Basil is one of the most popular herbs in the world today and is also a popular choice for small scale growing in urban environments.
But there are also some best practices for beginner urban basil growers out there. Buying basil seedlings and watering them (as we have found from experience) will usually not be enough to grow vibrant looking and amazing tasting basil.
Louis Pasteur once said "chance favors the prepared mind", and this advice applies to basil growing.
If you have considered starting a small scale urban farming project and are interested in starting with basil, it makes sense to learn from the experts to minimize the risk of trying and failing miserably to grow your basil (if you have already failed, here are some tips on basil growing mistakes and solutions).
With this in mind, here are 10 expert opinions on how you beginners can grow better basil:
According to Kris Bordessa of Attainable Sustainable, one easy solution for maximizing success potential is to ensure proper soil temperature, especially at the beginning of the growing process. Kris notes the following factors are important:
- Planting basil plants outside before the last frost is not a good idea.
- For growing indoors or even just starting basil plants inside, one ideal option is to use a heat mat to increase soil temperature (For more information on basil growing temperature requirements, check out our Beginner's Guide to Urban Farming).
Sierra Bright of Natural Living Ideas states that "the best way to ensure that a plant grows to its maximum potential is to give it (what) it needs". Specifically, when it comes to producing the healthiest growing basil:
- The basil plant growth will be stunted in small growing container. This will be true even if you apply flawless water and nutrients in the form of compost or other organic matter.
- Potential solutions to this problem: space and climate permitting, growing basil outdoors will likely result in a larger plant. In urban settings with limited or exclusively indoor space, a larger growing container is the best solution for basil.
Deb Wiley of BHG.com notes that growing basil indoor often results in plants which are "spindly or leggy". Lighting is one absolutely essential element to indoor growing:
- Grow lights emit a larger light spectrum than conventional lights, and also can help provide warmth for growing basil plants
- For more information on proper lighting, check out this article with suggestions for indoor grow lighting
In her guide to growing basil, Rita Heikenfeld of Country Inside Network states that growing basil with other crops that thrive in similar conditions can result in beneficial effects.
- Growing basil with tomatoes can reduce incidence of pests that may be harmful to basil plants.
- Pests often found in basil include beetles, slugs, and aphids.
- Need any other reasons? According to Food Republic author Jess Kapadia in her article Plant Tomatoes and Basil Together To Repel Bugs, basil can even repel mosquitoes if you rub the fresh leaves on your skin.
Growing from cuttings may result in a better basil harvest (What are basil cuttings?).
Take this insider tip form Joel Orchard of Future Feeders (via Todd Mansfield of Permaculture News):
"Take a cutting from the bush, remove the flowers and some of the leaves (so the cutting isn’t too stressed out) and place it in a glass of water.
Keep the cutting out of direct sun, maybe on a kitchen counter out of the way, and leave it for a week or two.
If it’s warm enough (it’s best to propagate it in the warmer months) new roots will form. You can then pop that in a pot with some damp potting mix and away it goes!"
- Todd Mansfield, Permaculture News
Expert Cynthia Sandberg of Love Apple Farm in Los Gatos, CA (via Sari Lehrer in this Bon Appetite magazine article), advises to pick you greens such as basil at a very specific time of the day.
- Picking basil is best done extremely early in the morning before sunrise when both indoor and outdoor temperatures are cooler.
- This picking time will result in less wilting and a higher level of quality during storage before consumption
Take this basil harvesting advice from Courtenay of Creeklinehouse.com. Once your basil plant is "ready" for harvest, keep her suggestions for specific best practices in mind:
- Harvest from the "top-down", starting at the top of the basil plant and working down as opposed to starting on the sides (it may be tempting to start on the sides, but resist the temptation).
- Snip the stem about a quarter inch above the "node" of the basil plant (where the smaller stems of the basil plant meet with the main stem.
- For more images on the harvesting process, check out Courtenay's full post
What is the best fertilizing regimen for growing basil indoors, advice here tends to widely vary. According to Southerncrazed.com in an article titled, 7 tips for growing basil indoors, author Diane describes an ideal fertilizer routine:
- "Basil will perform best if it is fertilized every two weeks. A liquid variety does the job well, and always follow package directions so you don’t overfeed the plant, which can quickly burn it."
- Effective liquid fertilizer can be found at your local hardware store for less than 5$ USD
According to NYRP.org author Jason Sheets, the basic essentials for indoor growing basil are:
- 6-10 inch pots or window box planter
- soilless-seed starting mix or a potting soil mix (avoid outdoor garden topsoil)
- basil seeds (can be purchased locally or via mail through sites like Seeds of Change)
- Spray bottle
- Light source (indoor growing lights or sunlight)
Keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list, just enough to get your feet wet.
View Jason's full article: HOW TO: GROW BASIL INDOORS
According to site Sunshine Advanced, certain types of basil are better for growing inside than others. Some examples from the article:
-"High yielding, compact varieties are best" (Don't know what that means? See next point)
-What varieties should you look out for? Try:
- Verde Piccole Foglie
- Fino Verde
- Dolce Fresca
- Pesto Perpetuo
- Siam Queen
Bonus tip on lighting: Your light source for growing basil indoor should be either strong sunlight or "high-quality solar fluorescent lights".