You can probably find them at your local supermarket: potted basil plants, often rather sad and droopy looking. Fresh basil tastes and smells wonderful and a basil plant can really brighten up your kitchen, but caring for this delicious herb can, unfortunately, be a bit of a challenge! If you bought one, you may be wondering how to care for basil plants.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about how to care for basil plants indoors.
|When dry (often)
|Soil + perlite
Basil plant natural habitat
As with all houseplants, when figuring out the best way to care for your basil plant (Ocimum basilicum), the most important thing to keep in mind is the environment it naturally occurs in.
The sweet basil we love to use in our kitchen for that ‘Italian’ taste is an annual plant that prefers warm, moist climates. It’s naturally found in tropical regions in a large range from Central Africa to Southeast Asia, notably India.
This means it’s a little difficult to grow in most gardens during Winter, and a great option to keep indoors all year or alternate between in- and outdoors. It also gives us some good care indications that are described below!
How to care for basil plants: Light & location
One of the most important aspects when it comes to keeping your basil plant alive is finding the right location for it in your home.
Temperature is not much of a problem: basil comes from a warm, sunny climate and will do well at room temperature. However, because this herb also naturally receives a lot of sun, it needs plenty of light to stay lush, green and tasty.
At least 6 hours of direct sunlight is considered a must by most basil lovers, which means this plant will love being placed near a window on the south side of your house. Consider growing it outdoors during summertime.
If you live in a place that gets few hours of sunlight during winter or if you don’t have any windows that receive enough sun, it can be quite difficult to grow basil plants in your home the natural way.
If you still want to be able to grow this herb (and others!), you can use a grow light to make up for the lack of natural light. A basil plant that doesn’t get enough sun will stretch (etiolate), lose its shape and possibly stop producing the leaf quantity necessary to keep up with pesto and salad production!
How to care for basil plants: Soil & planting
Like many other plants, basil loves receiving plenty of water but is not so fond of being soaked all the time, as this can eventually lead to root damage due to rot.
- It’s important to use an inner pot with drainage holes that helps drain moisture and prevent any leftover water from causing problems. Regular plastic nursery pots are a cheap solution that should work well for this purpose.
- To further promote proper drainage, you can also add some orchid bark or perlite to your potting soil. This lessens the density and allows water to easily seep to the bottom of the planter.
Because store-bought basil plants are often pretty cramped and may require a larger pot, it can a good idea to repot them a while after buying to make sure they have a good start. Supermarket basil especially is basically basil on steroids: grown as quickly as possible using loads of fertilizer and planted in stuffed pots for a full look. Once you take it home, it might need some TLC for long-term survival.
After repotting, just place the plastic inner nursery pot in a decorative outer pot and you should be able to fully enjoy your fresh basil!
How to care for basil plants: Watering
As discussed earlier, basil loves plenty of water. In fact, daily watering is usually necessary. If you fail to water for just a little too long you’ll quickly see the leaves start to droop. If this happens, don’t wait too long. The plant can bounce back, but only so many times.
If you’ve potted your basil in a planter with drainage as described above, you shouldn’t have too many problems keeping it well-watered and happy.
- It’s time to water your basil plant when the soil feels dry.
- Because basil likes to be watered from the bottom, you can place the plastic pot on a dish with some water and allow the soil to soak through the drainage holes.
- A great way to promote humidity day-round without soaking your basil plant is using the pebble method: just put a layer of small stones at the bottom of your decorative pot and then place the plastic inner pot on top of it.
- Pour water onto the pebbles and voila: your basil is now able to slowly ‘drink’ the water instead of having to process it all at once.
Did you know? Many basil lovers also recommend spraying your basil plant daily to supply it with some extra humidity, but unfortunately this doesn’t really help much in terms of getting the humidity up.
How to care for basil plants: Fertilizer
Because basil is a quick grower, it will appreciate some extra fertilizer. You can use a fertilizer every other week, though it’s best to experiment a bit to see what your plant reacts best to. Be sure to go for a relatively weak fertilizer or dilute it yourself, as very strong fertilizer can damage the roots of your basil plant.
If you’re growing a plant to eat it (which is certainly usually the case with this yummy herb!), you should use a fertilizer meant to use on edible plants, like an organic fertilizer.
If your plant is thriving, there are many reasons for propagating basil. It allows you to easily grow more plants to keep or give away, ensures you’ve got a spare in case things go sideways with the mother plant, and is a great option if you grow this herb in your herb garden but things get too cold during fall.
Propagating basil is done by taking a cutting and rooting it in water or soil. You can find out how to do it in the guide to propagating basil!
If you’d like to grow whole new basil plants, there’s also a full guide to growing basil plants from seed.
Are basil plants toxic to cats and dogs?
The ASPCA and other sources list basil as non-toxic to both cats and dogs. Yay! In fact, the parrots here at Houseplant Central headquarters can’t get enough of this yummy herb.