Spice Up Your Life: A Beginners Guide to Growing Basil

Are you a fan of fresh aromatic herbs in your dishes? If so, growing herbs right at home might just become your new favorite hobby. In this guide, we’ll explore how to grow basil from the comfort of your own home, including some commonly grown varieties that do well in Central Florida. We’ll also highlight specific growing conditions required by herbs for optimal growth, pest and disease management, and seasonality.


1 Basil. Credit: Alice Henneman—Licensed by CC BY 2.0 (https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/ddc8a053-87b0-452b-95a5-41e7bdb3d5fc)

Commonly Grown Varieties

Not only does basil add a burst of flavor to countless recipes, it’s also relatively easy to cultivate, making it perfect for beginners and seasoned gardeners alike.

  1. Genovese Basil (Ocimum basilicum):
    • Genovese basil is the most popular variety, known for its large, tender leaves and robust flavor.
    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 9 to 11.
    • Growing conditions: Full sun with well-draining soil.
    • Uses: This variety is perfect for making pesto or adding a fresh touch to salads, fish, and pasta dishes.
  2. Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum):
    • Sweet basil is another widely grown variety, prized for its mild, slightly sweet flavor.
    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-11.
    • Growing conditions: Full sun and well-draining soil.
    • Uses: Sweet basil is versatile and can be used in a variety of culinary creations, from soups to sauces.
  3. Thai Basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora):
    • Thai basil offers a unique twist with its spicy, licorice-like flavor.
    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 9-11.
    • Growing conditions: Partial shade and moist well-draining soil, thrives in warm, humid conditions.
    • Uses: It’s a staple ingredient in Thai cuisine, adding depth to dishes like curries and stir-fries.
  4. Lemon Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Citriodorum’):
    • As the name suggests, lemon basil has a refreshing citrus scent and flavor.
    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-11.
    • Growing conditions: Full sun and well-draining soil.
    • Uses: Lemon basil pairs beautifully with fish, poultry, and desserts, adding a bright, zesty flavor.
  5. Purple Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Purpurascens’):
    • Purple basil stands out for its beautiful, deep purple leaves and slightly spicy flavor.
    • USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-10.
    • Growing conditions: Full sun, dry to medium moisture, well-draining soil.
    • Uses: This variety adds a colorful pop to salads, garnishes, and even cocktails, contributing the look and taste of your culinary creations.

Growing Conditions

Soil Preparation

Basil prefers moist but well-draining soil. In Florida, it is beneficial to grow basil in raised beds to better control the moisture retention and soil texture. Since Florida soil tends to be sandy, using loamy soils rich in organic matter will help your herb thrive. Basil has an optimal pH range of 6.0 to 7.5.

If you don’t already know your soil conditions, a great place to start is with a soil test. UF/IFAS provides Soil Testing Services that are affordable and available to the public. The results will provide valuable information about your soil’s pH, fertility levels, nutrient content, and how to amend your soil to achieve an optimal pH range for the specific plant.


Basil prefers sun, but protection from Florida’s late afternoon sun can shield it from the high heat. That being said, your basil plant will need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight daily. In the wintertime, you will want to protect your plant on cold nights since basil is sensitive to frost. You can even grow basil indoors on a sunny windowsill. To encourage bushy growth and ample leaf production, pinch off the top set of leaves once your basil plants reach about 6 inches in height.

Read more about protecting your crops from the cold here.


Basil likes nutrient rich well-draining soil. First things first, get your soil tested to determine which fertilizer is right for your garden.

Once you know your soil pH and nutrient content, amend the soil with compost and fertilizer before planting or transplanting your basil after the last frost. From there, you can fertilize with a balanced fertilizer. For dosage, simply follow the label directions on the product you choose.

Pests and Diseases

While basil is relatively pest-resistant, it can struggle with certain insects like aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies. Keep an eye out for any signs of infestation, such as yellowing leaves or sticky residue on the foliage. To deter pests, you can try companion planting with insect-repelling herbs like marigolds or use insecticidal soap as a low toxicity remedy.

Basil is also susceptible to fungal diseases like downy mildew and fusarium wilt, especially in humid conditions. The most noticeable symptom for downy mildew disease is yellowing leaves, so it makes it hard to differentiate the disease from nutrient deficiency.

Luckily there is a tell-tale sign, look for sores or lesions on the leaves – above and below the leaf surface. Scout in the early morning to get the best look. If you don’t see sores, lesions, or spots but still suspect downy mildew, place the leaves upside down on a moist paper towel in a closed plastic bag, and leave in a dark room for 24 hours. Check on the leaves the next morning to see if there are new spots, fuzzy growths, or lesions appearing.

These diseases are hard to prevent because the spores disperse on the wind. Good habits like avoiding overhead watering and ensuring air circulation around your plants keeps leaves from getting wet and discourages fungal growth. If you notice any signs of disease, promptly remove and dispose of the infected plants to prevent further spread.


