thai basil plant
Beginner Gardening

What You Need to Know About Growing Basil: Basil Growing Stages

thai basil plant
Thai basil

Basil, a versatile and aromatic herb, goes through several developmental stages. From the initial planting of seeds to the emergence of seedlings, each phase of growth requires specific care and conditions to ensure a healthy plant. Basil, just like most herbs, is very easy to take care of and one of the reasons why I always recommend having homegrown herbs. Basil’s ability to thrive in various environments makes it an excellent choice for both novice and experienced gardeners.

Throughout the growth cycle of basil—from germination to the flowering stage—attention to detail is necessary. Factors such as soil quality, light exposure, water, and temperature all play a pivotal role in the health and yield of basil plants. Proper harvesting and post-harvest handling are essential to maximize the flavor and lifespan of the basil leaves. As basil progresses through its stages, careful monitoring and a few best practices can lead to an abundant and flavorful harvest.

Key Takeaways

  • Basil growth requires knowledge of its stages and specific care.
  • Conditions such as soil, light, and temperature are crucial for healthy basil.
  • Harvesting and handling must be done carefully for optimal flavor and use.

[RELATED POST: A Basic Guide for How to Start an Herb Garden]

This post is all about basil growth stages.

Understanding Basil

Basil is a versatile herb with multiple species and distinct plant anatomy that are crucial to its growth and culinary use. Believe it or not, it’s actually in the mint family. However, it’s not invasive like other plants in the mint family can be.

genovese basil plant
Genovese basil

Basil Species Varieties

How Many Types of Basils Are there?

There are several species of basil, each with its own unique qualities. There is no exact number of varieties of basil that exist. Estimates are that there are between 50 to 150. The two most common varieties are:

  • Ocimum basilicum: Often known as sweet basil, this species is commonly used in different culinary dishes.
  • Ocimum sanctum: Known as holy basil or tulsi, it is revered for its medicinal properties and frequently used in teas and herbal remedies.

Each type of basil has its own distinct flavor. It’s amazing how many different flavors there are and all the dishes it compliments. It’s featured in so many cuisines like Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, and Indonesian. 

Below is a table of some of the most common varieties, along with their flavor profile and what types of dishes they’re used in.

lemon basil plant
lemon basil

Most Common Basil Varieties

Variety NameFlavor ProfileCommon Use
Genovese BasilSweet, slightly spicy with notes of mint and clovePesto, Italian cuisine, raw salads
Thai BasilAnise-like, spicy, mild complex flavorSouthern Asian cuisine
Lemon BasilCitrusy – lemon scent and flavor, spicyFish dishes, teas, Southern Asian cuisine
Purple BasilClove-like, spicyDecorative, salads
Sweet BasilSweeter and milder than Genovese. Notes of licorice or anisePesto, pasta, pizza, salads
Cinnamon BasilMild spicy flavor, cinnamon notesSalad, fruit and cheese plates, Asian cuisine
Greek BasilSimilar to sweet basil, strong/intense clove flavorSalad, summer dish, Mediterranean dishes
Dark Opal BasilAromatic; sweet, savory, earthy flavor; notes of cinnamon, anise, ginger, mint, and cloveSalads, fruit and cheese platters, pasta, soups, stir-fries, curries, stews
Tulsi Holy BasilAstringent, bitter but can sometimes have a sweet taste with floral and peppery notes. Some tulsi varieties have a clove-like, spicy flavorTeas, ayurvedic medicine, Thai cuisine – used in stir-fries and spicy Thai basil chicken

These are just 9 of the most common types of basil that are used. As you can see, it’s a very versatile herb that can be used for all kinds of dishes. Each variety has its own distinct flavor with some similarities depending on the variety.

Let’s take a look at the anatomy of the basil plant. Since this post is about a basil plant’s growing stages, knowing its anatomy will help understand each stage.

