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(This article was originally published on August 12, 2022 and was last updated on September 3, 2022)
Basil is a popular herb for experienced gardeners and kitchen gardeners, and many of us choose to grow basil in pots. Basil plants can thrive in pots, so long as it’s big enough and has adequate drainage holes. Which begs the question: what’s the ideal pot size for basil plants?
What Size Pot for Basil Plants? A General Rule of Thumb
The best basil pot size for most basil plants is 9″ to 15″ deep, and 12″ to 18″ wide, with a minimum potting soil volume of 3 gallons (13.6 litres) per plant.
Basil grows best in large, deep pots, to give the plant’s roots adequate space. While younger plants don’t need as much space, a mature sweet basil plant can grow up to around 24 inches tall, requiring a 16″ to 18″ pot and around 6 to 10 gallons (23 to 38 litres) of soil.
Why is Pot Size Important When Growing Basil?
A proper pot size will encourage deep root growth. A good root system will support larger plant growth, encouraging your basil to grow large and bushy, which means – more delicious basil leaves when it comes time harvest basil (and better chances of success if you want to take a basil cutting)! Deeper roots also mean the basil plant needs less frequent watering, and is therefore a bit easier to care for during the basil growing season.
A Detailed Guide to Basil Pot Size
If you’re growing basil in pots, 9″ to 15″ deep, and 10″ to 18″ wide, with a minimum of 2.5 gallons of rich potting soil, is a general rule of thumb when shopping for an ideal pot size.
In reality, however, container size varies greatly when it comes to growing basil in pots!
If you’re wondering how much potting soil you need for a certain size pot, this calculator is surprisingly handy!
Pot Size for Different Types of Basil Plants
The type of basil you’re growing and the stage of the plant lifecycle you’re in will impact the ideal pot size when growing basil.
Pot Size for Fast Growing Cultivars of Basil
Some basil cultivars grow faster than others, and these types of basil need bigger pots.
Compare this cinnamon basil (far left) vs Red Rubin basil (middle), which was planted in a Click and Grow on the same day (the Greek basil was planted about 10 days later).
Or compare the Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil (middle) achieving similar plant growth to the Cardinal Basil (far left) and Lemon Basil (far right), despite the Mrs Burns Lemon being planted a full week after the other two.
Cinnamon basil and Mrs. Burns Lemon (along with Thai Basil) are indeed some of those “vigorous” basils that needs a bigger pot as compared to slower growing varietals, such as Cardinal Basil.
Look at the cardinal basil (left) and Mrs Burns lemon (middle) just a few weeks later to see how fast growing these are! Fast growing = more harvesting, but it also requires you to go bigger when considering what size pot for basil.
Plant fast growing basil plants in pots that are at least 12″ wide, with 2 to 3 gallons of soil per plant.
Pot Size for A Lime Basil Plant
While most basils do well in pots, lime basil is an exception. While it can be grown in a container, the root growth of Lime Basil means it thrives when the roots can go deep into the soil – which isn’t as possible in containers. As such, if you want to grow lime basil in pots, choose a deeper pot than you would if growing sweet basil.
Lime basil also requires more water than some other basil varieties, which is a double whammy, as potted basil requires more watering than planted basil. This means lime basil growing in pots will require you to really stay on top of watering to keep the soil moist.
Pot Size for Tiny Basil Vs Giant Basils
Tiny basils, such as Greek Dwarf basil or Spicy Bush Basil, can grow in pots on the smaller end of the size spectrum – several dwarf basils in a 12″ inch pot, for example. While you can start them in even smaller containers (as I did in the photo below), you’ll eventually want to transplant them so the roots can spread out.
The converse is true for larger basil plants, such as lettuce leaf varieties. For plants you know are large growers, you’ll want to err on the side of using a larger pot to get the most productive plant.
Pot Size for Basil Seedlings vs Mature Plants
Basil plants will grow from seed in small containers, and it’s fine to start with a smaller pot or container, and progressively repot the basil as it matures.
If you’re starting with basil seeds, you’ll likely use peat seed pots or a starter tray. You can then transplant multiple plants (seedlings) to the same pot with high quality potting soil as they mature.
How Do You Know When Basil Needs a Bigger Pot?
Basil can quickly outgrow its pot – especially the fast growing basil varieties. Ideally, you’ll plant basil in a larger pot from the get go, but if you didn’t, the question becomes: when should you repot your basil plant?
There are 3 tricks to knowing when basil needs a bigger pot.
First, check the bottom of the pot around the drainage hole for roots. If there are roots coming out of the bottom of the pot’s drain home, or even if you can see a lot of roots around the hole, your basil plant needs a bigger pot.
Secondly, watch how water moves through the plant pot. If water basically goes in and out – i.e. you water the basil plant, and it comes straight out the drainage holes – that’s another sign your basil needs a larger container.
Finally, you can eyeball it. Does the plant look crowded in the pot? If so, it’s not going to thrive until you transplant it to a larger container. This dark opal basil, for example, is ready for another pot based on the eyeball test.
What Kind of Pot is Best for Basil?
Basil does best in large, deep pots that have excellent drainage, with a good potting mix to provide adequate nutrients. Undernourished basil plants can quickly turn yellow, which isn’t the look (or taste) you’re probably going for. If your container meets those requirements, you can pretty much grow basil in any type of container (plastic, ceramic, terracotta, fabric, etc).
If you’re growing in a temperate or cooler climate, consider a ceramic pot, which will help the soil and plant to retain heat. This is less of a concern in a hot climate, but can help in late fall, retaining the last bit of heat before winter sets in, and you need to either let it flower and harvest the seeds, prune away all the leaves for use as you choose, or settle in for winter growing (which is most likely indoors or in a greenhouse/poly tunnel). Fabric smart pots are also a good choice to grow basil, and helps reduce the amount of plastic in the world.
Long, deep window box style pots are great for basil, as the roots have adequate room to spread out along the elongated bottom surface of the pot, as compared to a circular pot. Look for window boxes that are 8″ to 12″ tall, and 5″ to 7″ wide.
Summary of the Best Basil Pot Size
The best container size when growing basil in pots is around 12″ to 18″ wide, and around 9″ to 15″ deep, with a soil volume of 3 gallons (13.6 litres) or more for each plant. That said, your basil plant will grow in smaller containers, and can be transplanted from small pots to larger ones as basil grows larger. A well-potted basil will help to encourage your basil to grow bushy and full, but good conditions like plenty of direct sunlight and quickly reacting to signs of distress, such as wilting and discoloration (white spots, brown patches, blackening leaves, droopiness or wilting leaves, or holes that look like a pest problem).