Want epic Basil? Grow it in pots!

Basil is definitely my favorite herb! I eat it fresh, dried and pretty much in anything I can. Since I use so much basil it only makes sense that I grow my own basil year round. What also makes sense is that I grow basil in pots so I can move it indoors in winter, then back outside in warmer weather. I keep my basil thriving year round so there's always plenty to eat.

Grow amazing basil plants

Basil comes in many different varieties, each one having a unique flavor and medicinal properties. My favorite type so far has been Basil Genovese, though I have tried many types over the years!One of the most popular varieties is Ocimum basilicum commonly called sweet basil. Sweet basil has inch-long, oval-pointed, dark green leaves and a clove-pepperish odour and taste.

Another popular variety  of basil is a purple-leafed variety. ‘Dark Opal’ is decorative, makes a lovely houseplant, and is equally useful in cookery. 

Often called the ‘king of herbs,’ basil can be grown indoors or out. I do both. 

Why grow basil in pots?

I sort of have dirt issues. Let me explain a little further though...the garden is only 1/2 an acre away. Not a huge walk, but the garden is full of dirt obviously. When it rains the dirt splashes up and gets on the herb leaves. When I'm cooking I rinse the herbs, but giving them several rinses to make sure I get all that sun dried dirt off is a bit time consuming.

I don't use plastic ground covers (although that would help) so this pot method works best for me. Being able to bring the pots indoors easily in fall is also a plus. Of course when I'm ready to harvest and dry the herbs I don't mind doing the extra work if they are a little dirty. Keeping those pots closer to the house also keeps the deer and bunnies from snacking on the plants too.

Plus, basil has several different medicinal uses so I need at least some of it close by year round. Fresh is definitely better! 
Basil plant growing in a pot on the counter indoors

Growing basil in pots

I've found I get the best results by waiting to plant basil seeds till the weather is warm enough to start them in pots outside, rather then starting seeds indoors. Unfortunately they get a bit leggy and don't grow quite as big indoors for me. If you have a stellar seed starting system though, go for it! 

Basil makes a handsome, bushy small plant, growing to a foot or more indoors. It likes well drained soil so I put some pebbles in the bottom of the pots to give the water room to drain away from the soil. If your pot has drainage holes that works even better. 

When growing basil outside I place the pots at the edge of my patio which is a full sun area. I use a lot of compost in the pots when planting them as they seem to like a lot of organic material.

Basil likes it warm when indoors, so a sunny draft-free window is ideal. Don’t let the leaves touch the cold glass, as the herb is sensitive to the cold. Place in a south facing window to get the most amount of sun. If your herbs aren't getting enough sun though you should use a grow light. I like to supplement the natural light by turning it on from 5pm till about 9 each evening. 

Culinary herbs require at least five hours of sunlight a day to stay healthy and flavorful.

Basil plant with arrows to show how to prune it

Caring for basil plants

Prune basil when it starts to get too big and that will encourage it to get bushier. You want to find a section that has 2 leaves with a stem growing from the middle. Prune that middle stem, leaving the 2 leaves. I just pinch it off by pushing my thumbnail through the stem I want to remove, though you could use pruning shears.

If the plant is young and small, you'll prune closer to the bottom. If your plant is already getting leggy and tall you don't want to prune as far down...you don't want to damage it. The idea is to encourage it to grow outwards through those 2 sections you left behind.

I like to give my basil some time to really fill out before starting to harvest from the plant...so these pruned pieces are often the first taste of fresh basil we get each year!

Also, remember to pinch off the flowers until you're ready for it to go to seed. This also encourages basil plants to grow into compact little bushes. Once the basil does flower though, don't forget to save some seeds for next year!

Basil is an annual and grows 12 – 24 inches, as the height varies according to the variety. Make sure the pot is big enough to fit the root ball as the plant grows, or you may have to repot it if before it starts to gets root bound. 

I give the plants some fertilizer about once a month when indoors or twice a month when potted outside. I'll add a bit of compost on top of the soil and/or make them some compost tea. They love it! Always fertilize more often while in the growing season, which is the active gardening month for those of us who freeze in winter!

I make all my own organic fertilizers including compost tea. It's pretty much just compost that's been allowed to soak in water, than the water is poured off and used as fertilizer. Basil loves it!

When it gets really hot outside, make sure you water potted basil frequently. Basil likes slightly acidic soil, so it should really enjoy a little bit of coffee grounds mixed into the soil in the pot. 

I get the best results by starting some seeds in pots outside around mid to late summer then bringing them indoors as fall approaches and the temperatures change. This way the seedlings can take advantage of the ideal summer growing conditions to get started before I bring them in.

Giant basil plant in a pot outside

Harvesting and using basil

To harvest basil simply pinch  off a few leaves, wash then use them in your recipe. Pinch off, or cut right above a leaf pair rather than leaving a bare stem. If you need a large amount of basil you can harvest up to a third of the plant without causing damage. 

In the kitchen, use basil in tomato dishes (both raw and cooked), pesto, sauces, salad dressings, soups, seafood, mushroom dishes, egg and rice dishes, Italian dishes, omelettes, pasta dishes, vegetables such as carrots, eggplant, cabbage, squash, and zucchini. 

Use fresh basil leaves whole or chopped in salads and add to vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.  Basil can be used fresh, frozen, or dried and will keep for a long time once preserved properly. I especially like making basil salts. Use basil with discretion, as it is one of the few herbs that increase in flavor when heated.

Want more posts on herb gardening? Click here for my other posts on growing herbs.


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