How to Grow Basil Indoors

Freshly picked basil smells amazing and tastes even better. It’s one of the easiest herbs to grow and has a great variety of types.

Timing

Sprouts in 1-2 weeks. Harvest from Month 2+ on.

Full sun

Equivalent of 6+ hours of direct sun [DLI of 18+ mol/m²/day].

Care

Beginner-friendly. You’ll sprout, thin, prune, and harvest.

 

Best Basil varieties to grow inside

There are over 160 types of basil – each with its unique aroma and size. Flavors range from clove to cinnamon to lemon and lime. All basil is fairly well suited to indoor growing – but specialty seed with compact statures and disease resistance will make sure you make the most out of your space.

Genovese Compact Improved

The preferred variety for greenhouses or small spaces, Genovese Improved Compact Basil has all the plus sides of the traditional basil plant in a smaller plant.

Urban Leaf

Spicy Globe Basil – Piccolino

Delicious, strong scent and delightful flavor. Dotted with white flowers with a lovely aroma and taste, this plant does it all.

Urban Leaf

Lime Basil

Sweet and tangy, lime basil brings two delicious flavors into one compact plant.

Urban Leaf

Basil Seed Collection

Can’t decide? We’ve curated this selection of different basil seeds, including Sweet, Thai, Globe, Purple, Lemon, and Lime Basil.

Urban Leaf

 

Best Setup for Basil Plants

You’ll need:

Planter: 

Ceramic Self Watering Planter or Hydroponic or pot that is at least 4″ / 1 pint.

Soil: 

Standard Potting Mix

Plant Food:

At the start: Balanced Blend. This should be equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (with NPK numbers like 10-10-10). 

Ongoing: Herb Blend. This should be high in nitrogen (with NPK numbers like 10-5-5).

Grow Light:

A strong grow light that can give the equivalent of 6+ hours of direct sun [DLI of 18+ mol/m²/day].

Jump to: Our product recommendations

Preparing your Planter & Watering Schedule for Basil

Basil plants do well in moist soil conditions. If the soil dries out completely the roots will die back and it will be tough for the plant to recover. On the other hand, if the roots are exposed to standing water for too long, they can rot. Basil does fantastically in a hydroponic setup (head over here to learn more) or in Self Watering Planters. 

We prefer a Ceramic Self Watering Planter filled with a standard potting mix self-regulates to keep the soil at consistent moisture for your plant to thrive (and no watering guesswork for you).

To set one up:

  1. Fill up the planter with dry soil from the bag, gently tamping down the top.
  2. Dump the soil into a large mixing bowl and add water until the soil is moist, but not sopping wet (about ½ Cup)
  3. Mix in 1 tablespoon of the Balanced Blend Plant Food.

If you are using a regular pot instead, it should be a little bit bigger (at least 4″ / 1 pint and will need drainage holes to prevent it from being over watered. Let the top of the soil dry out between watering.

Starting your Basil: Seed vs Cutting vs Nursery Plant

New Basil plants can be started from seed, propagated from an established plant, or purchased live at many garden centers. We prefer to sprout from seed or propagate from a stem cutting, as it results in plants that are adapted to your growing conditions and limit the chances that you accidentally bring home pests.)

How to Plant Basil seeds

Basil grows quickly from seed. Plant 5 sites in a 4″ / 1-pint container. In larger containers, space sites 2″ apart. For each site plant 2 seeds 1/4 inches deep. Keep the soil warm ( 65-85°F, ideally 70°F). Sprouts typically appear in 5 days but can be as quick as 3 days or as long as  7 days depending on your conditions. 

Can you Clone Basil: How to Clone Basil from a Stem Cutting

If you’ve already got a Basil plant you love (or a friend does!) you may be wondering how to clone basil. You can clone basil with just sharp scissors and a clean glass of water. First, cut a couple of 6” shoots of new growth (avoid anything woody). Next, remove the lower leaves, so the bottom half is just stem. Place in a glass of 3” of water, making sure the cut leaf spots are underwater. Place the glass on a bright windowsill and change the water every few days. In a couple of weeks, roots should emerge and you can transplant them into your container. While using additional rooting hormones won’t hurt, it’s not necessary with Basil plants. 

  1. Cut 6” section of new growth
  2. Remove leaves halfway and place them in the water on a sunny window sill 
  3. Wait 14 days for a few ½ inch roots to form and carefully transplant into their final container

How to Transplant Basil

Live starter plants give you a big jump start on your first harvest. When you’re in a garden center – pick the bushiest plant available (tall and lanky ones will be weak growers) and give it a good inspection for pests. Leaves should be dark green without holes, spots, or curled edges. A best practice is to actually “quarantine” your plant for about a week after bringing it home to make sure it’s free and clear of ride-on pests. 

Ensuring it’s pest and disease-free it’s time to transplant your seedling into its final home.

