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Growing Basil

close up of basil leaves

Basil is one of the most popular herbs grown in gardens. Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) and other botanical varieties of basil offer a panorama of flavors and textures for cooking and fragrance.

There are several varieties of basil including sweet, Asian, citrus, cinnamon, fine-leaf and purple. Some varieties of basil are compact or dwarf plants which are suitable for container production.

Planting Basil

small basil plant in container

Basil is a tender annual plant and is seeded or transplanted outside after the last frost in spring in West Virginia (late May). When using a high tunnel, basil can be seeded or transplanted in late April. Basil is typically established as a transplant since the seed is very small and somewhat difficult to sow. However, basil seed can be purchased as pelleted (coated) seed which makes it easier to sow.

Seed for basil transplants can be sown indoors about four to six weeks before transplanting. Seed can be sown about ¼” deep. Typical spacing for basil is 10-18 inches between plants.

Choose a location that:

  • is weed free
  • has good drainage
  • is in full sun

Helpful Tip! Basil can be interplanted with tomatoes to conserve space and repel certain insects which may damage tomatoes.

Care and Maintenance

Basil is often planted on plastic mulch to warm the soil and control weeds. However, organic
mulches such as paper, hay and straw can be applied around the basil plants a few weeks
after planting.

Basil requires regular watering through the growing season. Tomatoes make an excellent
companion plant with basil. Basil can be successfully grown in containers if there isn’t enough
space in the garden. The containerized plant can be taken inside after frost and basil can be harvested throughout the fall.

Basil can be successfully grown in containers if there isn’t enough space in the garden.

Harvesting Basil

To harvest basil, clip or pinch the upper 2-3 inches of stem tips leaving approximately 4
leaves on the plant. Regular harvesting or tipping (approximately once per week) promotes
branching and leaf formation and prevents blooming. Basil can be propagated from tip or
stem cuttings by cutting the top 4 inches from the stem and rooting in a cup of water and later
transplanted to grow a new plant. When basil blooms, the plant stops producing new leaves
and channels its energy into seed production which will produce volunteer basil plants.

Basil should be harvested while the leaves are cool and dry, so harvesting in the evening is the
preferred time to harvest. The leaves should not be washed, but can be pureed and frozen if
not used fresh.

Author: Lewis W. Jett, WVU Extension Specialist – Commercial Horticulture