Container Gardening With Basil

Growing basil in pots is easy for gardeners of any skill level.

In fact, growing a pot of basil at the edge of a vegetable garden or on a sunny windowsill makes it easy and convenient for cooks to pluck a few leaves to season fresh grown tomatoes, squash, zucchini and other garden produce.

When the outdoor growing season is over, just move the basil container garden indoors and enjoy fresh herbs all winter long. Learn how to grow basil indoors in eight simple steps.

Growing basil in container gardens is easy and fun!

Container Gardening(104068)
Credit: Image copyright 2012 by Donna Cosmato, all rights reserved

How to Grow Basil: 8 Easy Steps

Let's get that basil planted and ready to germinate and produce:

  1. Fill the planter within an inch of the top with growth medium.
  2. Dampen, but do not soak the soil.
  3. Sprinkle seeds across the top of the soil, and then press them lightly into the dirt.
  4. Cover seeds with a thin layer of dirt, and then press the soil over them firmly.
  5. Seeds will germinate in about five to seven days.
  6. As the seedlings form true leaves, thin the plants according to package directions.
  7. Place the container in a sunny spot, and water at the base of the plants when soil is dry.
  8. Pick and enjoy because the more you harvest the basil, the better it produces.

Growing basil in pots from seeds is easy and fun, as well as a great science project for kids. However, buying seedlings from a nursery is also a good option and works better for younger children who need instant gratification, or for impatient gardeners anxious for a harvest.

Simply prepare the container using steps one and two, and then water the seedling to get the root ball moist and ready for transplant. Scoop out a hole large enough to contain the root ball and position the plant carefully into the hole. Fill in around the base with soil, firming the dirt around the stem with hands. Now that you know how easy it is to grow plants in containers, why not try some other herbs or vegetables?

Transplant your seedlings when the first true leaves appear

First True Leaves on Basil Plants
Credit: Pawel Bura, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons,

Choosing the Right Container & Soil Mixture

Use recycled pots or splurge on new containers, but remember to clean and disinfect recycled pots to prevent plant diseases. Hot soapy water and a weak bleach solution (1% bleach to one part water) works fine. Local discount and dollar stores are the perfect venue for finding cheap pots and containers for growing basil.

Basil grows well in most soils; the best growth medium is an organic soil mixture containing slow release fertilizer. Basil is not a heavy feeder, so a slow-releasing food nourishes it for the entire season. Read the labels carefully, because some potting soils are not designed to be used with containers when the mixture is not moisture retentive. Make sure the pot has plenty of drainage holes, and mix a handful or two of gravel in with the soil in the bottom.

How to Grow Basil: Best Varieties

Sweet basil is the most popular variety of this herb, and an excellent choice for container gardens. It averages 16 to 18 inches in height, loves the sun, and tolerates some drying of the soil. Other good varieties of basil for those who want to add a little spice to their cooking are:

  • Siam Queen Thai basil – licorice taste
  • Lemon basil – lemon flavor
  • Lime basil – lime flavor
  • Spicy saber basil – peppery, pungent overtones

One of the signature features of basil is the wide range of varieties and flavors from which to choose. The 5 varieties listed above are just a small sample of the over 60 varieties of this aromatic herb.

Cooking With Basil

Use basil leaves fresh from the pot, or freeze them for later use. If you want to substitute fresh basil as an ingredient in recipes calling for dried basil, you will need to use three times as much fresh basil.

Fresh basil is less concentrated and so you need more of it for seasoning purposes. For example, if your recipe calls for one teaspoon of dried basil, just substitute three teaspoons of finely chopped, fresh basil. Speaking of substitutions, if you love the taste of basil, you can substitute it for oregano or thyme in recipes that call for either of those herbs.

Probably the most popular (and delicious!) use for basil is in pesto, but it also makes tasty, aromatic basil butter. Try brushing some on chicken breast and then grilling them until tender and juicy. Other ideas for making unique culinary delights with fresh basil are to make basil infused oils or vinegars.

How to Grow Basil in Containers: Tips

Harvest & Store Your Basil

Harvest the basil for use from the top down by cutting or pinching off leaves. Pinch off any flowers and tops to encourage the basil to grow in a bush shape. Use your fresh basil to flavor sauces, pestos and salads, or brew it to make an herbal tea. Use it fresh, dry it, or freeze it for future use.

Fresh: If you pick more leaves than you can use, just dampen a few paper towels and lay the leaves on top. Fold the paper towels gently over the basil, and place in a plastic storage bag. Fresh basil can be stored in the refrigerator for about two to four days.

Frozen: It’s pretty easy to prepare basil for freezing as you simply blanch the leaves as you would any vegetable that you are preparing for frozen storage.

  1. Plunge them into boiling water and then into ice water.
  2. Lay them on paper toweling to drain and then place them on a waxed paper lined baking sheet. Be careful to separate the leaves so that they do not touch.
  3. Slip them into the freezer and freeze.
  4. Now you have individually flash frozen basil leaves, which you can store in plastic freezer bags or containers.

Because they are flash frozen, they do not stick together. When you are ready to use them in a recipe, you simply remove the necessary amount. This way, you don’t have to thaw out the whole bag or container of basil and be forced to try to use it all before it spoils.

Wasn't it fun and easy to learn how to grow basil? Now that your confidence level in your gardeing skills is increased, you might want to try growing cherry tomatoes in containers. They are no more difficult than basil, and you can make a wonderful salad with fresh basil, chopped cherry tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with freshly ground sea salt and ground pepper. Bon appetit!

Container gardening is lots of fun, and one big advantage of gardening in containers is you can indulge your green thumb all year long. However, growing plants and vegetables outdoors is just as much fun and gives you some excellent exercise to boot. Consider growing sunflowers this year if you have the room as they are forgiving flowers that are simple to grow but produce absolutely breath-taking blooms.