  1. Remove some soil from its final planter – leaving enough space for the bottom of the seedling to be just higher than the soil surface.
  2. Hold on to the base of the stem with one hand, and turn the pot over while gently pulling the seedling. Giving the pot a few squeezes can help dislodge it.  
  3. Place in its final container and fill around it with soil so that it’s tight, but not compacted.  

Where to grow your Basil plants

While you should take advantage of the sun (it’s free and perfect for plants) there are limited circumstances where indoor natural light is enough for Basil plants to grow well. A very bright window can cut your grow light needs in half, but if you want to grow lots of Basil, you’ll still need one. For an introduction to grow lights, head over to our post on grow lights for indoor gardeners. We’ve also got a buying guide for screw in types, but to keep things simple in this guide, we’ll just provide directions for the 24W Screw in Bulb by Sansi, which we think is a good middle-of-the-road option.

How bright should your grow light be? 

Basil plants need the equivalent of 6+ hours of direct sunlight [DLI of 18+ mol/m²/day] to grow their best. In order to provide an equivalent amount with a grow light, it needs to be pretty bright! The 24W Sansi bulb should be placed 6 inches away from the top of the plant. This will give your PPFD (the standard measure of brightness) of 500 μmol/m²/s.

How many hours per day do your Basil plants need under a grow light?

Basil plants are known as “long-day”. When they sense over 12 hours of light per day, they’ll start the end of their lifecycle and work on making seeds.  We want to keep them in an earlier stage so we can keep harvesting the leaves, so we recommend setting up a timer to leave it on for only 10 hours per day.

Basil Plants Grow Faster in Warmer Temps

Basil plants are called “warm-weather crops” and will speed up their metabolism when temperatures are warmer. On the other hand, if things get too hot they’ll wilt and become prone to disease. Ideal temperatures are around 80°F but anything between 50 and 90°F grows well.

Week 1-2: Check for Sprouts

You could see seedlings in as little as 3 days (though 5 days is more typical). If it’s been  7 days and you still don’t have any sprouts, it’s likely that your setup is too cold.

Week 2: Thin Your Seedlings

Thin your planter to only have 1 seedling per site –  leaving the largest plant. If you are using the recommended planter (at least 4″ / 1 pint) this will mean you’ve got 5 plants after thinning.  By getting rid of the smaller seedlings, you’re allowing the biggest and strongest one to flourish by reducing its competition for water, food, and space. 

If your seedlings are under 1 inch, stretching out, or folding over, it’s likely that they don’t have quite enough light.

Week 4: How to Prune Basil Plants

Once your Basil plant has 3 sets of mature leaves you’re ready for your prune. Cut off the top set of mature leaves, leaving the bottom two (it’s best to cut right above the pair of leaves you’re keeping on the plant). Once these branches grow out (and each has a few sets of their own leaves) you can cut the tip – just as you did with the main stem. At this point your plant will be fairly well shaped, so hone your inner Bonzi master and use your thinning and heading cuts to harvest and shape your herbs as you go.  

Month 2+: How to Harvest Basil

As your basil continues to grow, keep harvesting to encourage growth. If you only want a couple of leaves, pick leaves where new ones are emerging at the base. For a bigger harvest, cut one of the stems directly harvest, cut off the stems directly. You shouldn’t harvest more than 1⁄3 of the plant at a time.

Month 6+: End of Life

Once your basil plant is mature, it’ll decide that it’s time to make seeds & die off. Delay this by clipping flower stalks as soon as you see them. It’s best to catch them as early as possible.

Shop This Blog

The right supplies can take the guesswork out of caring for your plants – and turn care from a daily to weekly routine. Through our grow tests, we’ve found these products to produce the best indoor Basil (and also have simple maintenance).  Plants are adaptable and can grow in many different conditions, so they are by no means necessary if you already have other supplies.

Best Containers for Basil: Ceramic Self Watering Planters

Plants thrive on consistent moisture but can suffer if they’re waterlogged. A semi-porous ceramic self regulates ideal conditions. Our favorite is the COSWIP planter. Runner up is XS Self Watering Planter by Wet Pot.

Best Soil for Basil: Standard Potting Mix

Basil likes a rich and moist root zone – so you are best off with a standard potting mix – we like this Organic Mix by Espoma

Best Nutrients for Basil: Balanced Blend followed by Herb & Lettuce Blend

Basil likes to start with nutrients that are equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (with NPK numbers like 10-10-10). For this Balanced Blend we recommend: Dr Earth All Purpose

Once they are growing, it’s better to use plant food that is high in nitrogen (with NPK numbers like 10-5-5). For this Herb Blend, we recommend: Joyful Dirt All Purpose

Best Light for Basil: DIY or Soltech

There is a very small chance that you have the bright windows needed to grow these without a grow light. If you are looking for a higher-end option – we love the Aspect Light by Soltech. For a more affordable option, a DIY setup using a 24W Screw-in Bulb by Sansi with a Clamp Light and Mechanical Timer works well too.  Check out our complete guide on a DIY setup for less than $40 or our buying guide for screw in bulbs.

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