Learning to Garden – Basil

I want to start with this – I’m no professional. This is what works for me. And this is the point I want you to understand, you have to find out what works for you. The only way to do that is to try something. Thomas Edison, when queried by a reporter about the seemingly incredible difficulties associate with his work on the lightbulb rebutted, “I have not failed 700 times. I’ve succeeded in proving 700 ways how not to build a lightbulb.”

We learn from failures. Success is simply the payoff that drives us. We need both to succeed in learning. So with that being said, in starting a new endeavor, is probably best to try something with a high likelihood of success. For gardening, I believe basil fits this bill.


Basil is the background player for many dishes, particularly those of Italian origin. It also plays a significant role in dishes from many of the southeast Asian countries, though usually a different variant from what we in the U.S. recognize. Wikipedia lists 31 varieties at the time of this writing. Personally, I’ve grown the most familiar from, sweet basil, plus Genovese basil, Thai basil (smells and tastes like licorice), mammoth basil (leaves the size of your hand that make excellent lettuce leaf style wraps), lemon basil (aptly named with a hint of lemon), and lime basil (hint of lemon-lime).  Each brings a different personality to foods, so if you don’t like one, choose another. For example, I LOATHE the taste of licorice, so we never grow the Thai basil anymore. To each, his own, as they say.

Growing basil couldn’t be any easier than a pot, dirt, seeds, water, and sunlight. A window that gets morning light works just fine. So does a planter that only gets the evening sun. Partial shade all day also works. As does full sun all day. I know they work, each of these have worked for me.

Breaking it into simple steps:

  1.  Get a pot. This can be any container, a milk jug with the top cut off, or even a bag of potting soil cut open. Make sure it has drainage holes in the event you over water it.

    Gardening in a soil bag
    Click the pic to read a Garden in a Bag How-To from Houselogic.com
  2. Soil. Here in my section of Florida, most of our soil is simply sand, we usually buy our soil at the local home improvement store. Alternatively, if you can find some composted animal manure, you can mix up your own like I did.
  3. Put the soil in the container. Shake it a bit to force it to settle, then top it off with more soil, being sure to reserve just enough to cover your seeds.
  4. Put your basil seeds on top of your soil. I scatter mine, but you can place them in even rows if you’d like. I figure it doesn’t get spread evenly in nature, why should I force that on the plants? Yes, they get “optimal” space that way, but isn’t life hardier under competition? Suggested spacing for basil is 6-10 inches between plants, with a suggested 2-4 seeds per spot. This gives clumps of plants to harvest.
  5. Cover the seeds with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil.
  6. Water gently. A mister would be best, as a heavier amount of water will wash the seeds around. Repeat waterings daily, or enough to keep the soil lightly moist. Basil hates to dry out!
  7. Seeds will sprout in 2-10 days.
  8. Harvest from the top of the plant, taking stem and all. Do NOT allow the plant to flower, as it will then die back. Prune the flowers off and use them like you would the leaves.
  9. Find another herb you want to grow, and expand your garden!

Neglected BasilHere are the basil plants started and barely maintained by my 9-year old. The soil was old rabbit manure from my rabbitry, nothing else. The planter sit on the north side of my house under an awning, and gets very little direct sun, and is only watered about twice a week…on the good weeks. Yet we still have basil growing strong even as neglected as it is.

Basil is very easy to grow. Get yourself some seeds and give it a try. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.


So let’s get started…







  1. Will definitely try it. Basil I have not tried to grow yet although i love the taste. I live in southwest Florida right on the gulf and the one herb I’ve had tremendous success with here in the subtropics is Rosemary. Very fragrant, grows in pots on the lanai, repels mosquitoes/ants/aphids, etc. Is great for cooking and I use it in my homemade bug repellent. Thanks for the lesson in Basil!

  2. Ooooohhhh…..LOVE basil! I’ve only grown sweet and lemon, but I’d love to try the mammoth. I haven’t heard of mammoth basil before. I don’t believe I’ve seen it anywhere around here so I’d have to order the seeds. Using it as a sandwich wrapper sounds delicious. I’m not that big on licorice flavor myself.

    As for beautyberries, I had no idea that they were insect repellents. I’ve pruned many of them over the past few years and they are beautiful. I especially like the purple ones. HOWEVER, I will never, ever plant them because they spread like crazy. If you have plenty of time to keep them in check, go for it! I will also never plant Rose of Sharon/Hibiscus syriacus. We have them here at our house. They are pretty when they bloom, but they’re everywhere!

    Have you ever tasted pineapple sage? A landscaping customer of mine gave me some as a wedding gift. It has a bright red bloom that attracts hummingbirds. It smells and tastes, well, like pineapple sage :) It’s yummy! We haven’t gotten too experimental with it, but I plan on using it more this year. So far, we’ve only put it in chicken salad and it’s delicious. That’s the most unusual herb in our garden. But, now you have me excited and curious!

    1. Watch the video, you can make a mighty fine jelly from the beautyberries…

      I’ve heard of pineapple sage, never tried it though, I’m intrigued…I’ll have to look into it some more….

  3. Howdy,

    I’ve gotten basil growing many times over years, but once it gets about a foot tall or so the stems start to go all woody and the plant dies from the bottom up. I’ve tried less water, more water, different sunlight… always to the same results. Im about to just throw in the towel. If you can advise me on this Id like to give it another go.

    Oh, and I will back what you said about Beauty berry. Great stuff. I’ve used the leaves by just rubbing them on my skin and have made a cream from a tincture of the leaves and stems. LOVE it! And I just had some Beauty berry jam on a bagle this very morning! Everyone in Fl. should grown this plant.

    1. Are you trimming off the flowers as the develop? And picking the leaves from the top, leaving the lower ones to keep the growth going? They will get woody, true, but should last several months, at least….

      Or you can let one plant flower and go to seed, then allow it to reseed your bed…

      Or (last one, I promise) you can simply plant seeds every month or so, keeping a new crop coming in all the time…

      Hope that helps….

      (And I want to try some of that jam! Gotta make some!)


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