Starting Basil Indoors

Basil LeavesStarting your own seeds allows you to choose from a wide variety of basil.

Basil is one of the most popular herbs to grow and it grows best in warm weather. While April may be too early to plant basil outdoors in most areas, a good way to get a jump-start on the growing and harvesting season is to start basil plants indoors four to six weeks before transplanting outdoors.

Basil is an easy herb to grow in pots indoors. It quickly germinates and grows to a transplantable size. Starting your own seeds allows you to choose from a wide variety of basil. Genovese basil is the traditional variety used in Italian foods and pesto making. A new Genovese type called ‘Bam’ basil is unique because it doesn’t send up flower stalks, even in the heat of summer, so you get more leaves longer into the season. Experiment with different-flavored basil, too. Thai basil such as ‘Siam Queen’ has a licorice flavor and beautiful purple-tinged stems and leaves and purple flowers. It’s both ornamental and edible. ‘Lime’ basil and ‘Mrs. Burns’ lemon basil have leaves with a citruslike flavor. ‘Cinnamon’ basil tastes a little like cinnamon and also has colorful purple-tinged leaves and stems and pink flowers. ‘African Blue’ basil has a unique camphor scent. This and ‘Holy’ basil are used medicinally as well as for eating.

When growing basil from seed indoors, sow seeds in rows in trays or sow two to three seeds per individual 1-inch pot. Keep the soil moist. Once the seeds start to germinate, place them a few inches beneath grow lights turned on fourteen hours a day. Thin the basil seeds in pots to one per pot and those in rows to a few inches apart. Keep the plants close to the grow lights so they don’t get leggy. Fertilize every week with a dilute worm poop tea or liquid fertilizer solution. Once the basil has at least four true leaves, slowly start hardening off the plants outdoors. Take your time, since basil doesn’t like cold winds or chilly air temperatures. After a week or so of hardening off, plant the basil plants in the garden.