How to Grow Basil Indoors

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I hope you had an amazing summer overloaded with fresh garden fruits and vegetables.  I know summer is coming to an end when the farmers market heats up with the season’s final produce.  My potted tomato and basil plants topple into each other on my patio as if they couldn’t resist themselves.  I always keep basil on hand by growing it indoors year round so I can add it freshly to many of my dishes and sauces.

Summer Bounty
Summer bounty of fruits, vegetables and basil.

Fend off Frost

For those of us in northern climates, some of our tender leafed varieties have already objected to the frosty mornings and it’s high time to bring those plants inside so we may continue to enjoy the shine of summer in our fall and winter dishes.  There is a lot to gain by growing basil indoors during the time of year when colder temperatures or a blanket of snow makes it hard to keep bounteous aromatic green leaves outside of a greenhouse.

Why the trouble?

Besides the delicious flavor, basil is an aromatic herb used in many styles of cooking the world over.  Basil combines beautifully with the ubiquitous tomato or minced and sprinkled over grilled peaches. It is amazing infused into oils and can be added to seafood dishes.  It has many health benefits and it brings me joy just to be around it.  The wide glossy leaves, its fragrance and even the feathery flowers I pinch off now and then all add to the fullness of my life.

5 Easy Steps to Grow Basil Indoors

Cup Leaf Spring Leaves
Small potted basil plant. 

  1. To bring a plant inside from your garden just follow one or two stems to  the dirt and cut out as much of the attached root ball as possible with a garden trowel.  Take as much of the root system as your pot size will permit.  The goal is to keep the roots intact and as undisturbed as possible.
  2. Pot the basil with extra potting soil and give it a little water.
  3. Use sharp pruners to prune away any flowers that may have gone to seed over the summer.
  4. Also remove any thin leggy unproductive stems that just compete for nutrients with the main plants.
  5. Bring your basil pot indoors and place it in a warm sunny spot.  Basil is one of those plants that requires warmth from its roots to its outer leaves.

Hedge your Bets:  Tips for Success on Growing Basil Indoors

Basil Seedlings
Basil seedlings.

I sprinkle basil seeds along with the newly potted plants.  You can harvest the seed from the flowers or us last spring’s seed packet.  This gets a few plants started just in case you caught your plant too late in the season.

This strategy is handy to get a head start on the seedlings you hope to plant outside when the weather warms.

When that time comes, you just have to remember to acclimate your plants to the outdoor weather conditions.  In early spring, it’s advisable to bring your plants indoors at night to guard against unexpected weather. They will not be happy if your area experiences the onset of hail or other seemingly spontaneous instances of basil damaging weather.

Good Warm Soil Composition equals Great Taste

Cooking With Basil
Basil, chives and parsley are great to have on hand when cooking. 

Nutrients are taken directly from the soil and into those bright flavorful leaves.  Good soil directly impacts the intensity of the basil flavor. A good base to start with is the commercial seed start soil found in garden centers.  I also mix in rich mature compost to feed the soil ecosystem.  Just make sure the soil is well draining and that you didn’t add too much of a good thing.  Compost can hold onto water like a sponge. Sand definitely has its place in soil composition and will help to correct the drainage if you went a little crazy with the good black stuff.  Strong root systems are made because a plant’s roots are seeking water not just drowning in it. Water once or twice a week and you are all set.

When growing basil indoors, it is important to remember that soil temperature is critical.  According to West Coast Seeds the soil temperature must be 70°F for your seeds to germinate and you can expect to see basil sprouts in no time.  I recommend using a seed heating pad for this scenario.  Your basil will appreciate it!

Lighten up

Another consideration to successfully grow your rescued basil plant indoors is providing your plants with UV light that mimics natural sunlight.  The good news is that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  UV light (and basil) can help keep the winter blues at bay.

Be cautious of placing your basil on a window sill.  A window on a winter day won’t be quite up to the task of providing the right quality of sunlight and can be too drafty for the basil which can negatively impact the soil temperature.

We recommend a broad spectrum UV light.  Utilizing different wavelengths produce various characteristics in the basil plant mirroring the seasons and the plant’s natural life cycle.  For instance, blue spectrum wavelengths help seeds to sprout while red spectrum wavelengths may be more concentrated in late summer sunlight to produce larger leaves.

The Rewards of Growing Basil Indoors: Cooking with Sweet basil and Thai basil

Appetizer Avocado Basil 1824353

Smear basil aioli on toast for an intense flavor.

There are many varieties of basil that you can grow.  My favorites are sweet basil and Thai basil. Sweet basil is a delicate and aromatic herb that you can mince with a sharp knife.  Simply add basil to mayonnaise for a basic aioli. Thai basil can be grown alongside common sweet basil. Because it holds up better to heat, Thai basil is ideal for wilting into sauces at the end of cooking.  To me, Thai basil lends a bit of mystery to a dish with warm licorice or anise flavor.

At the end of the growing season, keep your basil.  Use these tips and strategies to bring and grow your basil inside.  It’s empowering and during the short nights of winter it will add the right amount of warmth to your plate.  Your day will be made brighter for it. I would like to know how you plan to enjoy your indoor basil.

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