7 tips for how to grow gargantuan basil plants

Posted by
Basil leaves photo by Nate SteinerCC BY 2.0

A couple of weeks ago, we were freaking out over making homemade mozzarella, and I mentioned my basil plants. Sometimes they grow so quickly and so big that I fear they will become carnivorous like in Little Shop of Horrors. (Side note: I wish Rick Moranis was still in movies.)

The point is a commenter asked us how to grow basil: I would love the details on how you grow basil so successfully. Specifically, where you got the plant or seeds, the temp range, moisture and sun amounts? Does basil need full sun? I grew it on a balcony seven years or so ago in full sun, but ever since, no matter where I try to grow it, it either wilts, rots, or burns up.

The first thing to know is that I am not a pro when it comes to gardening… at all. So if I can do it, I feel like anyone can! Basil has both a great flavor AND is pretty forgiving! Here are the tips I know for growing gargantuan basil. Note that I don’t actually remember to do a lot of these things and the darn plants grow beyond my control anyway. Maybe it’s the climate in Chicago where I live? We sure have a lot of corn to prove it…

But these basil growing tips should help those without the perfect conditions:

1. Plant with seeds or a starter plant

I grow from seeds using this Capsule Seed Sweet Basil Growing Kit, starting a few months before it gets warmer in my area (around February or March). You can also buy a starter plant seedlings at a nursery or a grocery store.

2. Well-drained soil is good soil for basil

If you grow yours in containers like I do, the container itself needs to have good drainage holes. For me, I found that a vertical grow bag situation like this kit worked great for me:

But I have a friend who’s newly obsessed with their hydroponic grow kit, so now I’m curious. If I had one of those maybe I could grow mad basil all year long!?

3. Does basil need full sunlight? YES! Keep the temperature fairly warm with at least six hours of sunhine a day

Basil likes warmer temperatures (over 50°F/10°C) so I grow mine in the summer outside in an area with full sunlight — we’re talking at least six hours a day.

If you’re growing it outside, a layer or mulch will help regulate temperature and prevent weeds from growing.

If there’s any hint of frost coming, protect the plants with a covering like sheets or blankets tied loosely around and held in place with rocks, stakes, or bricks. (PS: If you don’t have any stakes, call Buffy.)

4. Fertilize the soil about once a month if you’re growing it indoors

Organic or slow-release fertilizers (like compost tea) are best for basil. Just don’t fertilize it below 60°F/16°C. Also, I have these cute little pots for my indoor basil:

5. Water often in hot weather

I watered once a day when the temperatures got really hot this summer. (I use this cute little watering can designed for children but beloved by me, a fullgrown adult.) But in more normal conditions, I water every other day or so. Check your soil to make sure it isn’t getting dry, either way.

6. Prune it!

Pruning leads to more basil, so make sure that you figure out how you’ll handle the overflow, maybe by learning how to freeze fresh herbs using this technique:

Start pruning the top basil leaves at around six inches tall and continue to prune as it gets bushier. Also, pinch off any flowers that you see so they don’t go to seed. That will lead to bland and sparse plants.

7. Keep insects away

If pests are bugging your plants, using liquid seaweed as a fertilizer can help. It’s worked for me.

We also saw some awesome suggestions from other readers!

Nerissa said:

I don’t have a green thumb, but I just grew basil for the first time successfully this year from seeds. I got the seeds from Burpee (I think) and started a bunch of little ones inside in a little plastic greenhouse, and then once they were of a viable size I moved them outdoors.


How much sun does basil need? I live in the south and have them in an area where they get a good bit of sun (not quite full all-day sun, it’s west-facing) and a LOT of humidity, and they’ve gone crazy. Before that, I had tried growing them indoors, but it seems like the air is too dry. I water them every few days or if they start to look sad.

T’Rina said:

The biggest trick to basil I know is pruning it — always pinch it back to the next place where there are two basil leaves sprouting, and those will grow into two more stems. Look up “pruning basil” — it makes a huge difference. I have basil growing in a wide variety of pots, including a nine-inch deep Rubbermaid box and a dollar store garbage can, both with holes on the bottom as well as two deep planters and another 15-inch deep garbage can with some very small holes in the bottom.

