Lemon Basil Care: How To Grow Lemon Basil Herbs

Lemon Basil Care: How To Grow Lemon Basil Herbs

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Lemonand basilmake a perfect pairing in cooking, but what if you could have the essence oflemon with the sweet anise flavor of basil all in one plant? Lemon basil plantscombine both these amazing scents and flavors for a unique herb experience. Thisvariety is just one in a host of specially imbued basils and is easy to grow,provided you have plenty of sun and heat. Keep reading to get tips on how togrow lemon basil and add its characteristic scent and flavor to your culinaryrepertoire.

What is Lemon Basil?

Fans of basil rejoice. Growing lemon basil provides devoteeswith a tangy, nose happy flavor and scent that is excellent in manyinternational and regional cuisines. It is also a pretty plant that addsdimension and texture to the kitchen garden. As an added bonus, lemon basilcare is simple, straightforward and easy.

Picture silver tinged leaves on an erect, bushy plant withheavenly aroma and the lemon basil plant is the paintbrush to that picture. Thefragrant variety is native to India and features prominently in that country’sdishes but translates well to many other recipes. The herb is even great inbaked goods and as an accent to cookies, cakes and other sweet treats.

Rip up a few leaves and toss them fresh into your favoritesalad as an accent. Pesto made from this plant is not as traditionally “basil”flavored, but the resulting sauce has an interesting lemony punch.

How to Grow Lemon Basil

In northern climates, sow seeds indoors at least 6 weeksbefore the last expected frost for best results when growing lemon basil.Transplant outdoors when soil has warmed and plants have at least two sets oftrue leaves.

Use plastic or organic mulch around the plants to preventweeds, warm soil and conserve moisture. Lemon basil plants must have full sunin a raised bed, planter or other site with warm soil. Southern gardeners canplant seeds directly out into a prepared bed.

Expect germination in 8 to 14 days. The plants tend to beleggy and spindly, but pinchingthem back when young can help them bush out.

Lemon Basil Care

Basil needs average water and is naturally resistant to manypests. However, slugsand snailsfind the plants snack worthy and should be repelled.

Overly wet soil can cause fungal issues. Make sure the siteis well draining and incorporate some compost, sand or other gritty material toenhance porosity. Water under the leaves to prevent mildew.

Harvest the leaves at any time, just leave at least half onthe plant so it can continue to grow and produce more leaves. Pinchoff flowers for best flavor, but if you leave them on, the aroma canhelp repel many insect pests.

This article was last updated on

Basils: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties

About basils
There are several types of basil to choose from. The most common is bush or sweet basil, a compact plant growing to 18 inches or so during the season. Purple basil adds a splendid burgundy color to the garden. It can be used like common basil, though it's a little less sweet. The purple leaves create a beautiful color when steeped in white vinegar. Recently rediscovered by many cooks, lemon basil adds a lemony basil fragrance to both the garden and the kitchen. Thai basil adds a licorice flavor and tastes great in Asian cooking. Basil is a heat-loving annual herb.

Choosing a site to grow basils
Plant in full sun in moist, well-drained soil.

Planting Instructions
Start seeds indoors six weeks before the last frost date or seed directly in the garden (about 1/4 inch deep) after the last frost date when soil is warm. Set transplants or thin seedlings to stand at least 10 to 12 inches apart more room (16 to 24 inches apart) will encourage low, bushy plants to develop.

Ongoing Care
Pinch off the center shoot of the basil plant after it has grown for 6 weeks to force side growth and prevent early flowering. If flower stalks do develop, cut them off. Mulch is recommended in hot areas since basil likes a steady moisture supply. Basil is generally pest-free. Early cold weather can ruin a maturing crop, so be sure to harvest if temperatures are expected to dip below 40 degrees F.

How to harvest basils
Basil is at its most pungent when fresh. The best time to harvest is just as the plant starts to bud, well before flowers bloom. Snip leaves or branches at this time and pinch off flower buds to keep the plant productive. You also can cut the entire plant about 6 to 8 inches above ground, leaving at least one node with two young shoots intact. The plant should produce a second but smaller harvest several weeks later.

