7 Tips and Tricks for Growing Basil in Containers

Basil is one of the most beloved herbs in kitchens around the world. Known for its fragrant leaves, basil is a staple in Italian cuisine and plays a crucial role in many other culinary traditions. Growing basil at home is incredibly rewarding—it’s easy, thrives in grow bags, and can be used in everything from fresh salads, pestos, tacos, and bouquets, to hearty sauces.

Beyond its culinary uses, basil offers aesthetic appeal and health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties and essential vitamins. Whether you’re a master gardener or this is your first time growing, this guide will provide you with everything you need to know to successfully plant, grow, and harvest your own basil.

There are over 60 recognized varieties of basil, each with its unique characteristics, flavors, and uses. The variety in basil types extends from those with traditional flavors to others boasting unique tastes like cinnamon, licorice, and lemon.

Choosing the Right Basil Variety

Each basil variety has a unique flavor, aroma, and growth habit. Choosing the right type of basil depends largely on your climate and how you plan to use it in your culinary creations. Here’s a look at some of the most popular varieties:

Sweet Basil

Sweet Basil is perhaps the most common variety, famous for its role in Italian dishes such as pesto. It features large, green leaves and a classic peppery flavor that complements many dishes.

Thai Basil

Thai Basil has a distinct licorice flavor and is a staple in Asian cuisine, especially Thai and Vietnamese dishes. Its leaves are smaller and pointier than those of Sweet Basil, and it sports purple stems, making it also decorative.

Purple Basil

Purple Basil, with its deep violet leaves and floral aroma, adds a pop of color and a milder flavor to dishes. It’s great for adding visual appeal to salads and fresh garnishes.

Lemon Basil

Lemon Basil, as the name suggests, has a citrusy twist, making it ideal for adding a fresh zest to salads, fish dishes, and teas. Its leaves are smaller and lighter in color than those of Sweet Basil.

Here are 7 Tips and Tricks for Growing Basil in Containers

  1. Get Your Container Ready
    • Gather everything you need for your container garden, and decide what companion plants, if any, you would like to grow with your basil.
  2. Start with Quality Soil
    • Basil thrives in well-drained, nutrient-rich soil this will encourage a healthy root system and promote vigorous growth.
  3. Ensure Plenty of Sunlight
    • Basil needs at least six hours of sunlight each day to flourish. Plant your basil in a spot that receives ample sunshine.
  4. Water Properly
    • Water your basil plants regularly to keep the soil slightly moist but not soggy. Basil does not like to sit in waterlogged soil, so good drainage is crucial. Use your finger to check the soil moisture; water when the top inch feels dry. In hot weather, basil may need watering daily.
  5. Prune Regularly
    • Pruning is essential for encouraging bushy growth and preventing your basil from flowering too early, which can reduce the flavor and leaf production. Pinch off the tip of each stem regularly, taking the top two to four leaves once the plant has grown at least six inches tall. This method encourages new branches and leaves, keeping the plant full and lush.
  6. Harvest Correctly
    • Harvesting basil properly is essential to encourage continual growth and prevent the plant from going to seed (flowering) prematurely, which can significantly reduce leaf production and alter the flavor. Here’s a detailed approach to harvesting basil to maximize growth and yield:
    • When to Start Harvesting
      • Begin harvesting your basil when the plant is about six to eight inches tall. At this stage, the plant is mature enough to withstand being trimmed and will have enough leaves to continue growing vigorously.
      • Always leave at least two-thirds of the plant intact to ensure it has enough foliage to continue photosynthesizing and growing.
    • How to Harvest
      • Pinching Off Leaves: For small, regular harvests, simply pinch off the outer leaves near the top of each stem. This method is ideal if you only need a few leaves for cooking and want to encourage the plant to become bushier. Pinch right above a leaf pair, encouraging the plant to split and grow two new stems from where you pinched.
      • Cutting Stems: If you need a larger quantity of basil, use sharp scissors or pruning shears to cut entire stems. Make your cuts just above a leaf node (the point on the stem where leaves emerge). This encourages the plant to produce two new stems from the cutting point. Aim to cut about one-third of the total height of the plant to promote more robust growth.
    • Tips for Effective Harvesting
      • Regular Pruning: Regularly prune your basil, even if you do not need the leaves for cooking. This prevents the plant from flowering, which is crucial as flowering shifts the plant’s energy from leaf production to seed production, reducing leaf yield and flavor.
      • Morning Harvest: Harvest basil in the morning when the plant’s oil content (which contributes to its aroma and flavor) is highest.
      • Use Sharp Tools: Always use sharp scissors or shears to make clean cuts. This helps prevent damage to the delicate stems and leaves, reducing stress on the plant and the risk of disease.
  7. Manage Pests Naturally
    • Basil can attract pests like aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies. Regularly inspect your plants for any signs of pests and manage infestations promptly. Natural remedies such as spraying with a water and soap mixture or introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs can be effective in keeping pests at bay without the need for harsh chemicals.

Growing basil is a rewarding endeavor that enhances your garden, kitchen, and well-being. By following these seven tips, you’ll ensure that your basil plants remain healthy, vibrant, and productive. 

Check out some of our other favorite basil blogs for more tips and tricks on growing basil in containers:

The Basil One Sheet

Gardenuity Varieties of Basil with Growing & Harvesting Tips

How To Grow Basil


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