I use good potting soil, but they will do okay in most dirt. Does basil like full sun? I foudn it did, I kept the moisture level high by watering them every other day unless it is over 100°F/38°C, then I water daily. Once a month, I mix up a plant food in their water and soak them good. I prune them two to three times a week, preferably in the evening if it is going to be roasting hot, so the stems don’t bake.

I make pesto to freeze, or just crush the basil and freeze in little muffin tins with olive oil. Or there is basil syrup for tea and best of all BASIL LEMONADE!

Want more gargantuan basil growing advice?

Comments on 7 tips for how to grow gargantuan basil plants

  1. We just bought some crunchy ass basil at the farmer’s/hippie’s market. I came across this blog post to help me figure out which end of my new plant goes into the soil. Your step by step instructions were really clear, understandable, and in terms that I grasp very well. I’m so excited to watch my little green friend grow so I can “Prune that bitch!” and (step 8) “Eat the shit out of that basil” really soon. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Read this post and all comments this spring and OMGoodness..the basil is beautiful….Am growing it in a big pot in my parking area behind my store…Seems to need fertilizer often . I cut the tops off and share with the restaurant next door Thanks for sharing

  3. I always seem to end up with dark brown to black patches on my basil leaves.

    I live near Toronto, Canada in an apartment block fairly high up – I tend to keep my basil inside to prevent wind burn/damage. My plants get sunlight through the window and I water the basil every two or three days, plus I rotate the plant to ensure each side gets to face the sun.

    Any ideas??

  4. I think most of your problems I’m reading about are because you either planting in a soil with that fertilizer already in it (horrible junk) and it’s burning your plants or your overwatering. Plants need a complete wet/dry cycle, not wet all the time. If they are always wet they will drown cause they can’t get oxygen. Signs of this are wilting (also caused by underwatering), yellowing, rotting.

  5. Thank you for this! I’m having so much trouble knowing when to plant and what to do. I keep trying and plants die!! The only thing I seem to keep alive is my aloe. I have always had a black thumb but want to change that. That combine with just moving to Western Australia where we have completely different growing seasons (dry (over 100 days no rain), hot hot hot) from Seattle are definitely making it a huge challenge!!

  6. Love the tips. Basil is one of my favorite herbs to go because you can use it in so many dishes! I just wrote about my favorite dish with basil using Penne and tomatoes. Simple and fresh–basil is definitely the star!

  7. Great tips! I think pruning is the most important. You can always take the parts you prune, soak them in water until they sprout roots and plant them as another plant, another way to increase your basil production.

  8. most people dont know this, but i who live in Italy and have way to much basil will tell u the secret of growing basil all year long…Yes good drainage but never water the plant from the top especially if in a pot, it will rot and leaves will sag..use a non deep pot and put a deep dish under the pot and water it with luke warm water only in the Dish the basil plant will absorb the water with its roots always keep at least a finger of water if u want really big leaves add more water… try u’ll c ure Basil will love u for it…

    • Hi, I was given Basil plant and put in a planted in a nice size planter pot doing well so u say water it from the bottom seems like it dosen;t get much water? Water mine often b/c it gets thirsty so can u give me better advice?

  9. If you want to freeze whole leaf basil, just wash the leaves, dry thoroughly on paper towels or in a salad spinner and lay them in plastic bags or boxes and freeze. Do not thaw until ready to eat as they will turn soggy and black almost immediately. I haven’t tried spraying with olive oil on both sides yet but that might slow the darkening process. They will stay bright green as long as they are frozen. I got a lot of great tips on growing and also love the mosquitoes repellant tip. Didn’t realize that one. How about trying the freezing method with cilantro as well. Haven’t tried but am going to this year since cilantro is so hard to grow and keep fresh in the frig. I also think this year I will buy a new dehydrator. Used to have one but it wore out. I am also trying square foot gardens this year. So far, so good.

