growing basil in pots

Growing Basil in Pots [ From Seed, Cuttings + Tips for A Bigger Harvest]

Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow in pots.  It is an amazing herb to use in the kitchen too.  Once you’ve started growing Basil it will be hard to stop, as you’ll end up using it so much more than you do if you’re currently buying it from the supermarket.  Our guide to growing basil in pots covers all the detail that you need to have a successful Basil harvest month after month.  We’ll go through growing basil from seed, growing from cuttings, and even growing from a supermarket plant.  Plus there are details on watering, pruning, and feeding as well as the best place to situate your basil plants for maximum results!  Come on in and read about how to grow basil in pots.


Why Grow Basil in Pots

Growing Basil in Pots is particularly easy as you’re able to position the pot in the right place for optimum growing conditions for this most versatile of herbs.  Growing your basil in containers also make it easier to control the size of the plant and to keep an eye on it.  Our basil forest on the kitchen windowsill has eager eyes on it throughout the day – we can’t miss when it needs a little more water, or a little less or even a trim.  Plus we get to see when the Basil is about to flower and deal with it quickly.

Growing your own Basil will save you a lot of money.  Oh, I know how expensive the supermarket Basil plants or, or even the cut basil.  Growing your own Basil in containers will also have you using a lot more Basil in your cooking too.  And then it’s really hard to go back to buying it, without bankrupting yourself!

How to Plant Basil

You can start Basil plants from seed or you can grow basil from from cuttings from other basil plants.  Here are the basic instructions on how to grow basil from seeds and how to grow basil from cuttings.

How to Grow Basil from Seed

  1. Select your container (there’s more on the right containers below) and fill it with a good vegetable compost) and water it until it is moist.
  2. Sprinkle Basil seeds across the top of the compost. Don’t cover or push them into the compost as the sunlight and water in the compost will help them germinate.
  3. You only need a few Basil seeds, as most of them will germinate.
  4. Place your pot of Basil seeds in an area where the temperature is at least 20 degrees centigrade. We also recommend veering the post with a plastic bag, Clingfilm or a cloche for 24 hours to help with germination.
  5. The compost should be kept moist, but not waterlogged.
  6. Within 2-3 days you’ll start to see small seedlings coming through.
  7. When plants reach 5 centimetres thin them out. You want to aim to keep the best-looking plants.  The strongest looking plant should go into a pot by itself (about 20 centimetres in diameter) and you can put 3-4 of the others in a 30-centimetre diameter pot.
basil seedlings after 10 days

How to Grow Basil from a Cutting

You can take a cutting from a Basil plant very easily, regardless of the variety of Basil that you are growing.  Here’s how to take basil cuttings:

  1. Aim to take a 10-centimetre cutting right below a node from your existing plant.
  2. Remove all the leaves from the bottom 5 centimetres.
  3. Fill a small container with water (tap water is fine, cold not hot!) and put the cut end of the stem in it. We try to use a glass or see-through plastic container as it makes it easier to watch for regenerated roots.  You can put multiple cuttings in the same container.
  4. You should see roots starting to generate within a week.
  5. Once the roots are 5 centimetres long you can prepare a new pot and plant your new Basil baby. Follow the same guides as above – using one 20 centimetre pot for a single cutting and a 30-centimetre pot for 3-4 cuttings.
roots on cuttings of basil

Where to Plant Basil

Basil is native to tropical India and grows best in warm, sunny conditions.  Provide your Basil plants with good sunlight, good airflow and the right temperature and it will give you healthy strong plants and great tasting leaves.  Basil can grow well outside if you plant in the UK’s late spring.  Basil will positively thrive during the summer, but its growth will diminish as temperatures come down.  The best way to create optimum summertime conditions for your Basil plants is to create the summertime conditions inside.  So plant your Basil in pots, locate them on a sunny windowsill – or in a greenhouse if you have one and make sure the airflow is good. (This guide to mini greenhouses is a great overview on which are the best)  If growing Basil through the winter becomes a big thing for you, then you may want to invest in some artificial lights to keep your harvest coming.

growing basil in the windowsill

Temperature Requirements for Growing Basil

One of the most influential elements of growing basil is temperature.  Basil plants are particularly sensitive to cold.  This doesn’t just mean that cold will kill a basil plant, but it impacts the taste of the leaves too.  Flavour is much better at around 28 degrees than it is at 18 degrees.  What’s for sure is that you’ll want to be trying to grow you, Basil, at 20 degrees and above.  The closer you get to 28 degrees the better the flavour.  However, the shelf life of Basil grown at higher temperatures is lower.  Commercial Basil plants are grown at different temperatures depending on their use – so if the Basil is being used in pesto, it can be grown quickly, at higher temperatures because it’s going to be preserved.  Basil that’s grown for sale in a supermarket as fresh will need to be grown at a colder temperature as it needs to last longer.    Make sure that if you’re growing Basil through the winter that you grow it in a place that is not drafty – so away from frequently opening doors!

Light and Sunshine Requirements for Growing Basil

If your basil is to grow outside then it will love a full sun location.  For indoor-grown basil then you’ll want to try for at least 6 hours of sunlight a day – so aim for south or west-facing windows.