Anatomy of Basil Plant

The anatomy of a basil plant is pretty simple – it’s not a complex organism. Basil plants consist of several key anatomical features:

  • Leaves: The most notable part, basil leaves are typically bright green, although they can vary in color and size depending on the variety. They are delicate and aromatic. They can range from green, like the Genovese variety, to the deep, dark purple of the purple basil.
  • Stem: Basil stems can be soft and green when young and become woody as the plant matures.
  • Flowers: Basil produces small flowers that can range in color from white to purple, arranged on a spike inflorescence. These flowers are great for pollinators!
  • Root System: Basil has a fibrous root system that is shallow and spreads out beneath the soil surface, helping to absorb nutrients and water.

So we now know the varieties and have a basic understanding of a basil plant’s anatomy. It’s time to start actually growing basil!

purple basil plant

Germination Stage

The very first stage is germination of a seed. These seeds are pretty small in size. The seeds don’t have to be planted deep. The germination stage is critical for establishing a strong foundation for the basil plant. The success of this stage relies on proper seed selection and creating optimal conditions for seed sprouting.

If they’re planted too deep, it’ll hinder the germination of the seeds. In other words, they won’t germinate. This is because it is too difficult for the teeny tiny seedling that sprouts to reach the surface of the soil.

Seed Selection and Preparation

Choosing high-quality seeds is one of the essential steps for successful germination. Try finding seeds that are uniform in size to ensure consistent growth rates. The seeds should be healthy in appearance. Healthy seeds do not have signs of mold or any cracks.

Before sowing the seeds, they can be soaked in water for 24 hours to enhance germination rates. This process softens the seed coat and encourages sprouting.

Optimal Germination Conditions

Creating the right environment is key to germinate basil seeds effectively. The optimal conditions are:

  • Temperature: A constant temperature of 70-75°F (21-24°C) is ideal. Sowing seeds when the ground is too cold or too hot will not allow them to germinate. Even when the plant matures, basil doesn’t like the cold.
  • Moisture: Seeds require consistent moisture but should not be waterlogged. Use a fine mist to keep the soil evenly moist. Once the seeds germinate, they’ll need to be consistently water. As they mature, water can become less, depending on weather conditions.
  • Soil: A well-draining soil mix specific for seed starting helps prevent diseases. If the soil doesn’t drain, the plant starts to form root rot. Basil plants don’t like “wet feet”, meaning their roots don’t like to sit in water. If the basil is planted in a pot/container, make sure to use a potting mix and that the pot/container has a drainage hole. Wherever you’re growing basil, make sure the pH level supports it. The pH should be between 6.0 to 7.5, which is slightly acidic to neutral.
  • Light: Seeds typically germinate in the dark, but once sprouted, seedlings need ample light to grow strong. Basil needs 6 to 8 hours of sun everyday.

Ensuring these conditions are met will lead to a higher rate of successful basil seed germination.

[RELATED POST: How Often to Water Seedlings: A Beginner’s Guide]

Seedling Stage

In the seedling stage, basil begins to develop true leaves that differ in shape from the initial sprout leaves. When the seedling first sprouts, it gets leaves that look like little buds. A “true” leaf is the type of leaf the plant will continue to grow as it matures. They are a second set of leaves. These leaves can perform photosynthesis.

Transplanting Basil

One should transplant basil seedlings when they have at least two sets of leaves and are about 3 inches tall. By that time, the plants have sufficient root development for relocation. 

To help alleviate any stress that may be caused during the transplant, here are a couple of tips. These tips can even be used if you haven’t grown from seed and you’re transplanting seedlings purchased from a nursery/store.

  1. Transplanting the seedlings on a warm, overcast morning, if possible, is the best time and temperature. If the plants are transplanted during the hottest and sunniest time of the day, they will be too stressed. Otherwise, if an overcast day isn’t possible, transplant on a warm morning. By planting at least on a warm morning, the plant will have time to adjust before the day gets to its hottest point in the afternoon.
  2. Choose well-draining soil with a pH of 6.0-7.5. Before transplanting any of my seedlings, I prep my soil both in the fall and the spring with compost. It’s a great way to add nutrients back into the soil, especially after the growing season.
  3. Pay close attention to the delicate roots when the seedlings are being transplanted. Damage to the roots during transplant can cause shock or even death of the plant.
  4. Transplant in an area that will have 6 to 8 hours of sun.