  10. i think too many people try to grow basil inside cause they hear it’s easy but it needs full sun and a warm climate. they think it will magically grow awesomely cause it looks good on the window sill in the kitchen but the reality is, it need 6+ hours — direct sun. a grow light helps indoors, but it aint sexy

  11. Thank you for this article, I have grown basil for years and in different homes. The basil I grew in this house last year was amazing!! Basil likes heat but it doesn’t like to fry. I have a tall herb planter and put it in the back. It still received sun but was protected and I think the warmth of the house kept it warm overnight. It went crazy for me, the first time ever! I live up in Canada in Alberta and we have a short growing season and cool nights.

  12. I grow basil in an old recycling bin with free compost from our city.

    My first year I learned something very important.

    Basil does not like it’s leaves watered. Rain is fine, but don’t spray the leaves, just add water to the dirt. After that, my basil has grown faster than I can use.

  13. Thanks for all the great tips. I just started growing basil because its very expensive where I live and I don’t have much of a green thumb. I love basil so much. My fav is basil pesto on fish. yum. I’ll let ya know how I did at the end of the summer. wish me luck.

  14. I grew a massive basil plant in a large container with miraculous grow soil.The light and sun was half and half.Its my fave.Buy some 6inch sticks put one basil leaf on it next a cube of cheese next a crry tomatoe! Edible rose look a like!

  15. I live in Arizonaa and basil is about the o ly tthingbesides peppers what do well in my garden. I can not water them for a week at 110+° and tthey’re still fine and huge.
    Only over watering has ever hurt them.
    Basil likes to be dry. I read that somewhere. I usually take the seeds off and spread them for volunteer plants. And take the top 6in or so when I need it for cooking so it will grow even bigger. All types. I have three right now, sweet, Thai, and purple.

  16. I live in South Florida. I bought a basil plant. Within a few weeks it got that leaf spot fungus. I bought another plants and the same thing happened. I read its caused by water on the leaves. But, if you live in south Florida, between the morning dew and the rain, its impossible to keep the leaves dry. Is it impossible to grow a plant outdoors in South Florida?? Suggestions would be appreciated.

    • Hi Wanda,

      I had the same problem in FL last year. I have since moved to NC and this summer has been hotter than FL! Can’t believe it!! Anyway, It’s safe to grow basil indoors as long as it’s near a sunny window. I have mine in my office near a large window that get’s about 5 hours of indirect sunlight and it’s going gang-busters. It’s a non-GMO organic variety to boot! If indoors be sure to water and wait until the soil looks almost dry before you water again. And prune, prune, prune. don’t let it flower or else the flavor will decrease as mentioned in the post. If you want the seeds for next year wait until the end of season to let it flower and save the seeds in an envelope for next year. I also have a grow light that I use to grow basil in the winter. Works just as well. Come to think of it, if you don’t have a window with a enough sun, you can still grow it indoors with a grow light. Basil likes full-spectrum grow lights and they’re available in CFL now. About 6 hours on the grow light is enough. Hope that helps.

  17. I grow mine in my aquaponics system. It’s perfect conditions for basil. Thanks for the tip of pruning. I normally just “prune” when using for my dishes, but should probably do some actual pruning in between.

  18. I’ve been growing basil in a extremely loose custom soil mix and it’s growing like mad.

    50% perlite
    20% vermiculite
    30% organic soil

    Feeding it with a organic 4-4-4 liquid fish emulsion when needed and watering frequently.
    Currently they’re under T8 LED lights @ 16 hours a day. I have basil all over the house lol.

    Can hardly keep up with pruning them and they’re looking like bonsai. Little wide bushes 😉

  19. Gracias !!! Gracias!!! acabo de hacer una Maestría en Albahaca, gracias a tod@s ustedes mis muy buen@s maestr@s. Puede alguien enviarme la receta de cómo hacer pesto de albahaca, tengo en mi jardín orégano, romero, menta, cilantro, tomates, ajies, berenjenas, espinacas, hierba buena, entre otras plantas, cómo puedo hacer un pesto espectacular a la altura de un graduado de Maestría en Albahaca, cuáles de esas hierbas puedo mezclar en qué cantidad cada una es licuado o cocido, por favor me dan la receta paso a paso. Gracias, un afectuoso saludo. Soy Domingo Valerio de República Dominicana.

Read more comments

Join the Conversation