Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Sweet basil brings a taste of the Mediterranean to your food and is the perfect partner for all tomato dishes, spaghetti sauces and pizzas.

How to grow basil

Basil is half hardy and treated as a tender annual, growing plants from seeds sown throughout the year. It can be grown outdoors during the summer, but for a continual supply for the rest of the year must be grown indoors.

Basil makes a useful and ornamental addition to the kitchen windowsill. If you are wanting to grow your own basil, read our guide here.

Cultivating basil

Outdoors, basil needs a warm, sunny position and very well-drained soil.

Basil is usually best grown in a pot - either in a warm, sunny position on the patio or on a windowsill that doesn't get too hot in summer.

Basil varieties

Sweet Genovese is the usual variety, although there are many varieties of basil you can grow with each giving a slightly different flavour due to the subtle variances in essential oils.

Why not try some of these basil varieties and taste the difference for yourself:

  • Cinnamon basil: Spicy flavour with a lovely scent. Green leaves with dark purple stems and flowers.
  • Lemon basil: A citrus kick great for flavouring drinks, fish dishes and salads. Light green plants with white flowers.
  • Purple Ruffles basil: This spicy basil is great for pasta dishes and salads, the dark purple colour adds a nice contrast.
  • Holy/Sacred basil: Used widely in teas, reported to help boost your immune system alongside looking beautiful in the garden.
  • Spicy Bush basil: The tiny leaves on this bail plant makes it look quite different, almost bonsaied! Don't be fooled by its size, the leaves pack quite a spicy punch.
  • Sweet basil: With varieties including Genovese, Lettuce Leaf and Napoletano, this is probably the most widely grown and used basil.

Basil is one of the most well-known herbs around the world and is a key ingredient in many Italian dishes, pesto and some fresh salads, which has led to it being well used across the UK and many other countries.

Harvesting fresh basil leaves

Sowing basil

Basil seeds can be sown directly in the soil outside during summer. But it is usually better to sow a few seeds in small pots of compost indoors with gentle warmth. Sow every 6-8 weeks to have a constant supply of fresh leaves throughout the year.

Young plants are usually available from garden centres in summer. Plant these out or pot them up into slightly larger pots.

How to care for basil

If sowing outdoors, thin out seedlings or plant out young plants to 30-45cm (12-18in) apart, as they need plenty of room to produce strong, leafy plants.

Keep the soil or compost moist, but take care not to overwater - especially in autumn and winter - as too much water can lead to rotting.

Give plants a light liquid feed of a general feed every couple of weeks during summer. This will help ensure plants go on producing a constant supply of leaves. Don't use high potash feeds, as these will encourage premature flowering.

Pinch out the tips of young plants to make them bushier and help prevent flowering; plants start to lose their flavour once flowering begins.


You can use the pinched out tips, and keep harvesting leaves regularly, without completely stripping the plant, to keep it producing leaves over several weeks.

Foliage season(s) Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter
Sunlight Full sun
Soil type Chalky, Clay, Loamy, Sandy
Soil pH Neutral
Soil moisture Moist but well-drained
Ultimate height Up to 50cm (20in)
Ultimate spread Up to 30cm (1ft)
Time to ultimate height 6 months

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