Basil Care: Growing Basil Seed to Harvest (and Seed Saving)
Growing basil is something every gardener should experience. In the herb world, basil’s reputation precedes itself. It’s touted as an herb that’s easy to grow and generally very happy in the garden. Basil care is easy enough for kids!
Moreover, this fine culinary companion boasts an aroma that awakens the garden with visions of pizza and other Italian delights. I can’t help but take in the wonderful fragrance walking through the garden, and it’s even better planted alongside tomatoes.
If you are new to growing basil, prepare for a pleasant gardening experience. This gentle herb is patient and its presence in your garden adds depth and diversity to your plantings.
Are you ready to discover helpful basil care tips? Basil germinates relatively quickly, so let’s get started!
Planting Basil Seeds
Growing basil from seed was so simple for us this year. It was our first time growing basil and we simply sprinkled the seeds on top of the potting mix under our growing lights and moistened the soil. In a matter of just a few days, we already had basil seedlings popping up!
My best strategy for growing basil from seed:
- Prepare your egg carton or cell packs with potting soil.
- Scratch the basil seeds into the soil ever so gently so they are just below the surface. (Also check package instructions to ensure your variety is happy starting this way.)
- Sprinkle a few basil seeds into each cell. I usually plant 2 or 3 seeds for more success.
- Place under grow lights or outside on your deck if seasons permit.
- Monitor the soil daily and watch for growth!
We grew sweet basil and purple basil this year. Both were equally delicious in our kitchen adventures! Basil care was easy across the board. Both also smell wonderful when rubbing the leaves or merely walking by the basil plants in your garden.
Growing Basil from Cuttings
On-demand harvesting from our herb garden is one of my favorite things this year. And basil is SO forgiving!
Fear not if you pinch off a little too much basil for dinner one night. Simply drop the extra sprig in a small dish of water on your kitchen windowsill and new roots will grow in a matter of days! I am pretty sure I saw roots starting just three days later. So rewarding to grow this versatile herb at home inside or out!
Once the basil sprig has grown sufficient new roots, you can move it to its new home. Transplanting basil is so easy! Simply pop it back into the garden, or better yet, keep it on your windowsill in a little planter with some potting mix. You will find a new appreciation when it comes time to wash dishes as you get to admire your kitchen herb garden.
After spending lots of time on Amazon browsing, I finally bought cute little succulent pots for my herb garden in my kitchen window. I find the basil is fairly thirsty in this pot, but it’s very fun having the plants to enjoy whenever I’m in the kitchen.
Basil Care: Growing Basil in Pots
This year we didn’t have a terribly large garden space as our ground here in Pennsylvania is made of awful rocky clay. We have two garden boxes but they are in use for green beans, wax beans, and royal burgundy beans. Probably not our best use of space, but this is a vegetable our whole family will eat.
Because of the pandemic, we decided to try a bigger, more exciting garden this year. We planted everything from herbs to tomatoes, potatoes, squash, cucumbers, lettuce, sunflowers, and more. I’m sad to see the gardening season starting to wind down, but excited we decided on growing basil in pots. Now it will be super easy to bring it inside.
Basil is such a happy plant! You can literally drop a few seeds in the pot, make sure they get water, and they will grow. Basil care accommodates beginner gardeners and those at every level.
My favorite tips for growing basil in pots:
- Plant basil alongside tomato plants—your garden will smell amazing! They are also great companion plants. Discover more in my blog post, 15 Tomato Companion Plants (Herbs, Flowers, & Veggies).
- Harvest basil frequently to encourage the basil plants to branch out a bit.
- Plant new seeds every few weeks—for continued harvest. Basil grew pretty quickly here in PA, and I enjoyed starting new plants in other pots throughout the summer. It helps to extend your harvest if you use a lot of basil in cooking or get a bumper crop of tomatoes this year for your spaghetti sauce dreams.
Harvesting basil is such a rewarding experience, particularly after all your work in growing it. When picking basil, I simply pinch or cut the stem until I have enough leaves for whatever I’m making. I sometimes trim down multiple stems to shape the basil plant favorably. I’ll let my kids take their kid scissors out to the garden and cut some basil, too. I have enough basil plants that I let them cut what they want. They love getting to harvest what we’ve grown.
You can also pick individual leaves on demand. I love the smell of basil! We joke that it’s our pizza garden where the tomatoes and basil are growing together in harmony.
Cooking with Basil
I always give basil leaves a quick rinse just in case any caterpillars or other buggies got into it. Then I remove the leaves from the stem and add them to my recipes. Sometimes I mince the basil and toss it into the start of my homemade tomato sauce. My real favorite thing to do when cooking with basil, though, is to make Bruschetta Chicken. It’s absolutely delicious!
I’ve heard you can make pesto pretty easily but have yet to try that. I’m eyeing up a margarita pizza at some point, too.
Drying Fresh Basil
This is where my experience with basil runs out. I have yet to find a perfect method for drying fresh basil and storing it. It’s been so enjoyable just picking what we need and using it right from garden to table.
As a newbie here, I’ve found it to be easy enough drying fresh basil on a cookie cooling rack. I simply spread out the basil across the thin wire rack and turn over when I think of it. No real science but I still have to figure out storing dried basil.
We find it so amazing to see our plants go to flower! So far we’ve loved seeing our basil flowering and the pollinators it’s attracted. Real, actual bees are buzzing on our deck among our container garden, flitting between our basil and purple basil plants.
With basil flowering for what felt like forever, we waited patiently to see what the basil seed pods would look like.
Collecting Seeds When Growing Basil
Finally, we found some brown, dried basil seed pods to collect! As you’ll remember from planting, basil seeds are tiny. They come rushing out of the seed pods when you crack them open, so I highly recommend working over a tray or an edged baking sheet of some sort.
I grew purple basil and sweet basil very close together, along with another basic kind of basil. I am sure these could have cross-pollinated pretty easily so I am probably going to save them all together in an envelope labeled “Mixed Green & Purple Basil.”
My favorite part of basil care is probably harvesting and starting seeds. I can’t guarantee which seeds have crossed, so it will be a fun mystery to plant them next season and hope for some of both!
Lemon Basil Water
Next time we have lemons on hand, I am going to try to mix up some Lemon Basil Water. I’ve tried the standard lemon water to start my mornings and it’s been pleasant and invigorating.
Recently I discovered that the warm and fuzzy feeling I get around my basil plants—especially when I smell their aroma—likely isn’t a mere coincidence. Basil is said to have a positive impact on stress relief! Since I already know the lemon water is a positive start to the day, I’ll look forward to adding some basil leaves for a detoxing and stimulating start to the day.
What are your favorite things to do with basil in your kitchen? Do you have any special growing tips? Share in our comments below!