Since the leaves lose some of their flavor when dried, freezing is the best method for winter storage. To quick-freeze basil, dry whole sprigs and pack them in plastic bags with the air pressed out. To dry basil, pinch off the leaves at the stem and dry them in a shady, well-ventilated area. Check in 3 or 4 days, and if they are not totally dry, finish drying in the oven, otherwise the leaves may turn brown or black. Use the lowest heat possible with the door slightly open, turn leaves for even drying, and check frequently.

Garden Staple: Lemon Basil

Lemon basil flowering in August

Every summer I grow Mrs. Burns lemon basil, a lemon scented type of sweet basil. Like all basil plants, Mrs. Burns lemon basil prefers warm weather, full sun, and plenty of moisture. I grow mine from seeds in large containers and in the vegetable garden.

Throughout the summer I harvest the leaves and use them fresh in fruit salad with seafood, chicken, and vegetable dishes as garnishes for drinks, desserts, and salad and in syrups and vinegar dressings. My family particularly likes using the fresh leaves for tilapia and other white fish fillets. We layer a few stems on aluminum foil on a broiler pan, then layer the fish fillets on top, drizzled with butter and chopped scallions or bread crumbs, and broil. The leaves turn black, which is fine because you can throw them away before you serve the dish but the fish is infused with a unique smoked lemon flavor.

We also like to make a simple syrup with the leaves. Bring one cup of sugar, one cup of water and about one cup of loosely packed leaves to a boil in a saucepan, smashing the leaves against the side of the saucepan with a spoon. Then reduce the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. After straining and removing the leaves, let the syrup cool and pour in a glass jar. We like to drizzle the sweet lemon liquid over fresh fruit, cold lemonade, or ice tea.

Lemon basil plants in containers

Mrs. Burns lemon basil is an heirloom cultivar of a sweet basil and yes, there really was a Mrs. Burns who introduced the plant in 1939 in New Mexico. This particular cultivar is different than “lemon basil,” the lemon flavor is supposed to be more intense and the leaves are supposed to be larger than lemon basil. Certainly the leaves are lighter, smoother, and more pointed than sweet basil.

In addition to its culinary uses, Mrs. Burns lemon basil can be cut for floral arrangements. I always like to add an herb to my cut flowers that I bring indoors. If left to flower, the small flowers attract pollinators and beneficial insects. I deliberately do not harvest some of my plants to have a stand of tall flower stalks with whorls of small flowers by August. In September, yellow finches flock around the plants for the seeds. In October, before the first frost, I cut the stalks and put them in a large paper bag. Later, while watching PBS Masterpiece, I pull the stalks out of the bag and extract the seeds to plant next year in May. It’s a full circle but then so is gardening.


Green basil plants have green leaves, but vary in flavor. Genovese is the most common green basil variety, typically found on pizza or in pesto.


Basil is not at all hardy and can't stand any frost.

Basil is very unhappy if it isn't warm, so in cooler areas it should be in the warmest spot in the garden. If this still isn't warm enough then grow it under cloches. It will tolerate some shade when growing in hot climates, but does better in full sun.

Basil needs warm (75ºF - 85ºF) soil.

Basil likes evenly moist soil.

Low nitrogen. Low potassium. Low phosphorous. Basil isn't a very hungry plant, but for maximum leaf production it should be given fertile soil.

Basil does well in containers as small as a one gallon plant pot, and is great to grow on the kitchen windowsill (especially in cool climates). Transplant one seedling per 6" pot or 3 seedlings per 12" pot. Because basil is a heat-loving plant, it is crucial to place the container in an area with access to at least 4 hours of sunlight per day. Basil requires temperatures of 75 degrees F or higher in order to thrive, so it's not the best option for Winter growing (unless you keep your house well-heated.) Use well-drained, nutrient-rich potting soil and keep the soil moist but not overly wet.

Sweet, light and good with fish.

Grow one of the easiest herbs. Basil is delicious and versatile in the kitchen and easy and fun to grow in the garden.

Store your herbs for flavor over the long winter months.

Tricia shares tips for planting your very own herb garden in containers.

Grow your own superfood! Microgreens are nutritious and easy to grow. We'll show you how!

Copyright © 2019 Green Living Solution, Inc. Smart Gardener ® is a registered trademark of Green Living Solution, Inc. All rights reserved.

Watch the video: How to Quickly Grow Basil Indoors