How to Grow & Care for Basil Plants

Written by alex bramwell
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How to Grow & Care for Basil Plants
Sweet basil originates in Italy. (basil image by aliengel from

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a variable and widely cultivated herb in the mint family that is widely grown for its aromatic leaves. Sweet basil originates in Italy and is an annual plant while holy basil originates in South East Asia and is a perennial. Basil leaves are commonly used in Mediterranean, especially Italian, and Southeast Asian cuisine. Basil plants are easy to grow but will not tolerate frost and need sunny conditions.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Seed tray
  • Fine compost
  • Four inch pots
  • 6-inch pots

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  1. 1

    Plant your basil seeds in a seed tray or pot full of fine compost. Sprinkle the seeds thinly and evenly over the surface of the compost, and cover with a fine layer of sieved compost or vermiculite 1/4 inch thick. Water your compost carefully with a sprinkler to avoid disturbing the surface of the compost. The compost should be moist but not waterlogged.

  2. 2

    Place the tray or pot in a warm place covered with a sheet of glass or plastic to maintain humidity. Keep in a warm, light environment until the seeds start to germinate after a couple of weeks. Remove the glass or plastic once the seedlings appear.

  3. 3

    Repot your basil seedlings when they are 2 inches high, using tweezers to pick the plants. Plant three per pot, in 4-inch pots. Make sure the pots have drainage holes and do not place the pots on saucers, as basil plants do not tolerate waterlogged soil. Place the pots in a warm, sunny spot, either on a windowsill or outside if the frost period is over.

  4. 4

    Repot your basil plants into individual 6-inch pots once they are 6 inches high, or plant out into the garden in a sunny spot with well drained soil. Pinch out the main growing tip of each plant to encourage bushy growth. Water your basil plants regularly but do not allow the soil to get waterlogged.

  5. 5

    Fertilise your basil plants every two weeks with an all-purpose liquid fertiliser. You can harvest leaves and whole shoots six weeks after first pinching out the growing tips. Continue to harvest regularly to encourage the plant to produce leaves rather than flowers. Pinch out any buds that appear as once a basil plants starts flowering it stops producing leaves and turns bitter.

  6. 6

    Monitor your basil plant for signs of fungal disease, mealybug and whitefly infestation. Remove and destroy any basil plants that show any sign of fungal infection, such as black spots on the leaves. Remove whitefly and mealybugs by spraying your basil plants with a jet of high pressure water or use an organic insecticide based on capsicum or garlic.

  7. 7

    Allow some of your basil plants to flower at the end of the summer so that you have seeds to sow the next year. Allow seeds to fall in the garden and they will germinate spontaneously the next year. Basil plants can also easily be cultivated by rooting shoot cuttings in fine, moist compost.

Tips and warnings

  • Pick basil leaves early in the morning and freeze straight away for the best flavour.

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