7 tips for how to grow gargantuan basil plants

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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!

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