If you need help choosing the right area, check out my post about the 11 Key Garden Tips for Beginners: How to Start a Garden.

Basil Plants Outside: Early Growth Factors

Environmental conditions greatly influence the health and growth of basil seedlings. The optimal conditions are making sure the plants have 6 to 8 hours of sunlight. The soil needs to be kept consistently moist, being careful not to water too much. A great way to keep moisture in the soil and prevent it from drying out is to put mulch on top of the soil. Mulch also suppresses weeds, so there’s less need to weed! Basil does best when the temperature is between 70° Fahrenheit to 80° Fahrenheit or 21° Celsius to 27° Celsius. Basil doesn’t like temperatures below 50° Fahrenheit. Low temperatures can prevent the plant from growing, causing it to be stunted and have nutrient deficiencies.

It is always a good habit to monitor the plants on a regular basis this way if there are any adjustments that need to be made, they can be quickly adjusted. By monitoring the plants it can also keep pests in check and take steps to prevent an infestation.

Vegetative Growth

Pre-Flowering and Flowering

Keeping an eye out for flowering is always good practice. When a basil plant starts flowering, this is known as bolting. The plant is telling the gardener that the conditions are no longer suitable for keeping a robust flavor, and that the plant is ‘going to seed’. Going to seed is the stage in which the plant flowers, and then seeds can be harvested. Once the plant flowers, the plant’s leaves diminish in flavor and they actually become bitter.

Recognizing Pre-Flowering Signs, or Bolting

The pre-flowering stage in basil can be identified by several key changes in the plant’s appearance. 

  • Leaf Shape & Texture: There are changes to the leaves. They may become smaller and pointier.
  • Internodal Stretching: The stems start to elongate, creating more space between the sets of leaves. In essence, the plant starts to look scraggly. 
  • Bud Formation: Small buds start to form at the top nodes, where the leaves meet the stem. 

Managing Flowering Stage

Once basil enters the flowering stage, there are some strategies that can be taken to prevent the plant from actually flowering. However, flowering will eventually be inevitable. Regularly pinch off flower buds to encourage bushier growth. By taking off the flower buds, it will encourage the plant to continue to focus its energy on producing leaves. Maintain consistent moisture levels in the soil, as flowering plants can be more sensitive to water stress. Collect, or harvest leaves, before flowers bloom for the best flavor. Again, once the plant flowers, the leaves have a bitter taste.


Harvesting basil involves recognizing the right time to harvest and employing correct techniques to ensure the plant continues to thrive. Basil LOVES to be harvested. In fact, regularly harvesting the leaves, the plant is encouraged to grow more.

Basil Harvest and Storage

When the basil plant has reached a height of about 6 inches and has at least six leaves, it’s time to start harvesting some basil!

Techniques for Harvesting Basil

Harvesting basil isn’t a difficult task. It’s actually very simple to do, which is great because there’s enough work to do in the garden.

  • Use sharp scissors, garden shears, or feel free to use your fingers by pinching.
  • Cut the stem or pinch just above the leaf nodes. By harvesting in this manner, it’ll encourage new growth.
  • Even if you don’t need to immediately use the leaves, continue to harvest regularly. Store the leaves for another time.
  • The best time of day to harvest basil is in the morning, well before it starts to get hot. Harvesting in this manner creates less stress for the plant. It also helps with the flavor of the leaves – they’re sweetest in the morning.

By following these techniques, it keeps the plant healthy while also giving you a good harvest.

Post-Harvest Handling

Now don’t that basil go to waste. After all, you just took all of that time to grow that precious plant or plants. Plus who wouldn’t love to have basil straight from the garden throughout the year. Here are a couple of ways you can preserve your harvest if you can’t get to all of it right away.

Drying Basil

There are a few ways to preserve basil and drying it is an easy option. There are a few ways to dry it:

  1. Hang the basil upside down in bunches
  2. Use a dehydrator
  3. Put the leaves on a baking tray in the oven and put the oven on the lowest setting

Drying is definitely a great option and you should definitely consider it when you want to preserve your harvest.