Basil is a warm-season herb that thrives in Florida’s springtime temperatures. Since basil is frost sensitive, plant basil outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. Normally, this is mid to late February or very early March. Or start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the anticipation of the last frost in mid-February or early March and transplant them when they are 5-6” tall. When planting basil in fall gardens (around Halloween), continue to harvest your basil until the frost damages it and impacts flavor.

Pruning Basil for Optimal Growth

Pruning, or when you selectively remove parts of a plant, will promote bushy growth, prevent the plant from flowering prematurely, and keep the leaves flavorful. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to prune basil effectively:

  1. Identify the Nodes: Nodes are the points on the stem where leaves are attached. So, the base place to prune is at the node. This will help the plant grow out instead of up, keeping a bush like figure. Take sharp scissors or sheers and cut just below the nodes to harvest the plant.
  2. Prune Regularly: Pruning basil should be done regularly throughout the growing season, especially when the plant reaches about 6-8 inches in height. Aim to prune your basil every 2-3 weeks or whenever it just begins to get leggy or overgrown. Prune no more than 1/3 of the plant at any given time to encourage new growth. Pruning is a great practice to help keep the basil growing its tastiest leaves while maintaining a nice shape, but don’t overdo it. Cutting away too many leaves or stems at once will stress the plant.
  3. Remove Flower Buds: Basil produces pretty, white flowers as they mature. If your goal is to grow basil ornamentally, keep the flowers. But for culinary purposes, it is best to pinch off the flower buds as soon as soon as they appear. The plant will redirect that energy into growing those tasty leaves we all love. Allowing basil to flower and set seed will shorten its growing season.

How to Harvest and Store Basil

Pruning will help you get the most from your plant because the plant will grow more leaves and branches. Use sterile scissors or shears to clip the stems, leaving only 2-4 leaves on the plant. Place the harvested stems in water away from direct sunlight on the counter for fresh use. For a longer storage period, cover the leaves (I use moist paper towels) and store them in the fridge. If you have more leaves than you need, use the extra leaves to make pesto! Check out the blog ‘Experiment When Cooking with Herbs’ for tips on cooking with herbs and a pesto recipe.

Tips for the Floridian gardener

Florida’s subtropical climate is both a benefit and a disadvantage when growing basil. Our high temperatures and humidity can challenge basil cultivation. Here are some additional tips to ensure success when growing basil in Florida:

  1. Choose Heat-Tolerant Varieties: Opt for basil varieties that thrive in hot climates, such as Thai basil or Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum). These varieties are better equipped to withstand Florida’s scorching temperatures and humidity levels.
  2. Provide Afternoon Shade: While basil enjoys plenty of sunlight, intense afternoon sun in Florida can be too harsh, especially during the peak of summer. You can use a shade cloth or plant basil in a location that receives partial shade during the hottest part of the day.
  3. Mulch and Water Wisely: Mulching around your basil plants will help conserve moisture in the soil and regulate soil temperature, which is particularly beneficial during Florida’s dry spells and heatwaves. This will also help to suppress weed growth around your basil. Basil likes regular watering, so water basil plants deeply and consistently, aiming to keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy or waterlogged.
  4. Monitor for Pests and Diseases: In Florida’s warm, humid climate, the smart gardener always keeps a preventative eye out for pests and diseases. Look for signs of aphids, spider mites, or fungal diseases like downy mildew. Regularly inspect the foliage and take proactive measures, such as using pest control methods or resistant basil varieties.


Growing basil at home is a rewarding experience that allows you to enjoy fresh, flavorful herbs. By following these tips tailored to Florida’s climate, you can enjoy a thriving basil in your garden. With the right growing conditions, pest management techniques, and seasonal considerations, you’ll be well on your way to growing a bountiful basil harvest in no time. Happy gardening!

Next in the series we will explore parsley!

Supervising agent: Dr. Whitney Elmore County Extension Director, Urban Horticulture Agent, and Master Gardener Coordinator

Have a question?

If you have any questions about gardening in Central Florida, please contact the UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County at 352-518-0156. For more information on UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County Community Gardens, and how you can join one, visit http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/pasco/.

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Julia Sirchia, Program Assistant at UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County
Posted: March 8, 2024

Category: Crops, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Fruits & Vegetables, Health & Nutrition, Home Management, Horticulture, Pests & Disease, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: #RightPlantRightPlace, Basil, Budget, Central Florida, Community Garden, Eating, Florida Friendly Landscaping, Food, Garden, Gardening, Health, Healthy, Herb Gardening Series, Herbs, Horticulture, Irrigation, Nutrition, Produce, Smart Irrigation, Soil, Soil Test, Spiceupyourlife, Sunlight, Vegetable Garden

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