How to Grow Basil Indoors – Backyard Food Growing


There will be no need for you to buy the costly basil plants from the store once you see how quickly and easily you can grow your own little forest of basil yourself.

The plants for sale in the stores are usually quite expensive. This is because they are quite a high maintenance, delicate plant for the stores and nurseries to take care of. It’s a very weather sensitive plant, it’s big factor for them as well, they have sensitive leaves that turn black and die easily if under stress or get too wet. They also attract a lot of different pests.

When planted in the garden bed, they’re often a magnet for slugs, snails, all kinds of bugs, bunnies and so many other creatures that love it as much as we do.

It can be a challenge to even grow enough good basil for your own purposes.

The best way to avoid these problems is to grow the plants in your house. Treat them as a house plant!

Plant the seeds in pots on a window sill or brightly lit table. If you have a grow light then definitely use that. The little seed sprouts that are pictured here are growing on a shelf with light on only one side. That’s why they are leaning over so dramatically in the image above, all I did was turn the pots every day, sometimes twice a day to make them grow straight.

In the summer all of those problems that go with commercial basil will be non-existent, you’ll get a bounty of basil in any flavor you want with perfect leaves.

Basil Varieties

My favourite variety is Genovese Basil. It’s the common light green, large leaf type that’s usually found in the non-plant stores. It grows beautiful large leaves consistently every time. 

If you are the adventurous type you can choose from a multitude of varieties, flavours and colours of basil seeds that are available, choose from:

Red Holy Basil
Dark Opal Basil

The seeds will remain good to sprout for at least 3 years if you store them in a cool, dry place.

Let’s Get Planting

  • Choose your favourite varieties of seeds
  • Several cheap 6″ round plastic pots and trays, or a narrow but long windowsill box
  • Good quality sterilized indoor potting soil
  • Set aside a warm sunny window sill or skylight area for them to sit

Do not use outdoor garden soil for this, as doing this will invite bugs and other issues into your home. 

How to Plant Basil

  1. Fill the 6″ plastic pots loosely with soil
  2. Pat it down to level it out at about an inch from the top rim, water lightly
  3. Use a seeder to sprinkle the seeds, 20-30 seeds per pot will be enough
  4. Sprinkle ½” more potting soil over the seeds and pat down lightly
  5. Water very gently and evenly with a soft sprinkling watering can, it’s very easy to disturb the seeds
  6. Set the pots in their trays in their chosen location, fill the trays with water 
  7. Once the weather gets hot, keep the trays filled with fresh clean water all the time
  8. Change the water if it turns yellow or gets stinky in any way
  9. Ensure some air flow around the young seedlings to avoid mold issues


In a lot of circumstances, the light that comes in our windows is usually indirect or filtered in some way. If you have a mostly direct line of sun for several hours a day then you are good, you don’t need a secondary light source for your basil plants.

When indoor lighting is inadequate, the use of grow lights becomes important. There are many options for this, from table top types like the one on the right, up to floor standing units of all sizes similar to the one pictured on the left.

They even get more specialized as well for starting large numbers of seedlings, these models are floor standing but designed differently, have 2 or 3 tiers of lighting, like the one pictured below. It depends on your budget and space available.

Watch for Sprouts
In about 6 to 8 days you should begin to see evidence of the little seedlings coming up. At this point they are very strong but quite fragile at the same time.

If you have a cluster of seeds in one spot, you’ll see that they are strong enough to lift an entire layer of the soil above them until they’re tall enough to poke through.

Water them carefully from the top to soften the soil so that the soil layer doesn’t crush the new sprouts. If the seedlings can’t get through, the soil may fall and squish the new sprouts.

Cotyledon Leaves

The first leaves that will appear are called Cotyledon leaves, those are shown in the image here.

This is a Latin word meaning “seed leaf”. These leaves are distinctly different in appearance than any of the other leaves that grow afterwards. This is true to all plants.

After the first set, you’ll begin to see new leaves emerge as the stalk grows taller. They have a completely different shape and will be recognizable as basil.

Give Plenty of Water

The mature leaves get very large and need quite a lot of water to plump up. If you keep the tray filled with clean water all season long once they get started, they will be fine and grow happily.

They’ll be very quick to tell you if they get under watered. 

The leaves will droop and they’ll feel like rubbery thin plastic. In most cases, they will respond and perk up very quickly, if they haven’t gone past the point of no return. “The point of no return” is the stage of drought from which a plant cannot recover. 

When you leave the plant pots sitting in clean water throughout the hot months you won’t have to think about them everyday and they won’t fall into the category of a high maintenance plant.

Basil is the perfect seed for kids and beginners because it sprouts very quickly, usually in about 6 or 7 days. Kids don’t have to wait long to see their seeds results.


Let the young plant become established before harvesting leaves from it. Allow at least 3 sets of leaves after the cotyledon leaves to grow and establish before you start pinching them off.

As the plant grows it’s important to pinch and harvest the leaves regularly. The plant will produce more leaves if you do so.

Pinch in the “V” of new leaves but don’t pinch off the tiny baby leaves just emerging and those leaves will gain in strength and become two new branches.

With good care and adequate water, 3 or 4 – 6″ pots of seeds will grow enough to use fresh and store for winter.  If you love basil like I do then certainly grow as many plants as you have room for.

Preserving Basil

There’s no need to wash the leaves before use, they’re perfectly clean since you grew them yourself and no pesticides were used.

Drying: Put a layer of paper towel on the plate or tray. Take the leaves that you’ve just trimmed from the plant and put them on the plate in a single layer, cover it with a second paper towel and allow it time to dry. The local weather will determine how fast it dries. 

Toss and separate the leaves once each week to ensure they don’t stick together and go moldy. This method might take a couple of months to completely dry out. They dry faster in the warm summer months.

Dehydrator: Same as air drying just turbo speed, leaves must be very crispy and dry before storing them in your spice cupboard in a jar. Any moisture present in the container will cause mold to grow in the jar.

Freezing: Chop the leaves up and put them in an ice cube tray then fill it with water or olive oil. Once they are frozen put the cubes in a zipper freezer bag and store in the freezer.

Then when you want to use basil in a soup, stew or spaghetti sauce throw in a handful of the frozen basil cubes for terrific fresh basil taste. The water or olive oil that is the ice cube will melt and mix throughout the dish. It will never be noticed.

If you’ve dried it, rub the leaves between your hands vigorously and the wonderful aromatic basil dust will fall into your cooking. Your hands will smell terrific as well.

Please leave a comment below about your basil growing adventures and share your favourite basil recipes if you have any.