Airflow Requirements for Growing Basil

Basil is prone to mould and so needs a good airflow and air circulation – not that doesn’t mean a cold draft!  As our basil plants sit most of the time on a windowsill we rotate them on a daily basis, ensuring that we’re looking at the plant, watering it and also moving the leaves which are closest to the sunlight.

The Best Varieties of Basil to Grow

There are lots of varieties of Basil – the most common or typical Basil is Sweet Basil or Genovese Basil.  Here are some of the characteristics of the common varieties of Basil to grow.

We recommend Thompson Morgan for Basil and other herb seeds – and you can also buy basil seeds from Amazon.

Sweet Basil / Genovese Basil

This is the most typical of Basil plants to grow.  It has bright green leaves and small white flowers.  This is the typical Basil that is used in pesto and most recipes.  This type of Basil plant can grow up to 90 centimetres high, regular pruning will create a bushy form, as will stopping the plant from flowering.  

Thai Basil

Thai Basil is popular in Thai, Viet, Laotian and Cambodian cuisine and has a similar aroma to sweet basil.  It is generally only used while fresh. It has an anise/ liquorice flavour to it. Thai Basil plants grow between 30 – 45 centimetres and have leaves that are 2.5 to 5 centimetres in length.  Thai Basil has purple/ green leaves on purple stems and purple flowers. 

This year we have been experimenting, growing thai basil from seed and also growing Thai Basil from cuttings too and can report that both are going extremely well.  (It’s February as I’m updating this and I still have a thai basil plant flourishing on a warm kitchen window!)

Lemon Basil

Lemon Basil is sometimes known as Lao basil or Thai lemon basil and is a hybrid.  It has a fragrant lemon scent.  Plants grow from 2 to 40 centimetres high.  Treat this type of basil the same as others, lemon basil plant care is the same. 

The Best Pots for Basil

You can use almost any container or pot to grow Basil in.  Basil growing pots can be clay or plastic.  A single Basil plant will need a 20-centimetre diameter pot and 3-4 basil plants can grow in a 30-centimetre pot.  Your pots must have drainage holes

How to Care for Basil Plants

There is little care required for Basil plants.  Ensure that you have the right environment for your Basil plants which we’ve covered above and then:

  • Water when compost is dry to the touch. Basil prefers water in the morning and doesn’t like wet roots overnight if possible.
  • Water the compost, not the foliage.
  • Fertilize every 4-6 weeks

How to Harvest Basil

Basil is a fabulous herb for regular harvesting.  Plan to harvest and it will trigger new growth – it will also ensure that the plant becomes bushier.  Harvesting your Basil plant is easy.

  • Harvest Basil in the morning using clean scissors.
  • Cut steams right above a node where there are a pair of leaves. Don’t leave stubs of stems on the plant.
  • The best Basil flavour comes from harvesting Basil plants before they flower. If they do start to flower remove the flowers and give your plant a few days before harvest to regain taste.
  • Pinching off tips of Basil will encourage it to bush out rather than going up.
flowering basil

Tips for Maximising your Basil Harvest

Basil responds really quite well to harsh pruning.  So keep a regular pruning schedule and use some of those cuttings to grow new plants, that will really expand your harvest!  You’ll also want to pinch off tips to encourage the plant to bush out.  Nipping off flowers will also encourage growth too.

How to Trim Basil for Growth

We focus on growing basil for to harvest the leaves to use in our cooking and we’ve found that the best way to grow basil is in containers.  Trimming and harvesting basil is easy.  Nip off flowers, this will focus the basil plant on other leaves.  Pinch off upper tips, which will make the herb bush out.  When pruning, prune top areas and prune just above a section. 

FAQs on Growing Basil in Containers

Got questions about planting basil in pots? Or want to know something specific about the best way to grow basil and we haven’t answered your questions?  Check out our frequently asked questions about basil care tips and how to grow basil at home below, or ask us yours in the comments.

What is the Best Place to Plant Basil?

Basil needs warmth and sunshine.  It doesn’t like drafty conditions, we have successfully grown basil indoors, in greenhouses and taken it outside on gloriously hot summer days.   We find that growing basil outside in the UK without cover isn’t the easiest.  It’s easy to maintain the best basil growing conditions by growing basil in a pot.  This means you can vary the conditions and move the pot if the conditions for your basil plant change

What are the key basil growing conditions?

Basil needs air circulation and does not like to dry out completely.  Sunshine, warmth and definitely not being waterlogged are key for good basil growth

What are the best size basil pots?

The smaller the pot you grow basil in, the more often you will have to water it.  A larger pot size for basil means that you will be water less often as the moisture stands more chance of being retained in the pots.  The best pot to grow basil in is going to be one that both fits in the space that you have, looks nice and provides the right amount of growth space for your herb. 

How big do basil plants get?

The largest basil plants will grow to about 30-45 centimetres in height.   If you want your plant to get more bushy (which is good for it), then you can be quite brutal in your trimming. 

Final Words on Growing Basil in Pots

Basil is such a rewarding herb to grow – not only it is one of the easiest herbs to grow but its also one that we use on such a regular basis.  Growing Basil saves us a lot of money – especially now that we’ve got used to using so much Basil in our recipes!  Add to that growing Basil in containers makes it a whole lot easier to follow the sunlight around the house at different times of the year!  We hope that you’ve found these basil growing tips useful, please do let us know how you get on growing Basil!

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