How to grow basil

How to grow basil

Everything you need to know about growing fragrant basil, in our detailed Grow Guide.

A table displaying which months are best to sow, plant and harvest.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Sow
Sow

Do not Sow in January

Do Sow in February

Do Sow in March

Do Sow in April

Do Sow in May

Do Sow in June

Do Sow in July

Do not Sow in August

Do not Sow in September

Do not Sow in October

Do not Sow in November

Do not Sow in December

Plant
Plant

Do not Plant in January

Do not Plant in February

Do not Plant in March

Do not Plant in April

Do not Plant in May

Do Plant in June

Do Plant in July

Do not Plant in August

Do not Plant in September

Do not Plant in October

Do not Plant in November

Do not Plant in December

Harvest
Harvest

Do not Harvest in January

Do not Harvest in February

Do not Harvest in March

Do not Harvest in April

Do not Harvest in May

Do Harvest in June

Do Harvest in July

Do Harvest in August

Do Harvest in September

Do not Harvest in October

Do not Harvest in November

Do not Harvest in December

  • Average Yield

    Pick leaves as required

  • Spacing

    30cm apart

    30cm between rows

  • Depth

    0.5cm

Basil is a versatile annual herb, used in pasta sauces, pizzas, salads and Thai curries. Sweet basil tends to dominate the supermarket shelves, but there are many more exciting types to try when you grow your own.

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How to grow basil

Sow basil seed successionally from spring to summer so you have a continuous crop. Pot on into individual pots when plants are big enough to handle. Water sparingly – basil hates to sit in wet compost. Harvest the leaves individually rather than chopping the plant with scissors, as this will enable new leaves to grow.


How to sow basil seed

Basil seedlings
Basil seedlings

Grow basil in well-drained, fertile soil in a warm, sheltered position out of direct midday sun. To get a quality crop that lasts from early spring to mid-autumn, it’s best to grow basil in a container.

Start your seeds off in pots of moist peat-free multi-purpose compost on a warm but not sunny windowsill. When seedlings are big enough to handle, pot them on into individual pots filled with a peat-free, soil-based compost. Put them outside in early summer after the last frost. To acclimatise them to conditions outdoors, stand them outside in a sheltered, lightly shaded spot during the day, and bring them back in at night. Do this daily for about two weeks.

How to grow basil - watering basil seedlings
How to grow basil – watering basil seedlings

How to care for basil plants

Harvesting basil leaves
Harvesting basil leaves

Outdoors, basil needs protection from wind and frost. Always water with care, ideally before midday, and avoid splashing the leaves. This should help prevent botrytis (powdery mould).

Plants will grow fast in containers, so expect to pot them up a few times during the growing season.

Basil is a half-hardy annual, so new plants will be needed each year. However, in autumn, when temperatures start to dip, bring a few plants back indoors to provide a fresh supply of leaves in winter.


Growing basil: problem solving

Protect plants from snails and slugs. Basil is also prone to attack by whitefly and red spider mite, both of which can be treated with horticultural soap.


How to harvest basil

How to grow basil - harvesting basil leaves
How to grow basil – harvesting basil leaves

Pick the leaves and tops of basil regularly throughout the summer to use fresh. You can be quite ruthless, so long as you leave at least three pairs of side shoots so your plants can regrow. Don’t wash the leaves until you’re ready to use them as they’ll turn slimy.


Preparing and using basil

For the best flavour, add fresh basil at the end of cooking. It’s said that you should tear rather than chop basil leaves to release their wonderful aroma. Use in salads, soups, stews, to make pesto and other sauces, particularly any recipe containing tomatoes.


Storing basil

Store leaves in the fridge for up to three days. Or, stand cut stems in a glass of water ready to use. To freeze basil, chop the leaves and place them in an ice-cube tray, cover with water and pop in the freezer. Use within five months.

How to grow supermarket basil

Most fresh basil sold in supermarkets is sweet basil. It takes just 22 days from seed to sale, so the rootball is underdeveloped. This is why it normally dies if you plant it in the garden. If you want to give it a go, tip the plants out of their pot and tease their roots apart to separate them. Replant individually into pots of soil-based compost. Keep them moist but not wet, and place them somewhere warm but not in direct sun. When you see roots through the drainage holes in the pot base, harden off and plant out in the garden.

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Basil varieties to try

A purple variety of basil
A purple variety of basil
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  • ‘Cinnamon’ – olive green/brown leaves that have a very spicy flavour
  • ‘Greek’ – small leaves with a strong anise-clove flavour. Good in pots
  • ‘Red Rubin’ – produces highly aromatic, deep purple leaves
  • ‘Sweet Genovese’ – large-leaved variety with a sweet flavour