking basil plant and a basil plant that will simply not stop giving.

You se, basil is one of those herbs that will respond extremely well to proper care. And what is even better, most of the basil plant care tips we will share are easy to follow without any extra expense.

And this is true whether you grow basil from seeds, propagate basil from cuttings or prefer to buy plants at the local garden or grocery store.

Our tips will span the entire life of your basil plant. From sowing seeds or propagating stem cuttings to looking after and harvesting the seedlings and plants.

Our best basil plant care tips

1. Pre-germinate basil seeds for best results

5 out of 5 basil seeds germinating
When 5 out of 5 basil seeds germinate

Whether you are growing common sweet basil, Thai basil or maybe cinnamon basil it is always wise to pre-germinate seeds.

Basil seeds are fairly easy to germinate and a germination rate around 80% or better is not unusual.

Still pre-germinating the basil seeds will make sure that we only plant viable seeds that we know will grow into healthy plants. 

And even more importantly, pre-germinating will allow us to only select the strongest and healthiest looking sprouts. And this is important especially if you are limited on space in your vegetable or herb garden. 

2. Start with stem cuttings when possible

New basil plants from stem cuttings
Basil stem cuttings

For many home gardeners, growing herbs from seed is about the process as well as the harvest or yield.

Still, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out how easy it is to grow new basil plants from fresh stem cuttings.

Ask for cuttings from a fellow gardener or buy a small plant from your local garden or grocery store.

As long as you can harvest a couple of stem cuttings that are at least 7-10 cm (3-4 inches) long you will have all you need to get started. 

Make sure to change water at least every other day for best results. You want the new roots to be white in color.

You can read and follow our guide on how to grow basil from stem cuttings in the article How to grow basil indoors – 3 ways or here in Grow basil from leggy basil seedlings (and why it happens)

3. Do not sow seeds in rich, fertile soil

Seeds hold all the energy needed to germinate and sprout. This means that when you sow your seeds you do not have to enrich the soil by adding compost or fertilizer. 

All you have to do is to make sure that the soil drains well and is well aerated. Good drainage and aeration will ensure that the seeds can germinate and sprout in a moist but not wet or soggy environment. 

4. Pot or container from a material that breathes

Basil likes moist but not soaking wet soil. And by choosing a por or container that is made from a material that breathes will help us control the level of moisture in our coil.

Choose pots or containers made from clay and terra cotta or why not make your own grow bags from breathable garden fabric. 

As long as the pots or containers are made from a material that breathes it will help you maintain a healthy balance of moisture as excess water can evaporate. 

5. Do not transplant outdoors too early

Basil prefers warm air and soil. And there is no reason to transplant your young basil plants outdoors just because there is no longer a risk of frost and the average soil temperature is about 10C / 50F.

Keep your young basil plants indoors until spring has really arrived. And then spend 1-2 weeks hardening your basil plants to gradually get them used to direct sunlight, wind and other external factors.

6. Give your basil plants full sun and no wind

Basil plants want a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight per day. And if you do not give your basil plants enough light they will grow weak, spindly and leggy. Now, there are ways to fix leggy seedling but as with all things gardening, prevention is much more effective.

Basil does however not like windy conditions. So make sure you find a sunny spot protected from the wind and you basil plants will thank you.

Ever heard of the notion of too much of a good thing? If you grow basil in zones with really hot summers (eg zone 9 and above) you should consider protecting your basil plants during the hotter times of the day. Actually, even in zone 7 we often have to move our basil plants to half shade midday at the peak of summer to avoid yellowing leaves and leaves that get burnt by the sun.

7. Basil plants want moist but not wet soil

Do not let your basil plants dry out. Basil likes a moist growing environment and this means staying on top of the watering. Especially when growing basil in smaller pots and containers where the soil dries out more quickly.

Basil grows well given the right conditions
With proper plant care basil grows really well

Water your basil plants thoroughly, or deep, when you do water. Stay away from watering habits where you water a little here and there. 

Bottom watering is the most effective technique to ensure that your plants actually absorb what they need without risking constant wet soil and root rot. Simply place the pot or container in a water bath and then remove and drain excess water when the surface of the soil turns dark.

But remember that no plant likes to sit in wet soil. You are looking for moist but not wet. Roots sat in wet soil will develop problems with fungus and root rot with leaves that turn yellow or worse to follow.

Read more about the advantages of bottom watering here in the article Bottom watering plants – why, when & how

8. Do not get the leaves wet when watering

Do not get the leaves wet when you water. Wet leaves invite fungus, disease and pests as well as increase the risk of the leaves getting damaged from sunburn.

Bottom watering your pots and containers or carefully wearing at the base of the plant will help minimize the risk.

9. Water is not enough, feed your basil plant

Established basil plants need a rich and fertile soil to thrive and grow. And as the plant develops this includes giving your basil plant fertilizer with high levels of nitrogen. 

