How to keep basil alive

My basil graveyard was growing so in my Fawlty Towers I knew I had to learn how to keep basil alive. I have never killed a basil plant outdoors – this is a tough herb. However, growing a basil plant indoors is another story. Especially supermarket basil.  

I’ve now learned how to keep basil alive. I know what basil needs to grow indoors or outdoors and what kills basil. Now my basil plant is bushy and I have it readily available for my kitchen adventures. 

Fresh basil is bursting with flavor and takes a pesto or pasta to the next level. I have developed these basil growing tips to help you ensure your supermarket basil, potted basil or backyard basil thrives too.

Seasonal Versus Perennial Basil

Something really, important to understand with basil is that there are different types; seasonal basil or perennial basil.

Seasonal basil grows on a lengthening day from spring to mid-summer – as the days begin to get shorter, it will flower and eventually die.

What is a lengthening day? 

After the winter solstice, the days get longer, and the result is that this reduces the trigger for flowering in many herbs. Basil is one of those – as the days get shorter, it just sort of gives up. So in spring, your days are getting longer, and the plant figures it has a good run ahead of it, so it invests in leaves, and then as the days start to get shorter, it pushes more and more energy to flowers and seeds so it can die and know its babies are waiting in the soil for spring.

Perennial basil will grow year-round as long as you keep it sheltered from extreme cold. It will flower more as the days get shorter, but it will not die.

Perennial basil is best bought from a nursery – I have had little luck growing it from seeds (It is often a hybrid and does not form fertile seeds). Another place to get a perennial plant is from a friend – take a cutting, stick it in soil, remove most of the leaves and leave the growth shoot. You should have a rooted cutting in a week or two.

I have grown Basil of various types for nearly twenty years. I started with sweet Genovese basil. This is an extremely easy-to-grow perennial basil. I enjoy snapping leaves off and eating them when I am in the garden, but I keep a pot or two close to the kitchen so I can nip out and get a sprig or two for cooking.

As time progressed, I learned about all the weird and wonderful basil types out there and began growing perennial basil. As mentioned the best place to get perennial basil is from a nursery, or take a cutting from a friend’s plant.

basil growing tips

How to keep basil alive – Basil growing tips

  1. Buy good potting soil. Basil needs soil that retains moisture but does not get soggy. It needs to be healthy soil, but not too rich. This is good soil
  1. Grow seasonal basil at the start of the season in spring. Perennial basil can be purchased and grown at any time of the year irrespective of the season, as long as you can keep it in a frost-free environment.
  1. Do not overwater basil. This is a herb. It needs to struggle just the right amount to bring out its flavor. If you overwater it, you will either make it grow too fast and taste bad or kill it. A simple soil moisture meter can help you learn the amount of water to give your plant. For Basil, you want your soil at the lower end of the moist reading. Basil does not like to be drowned.

How do I keep basil alive indoors?

To keep basil alive indoors you need to ensure you have the right pot, light, temperature, water, and space.


If you are keeping basil indoors remember this is a plant that develops an extensive root system. I have grown basil in deep compost soil, and when I dug the plants out – after nearly two feet, I could still find roots. In my experience, a pot that is 10” or so deep will be fine for basil.

Therefore, when growing potted basil indoors you need to ensure that the basil plant has a deep pot to grow in. Basil is a beautiful plant and an elegant pot highlights this – this pot is similar to a pot I have used in the past for growing purple basil. If you are not looking to spend a fortune on a pot you could try these fabric pots. I prefer a fabric pot for herbs as it gives a lot of oxygenation to your soil. Basil thrives in these fabric pots You can place them on a big tray to prevent water from getting all over your house or apartment.

how to keep basil alive indoors


Your basil plant needs a few hours a day of direct sunlight – these are herbs from sunny parts of the world, and if they do not get enough sunlight they just give up and die. Find a windowsill where they will get at least 3-4 hours of direct sunlight.


Temperatures below 50 °F will lead to your plants getting stunted and failing to survive. Ideally, if your plants get a few hours in the 80-90 °F range per day you will have the best-tasting leaves. These temperatures allow the roots to work optimally transporting minerals to the leaves.


As mentioned above, ensure you do not overwater your basil. It is easier to ensure that you do not overwater with the fabric bags, as these bags regulate moisture well. However, if you do water excessively you can wash nutrients out of your soil.


Basil likes a bit of space. Plant a few plants in a pot and then thin these to one plant as they grow. A single basil plant can get very large, hence giving it a bit of space will result in more basil to harvest than having a few plants fighting with each other in one pot.

how to keep basil alive outdoors

How to keep basil alive outdoors

If you are growing basil directly in the soil, and your minimum temperatures are above 50 °F with daytime temperatures in the 80-90 °F range then there is very little you can do to kill basil.

Trim the basil plants frequently, and cut off flowers when they develop – this will encourage the plant to bush out.

Do not overwater. Naturally digging a bit of compost into the soil will help. If your soil is very high in clay, a raised bed will help.

What kills basil?

If your temperatures are too low (50°F or lower), and your daylight hours are short (winter) basil will die.

If you overwater your basil it will die. This plant needs its roots to have oxygen. If you overwater the plants, the roots drown and die. See above about soil moisture meters. If the leaves look dry and wilted, and the soil is wet, you have overwatered your plant.

If you underwater your basil plant it will also die. If the leaves look dry and wilted, and the soil is dry your plant is underwatered. Give it a little bit of water. It is easy to add water, but difficult to remove.

Shade – basil is a photosynthetic plant – it uses sunlight to make sugar, and sugar to run its metabolism. If it does not get enough sunlight, it will starve and die. It needs at least 4 hours of direct sunlight a day, and a few more hours of indirect sunlight.

growing basil


How do I make my basil plant last longer?

I have often had kind friends bring me these little supermarket herb plants when they come to supper. This is normally a basil plant planted in nutrient-free coco-coir, which has been fed hydroponic nutrients. This makes the plant look great. However, a week or two after you have it in your house it runs out of nutrients and dies.

SOLUTION >> Transplant these plants into a bigger pot as they need space for their roots. Basil, once it has enough soil and light, is a very difficult plant to kill.

Why are my basil leaves turning brown?

Too dry – if the plant has insufficient water, the leaves will turn brown.
Nutrient deficient – transplant into a bigger pot with nutrient-rich soil.
Not enough light – Place the plant in a spot where it gets a few hours of light a day, and where the temperature does not stay below 50 °F at night.

Why do my basil plants keep dying?

If you are killing your basil plants, you need to pay attention to giving them what they need.
Soil – transplant to a bigger pot with good gardening soil 
Sunlight – move them to a sunny spot
Heat – Basil does not thrive if temperatures go below 50°F
Moisture – Too much or too little will cause leaves to die

These are the most important things to keep basil alive. You may also wish to consider fertilizer to give your basil plant the essential macro and micronutrients it needs to thrive. Read more on the best organic fertilizer for herbs here or how to make fertilizer from kitchen waste.

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