Growing Basil in Containers

Growing basil in containers is a no-brainer for any kitchen gardener or cook. If you've got a sunny spot with room for a window box or a few pots, you can have fresh basil right outside your kitchen all summer.

Mammoth Salad Leaf (Napolitano) Basil Growing in a 4-gallon Pot
Mammoth Salad Leaf (Napolitano) Basil
Growing in a 4-gallon Pot
©Steve Masley
Click IMAGE to Enlarge
You can grow 'Genovese', 'Napolitano', and 'Mexican Cinnamon' basil for pesto and sauces, 'Mrs. Burns' Lemon' and 'Lime' for seafood and shellfish dishes, and Tulsi (holy basil) for a delightful tea used in Ayurvedic medicine to promote mental clarity and calm.

All basils thrive in pots, under the right conditions.

When you're growing basil in the ground, all it needs is sun, heat, and occasional water, and it thrives. When you're growing basil in pots, it needs sun and heat, yes, but also daily water in hot weather, and occasional fertilizer.

Basil Varieties  |   Choosing Containers  |   Growing Basil
Harvesting Basil

Basil Varieties—‘Mexican Cinnamon
Mexican Cinnamon Basil Growing
in a Window Box with Lettuces
©Steve Masley
Click IMAGE to Enlarge

I like to build organic soil amendments into the potting soil, so the plants need less fertilizer through the season.

Since I have a large container garden, I buy raw materials in bulk and make my own potting soil, using a combination of coir (coconut husk fiber), compost, coarse sand, and small lava rock or perlite.

I also add fresh worm castings–with a few live worms!–from my worm bin. The worms convert organic nutrients into plant-available form, add beneficial bacteria and fungi to the potting soil, and create a soil ecosystem that retains water better than potting soil alone.

I sometimes make my own organic fertilizer blend, but for most people it's easier to use a good, balanced organic fertilizer like Dr. Earth Organic Tomato, Vegetable, and Herb Fertilizer.

This is a balanced (5-7-3) blend of fish meal and alfalfa meal for early-season growth, feather meal for mid- to- late-season growth, soft rock phosphate and fish bone meal for phosphorous, and kelp meal for potassium and boosting plant immunity.

Choosing Containers

Growing Basil in Containers–'Genovese' Basil in a 3-gallon Smart Pot
Growing Basil in Containers–'Genovese'
Basil in a 3-gallon Smart Pot ©Steve Masley
Click IMAGE to Enlarge

I’ve been growing basil in containers for years, and I've found it grows best in large pots or window boxes.

Mini-basils can grow in individual 8” (20 cm) pots, but they’ll be much healthier if you plant 3 of them in a 12” (30 cm) pot. The deeper root zone makes a huge difference when growing basil in containers. It can sustain much larger plants, and they don’t dry out quite as quickly.

Don’t even think of planting the larger and more vigorous green basils, cinnamon basil, or Thai basil in a pot smaller than 12” (30 cm). And 1 plant per pot for 3-gallon, no more than 2 to a pot for 4-gallon pots.

Fabric Smart Pots are great for growing basil in containers. They're light-weight, and produce a healthy, more fibrous root system on the plants. Choose the 3 or 4-gallon size.

Ceramic pots hold the day’s heat longer, and are the best choice for growing basil in northern and short-season alpine climates.

Basil thrives in window boxes, because the roots can spread along the bottom of the box. My planters are 8” high x 6” wide x 3’ long (20 cm high x 15 cm wide x 1 m long), and 4 plants in a single planter gives me plenty of fresh basil for sauces and sautés.

Rather than plant them all in the same box, I usually interplant basil with lettuces or spinach in multiple boxes.

There’s a nice variation of plant shape and leaf color, and the aromatic leaves of basil help repel lettuce and spinach pests.

Top of Page  |   Basil Varieties  |   Growing Basil
Growing Basil in Containers  |   Harvesting Basil
Fertilizing Container Vegetables
Growing Vegetables in Containers

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