Without fertilizer, compost or other nutrients your basil leaves will turn brown and the plant will come to the end of its lifespan prematurely. Feed you basil plant for continuous harvests through spring, summer and fall.

10. Harvest stems, not basil leaves

Always harvest your basil by the stem and not the leaf. Pinch the stem just above where two leaves meet to form a pair and watch how your plant grows strong and bushy. 

Avoid harvesting late in the day as basil leaves tend to dehydrate and lose some of their vigor when exposed to the sun. Instead harvest early in the morning for a richer and more flavorful harvest. 

11. Prune and top your basil plant

If you want your basil plants to thrive it is important to continuously pinch tops and prune your basil plants.  

Basil plants that are not pruned will grow tall and spindly and produce less bountiful harvests.

You can start pinching tops when your basil plant or seedling is 15 cm / 6 inches tall. Pinch half the length of the stem just above where two leaves meet to form a pair.

Also prune your basil plant from the top. Pinch just above a lower leaf pair and watch your basil plant set side shoots for a more compact and bushy plant. 

12 Pinch center shoots before blooming

Any stems showing signs of blooming should be pinched before setting flowers. Pinching the stem will encourage bushier growth and also ensure that the plant uses its energy to produce more leaves rather than flowers. 

Gardening tip: Let one of your basil plants flower and harvest basil seeds to grow even more plants.

13 Basil and tomatoes go great together – in more ways than one

Companion planting is an interesting chapter of gardening. There are some general and widely accepted truths and then there are a myriad of opinions that do not always align.

One truth is however that strong aromatic herbs like basil have the ability to help keep pests away from other plants. And this becomes even more true if you every morning “activate” the herb by squeezing, cutting or bruising against the leaves. 

And tomatoes in particular are said to benefit from being grown around basil.

I do grow basil close to my beefsteak and cherry tomatoes as well as chillies and peppers as they are all sun loving. And looking back I have never suffered greatly from pests or diseases attacking my tomato, pepper or chili plants.

Read our article "Companion planting for peppers (beginners guide)" to understand how you too can apply the sound principles of companion planting in your garden.

14 Harvest basil plants regularly

It may seem counterproductive, but to grow strong and healthy basil plants you need to harvest continuously throughout the season.

If you fail to harvest regularly, your plants will grow long and leggy and more often than not, set flowers quite early in the season.

15 Mulch basil plants for moisture and weed control

As we have already established, basil prefers moist and well drained soil. And to a certain extent, these two characteristics work against each other. 

When water drains well, the soil is left to dry up more quickly.

To help control the moisture level in our pots, we mulch by adding a layer of grass clippings, wood chips, hay or straw to the pot. This added layer of mulch will help lock in the moisture and also prevent weed from growing. A true win-win.

16. Spacing and air circulation

Whether you grow basil in pots, containers, grow bags or directly in your garden, you should take care not to overcrowd your basil plants. 

If you grow basil plants too densely together, inadequate air circulation will increase the risk of diseases and fungus. Growing basil outdoors you should aim for approximately 15 cm / 6 inches between plants. 

Summary basil plant care tips

Basil is a rather forgiving herb to grow. And this is also why most people think they know how to grow and care for basil plants.

But the reality is that paying more attention to the tips we have listed will keep your basil plants happy and producing more for longer.

But also remember that giving your basil plants too much love is not necessarily a good thing.

I will end this article listing two mistakes that I have made in the past growing basil from seed. And in both cases I was simply to greedy and tried to grow too many plants too early in the year.

1. Using conservatory too early in the year

We do not really use our conservatory for gardening. We have greenhouses and dedicated indoor space dedicated for our gardening projects. 

But this year we were too ambitious and simply ended up with too many basil seedlings. It was early spring and transplanting outdoors was not an alternative. 

I decided to use our conservatory. 

To make a long story short the conservatory would heat up during the day and reach temperatures above 30 C / 86 F whereas the level of light was still far below 8 good hours of sunlight.

The end result was a long line of leggy seedlings that had to be rescued. And yes, they were rescued and they did recover but truth to be told, the plants from the leggy seedling never truly caught up to the seedlings grown under grow lights indoors. 

2. Growing seedlings indoors and not enough light to go around 

Ebb and flow hydroponic grow systems work great as indoor garden beds, especially during late fall, winter and early spring.

Using ebb and flow hydroponics as indoor garden bed
Growing lettuce, arugula, chives, basil and more in one ebb and flow bed

Simply place starter pots on top of the LECA in between plants in the ebb and flow hydroponic bed. I also embed rockwool grow cubes in the LECA where there is room. It is all about maximizing the space.

And of course, even though it looks like there is enough light for all plants to the human eye, some young plants do not get enough light and grow leggy.

The fix is to wait for true leaves and then tip the seedlings to encourage growth of side shoots. When done, give more light and watch the plants recover. 

Basil plant care tips so you too can have a bed of basil
Follow our best basil plant care tips for a healthy bed of basil at home

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants and garden vegetables. For the past two years he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.