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How to Grow Basil Outdoors

Basil is an annual plant, and like me, it enjoys a somewhat tropical environment. Care should be taken not to plant basil outdoors until after the last spring frost has passed. It prefers full sunlight (6+ hours a day of direct light) and a warm climate, meaning more than 70 °F (21 °C) during the day and no colder than 50 °F (10 °C) at night. The herb should be planted in soil that drains well. It does best in soil that is combined with compost. Basil grows in soil that has a wide range of acidity (pH levels between 5.1 and 8.5) although levels between 5.5 and 6.5 are preferred.

It is easy to test your soil pH levels and it could save you a headache later on if your soil is bad. An inexpensive  and well-rated pH tester is the Rapitest pH Soil Tester.

Growing from Seed

Basil seeds should be sown thinly and covered with approximately a quarter-inch (0.5 cm) of compost or fine soil. Keep the soil moist and free from weeds. Germination should occur within 5-7 days. Just so you don’t mistake it for a weed… new seedlings have two broad leaves. Once the seedlings have two pairs of leaves you can thin out the weaker seedlings. Most sources suggest thinning the plants to be 6-12 inches apart; however in my experience with common basil, I find it does well with a little more room to grow. I have had basil plants grow to be 24 inches wide.

If you want to get a head start, the seeds can be started indoors 3-4 weeks before the last spring frost. You can sow the seeds ½-inch apart in flats, keep them warm and moist, and then transplant them after they have two pairs of leaves. A lot of people use the “greenhouse kits” to start their seedlings. The kits give you a covered tray with a large of number of peat pellets in which you can plant seeds. Those pellets sit nicely in the tray and are easy to transplant. A kit like the Jiffy Professional Greenhouse can be had for less than $8 USD. Some people recommend using a heating mat, such as the Hydrofarm Seedling Heat Mat, under the tray to improve your chances of germination. Also take note, some varieties, such as “Purple Ruffles”, need more time to germinate and a mat may be beneficial. See How to Grow Basil Indoors for more information on this topic.

Starting from Seedlings

Basil can be purchased as seedlings in plugs and pots ready for planting. When it comes time to transplant them, lightly wet the plant in the pot before attempting to remove the root ball from the pot, as this will make it easier. Make sure you dig a hole roughly twice the width and depth of the root ball before placing it in. Again, you want at least 12 inches between each basil plant. Fill the remaining space with soil and lightly compact it by hand, followed by a good watering.

Take care to check your plant regularly. When you water it make sure it is draining properly. Basil is fairly easy to grow, although it does deserve a little care and maintenance from time to time.