Storing and Preserving

Once dried, basil should be stored promptly to retain its quality. The following methods are efficient:

  • Glass Jars: Store in clean, airtight glass jars away from light and heat.
  • Freezing: Basil can be frozen in plastic bags or in ice cube trays with water or oil.
  • Vacuum Sealing: This method is excellent for long-term storage, reducing air exposure and potential degradation.

For preservation, basil can be infused into oils or vinegars, which extends its usability and adds flavor to various dishes.

Freezing Basil in Ice Cube Trays

Freezing basil is another quick and easy way to preserve your harvest. 

Equipment You Need:

  • An ice cube tray
  • Blender
  • Freezer Ziplock bags
  • Baking Sheet
  • CleanTowel(s)
  • Spatula or spoon


  • Olive oil
  • Basil

How to Freeze the Basil in Ice Cube Trays

  1. Put the baking sheet on a flat surface and cover it with a towel.
  2. After harvesting the basil, the leaves should be cleaned with cool water. Lay them on the towel to start drying them off. Pat them dry with another towel. Make sure that the leaves are completely dry.
  3. After they’ve completely dried, rip the leaves and put them in the blender. Remove any hard stems. Keep the soft stems.
  4. Add in the olive oil and blend well. It should be a thick, puree. Pay attention to the blender warming up the basil. Blenders can warm up the basil and they tend to ruin the flavor and nutrients.
  5. Pour the mixture directly into the ice cube tray. Use a spatula or spoon to get all that goodness out!
  6. Label the Ziplock bags with the date that the mixture was made and then put the ice cube tray in it. 
  7. Pop the tray in the freezer.

Now you can use your basil at any time during the year!

What is the Best Option for Preserving Basil – Freezing or Drying?

Although both options are a good choice for preserving basil, freezing is actually the better option. Freezing the leaves allows them to better retain their flavor in comparison to drying.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’m sure you still have questions, and there’s a lot to absorb from all the information that was shared about.  I’ve compiled some FAQs about basil. If there’s something you haven’t seen covered in this blog post, please feel free to drop a question in the comment section.

What are the key stages of basil development from seed to maturity?

Basil progresses through several key stages which include germination, seedling, vegetative growth, budding, flowering, and seed production. The plant develops from a tiny sprout to a full bush with green or purple (depending on variety), aromatic leaves.

How long typically does it take for basil to sprout when grown from seed?

Basil seeds typically take between 5 to 10 days to sprout under optimal conditions, which include moist soil and warm temperatures ranging from 70°F to 75°F (21°C to 24°C).

What are the optimal conditions for growing basil indoors?

Growing basil indoors requires bright light for at least six hours each day, a consistent temperature around 70°F (21°C), and well-draining soil. Proper air circulation and regular watering when the soil is dry to the touch also contribute to successful growth. Too much water causes the plant to be waterlogged. If there isn’t enough light, the plant won’t thrive. If it’s too cold outside, growth is stunted or can kill the plant. The growth is stunted because the roots aren’t able to uptake nutrients from the soil.

What’s the ideal pot size and type for growing basil in containers?

A pot that is at least 6 to 8 inches in diameter and has ample drainage holes is ideal for growing basil. Terra cotta pots are preferred for their breathability, which helps to prevent overwatering and root rot.

How much sunlight is required for healthy basil plant growth?

Basil plants thrive in full sun and require at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. In regions with very hot climates, some afternoon shade can help prevent wilting.

Can you share tips for maximizing the yield and flavor of home-grown basil?

To maximize yield and flavor, basil should be regularly pruned by pinching off the tips, which encourages bushier growth and prevents early flowering. Additionally, ensure the plant has nutrient-rich soil and consider using organic fertilizers to enhance growth.

Will Basil Survive Winter?

If basil is kept outside, it will not survive the winter. Basil needs warm weather in order to thrive and survive. If you are keen on keeping your plant, you’ll have to bring it inside.

This post was all about basil growth stages.

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