Basil plants thrive when they can get a lot of sunlight and stay in high temperatures, but what happens to them in the winter? Can they survive cold winters and even frost? The answer is not that straightforward, so I have written this article to explain it.
To give you the best possible answer, I reached out to one of the most experienced gardeners I know who works at a large garden center close to where I live. This is what he told me.
No basil plant can survive frost and since most basil varieties are annuals, they won’t live through the winter even if there is no frost. There are, however, several perennial basil varieties that can survive winters and live for multiple years if they are not exposed to frost.
I have been growing different basil varieties for many years but since we get frost every winter where I live, they always dry out and die at some point in the fall depending on when it gets too cold.
If you live in an area that never gets frost, you can keep basil alive through the winter, even outside, but only if you grow a perennial variety. Some popular perennial varieties are Greek basil, Thai basil, White perennial basil, Pink perennial basil, and Holy basil.
If you grow an annual variety, your basil will not survive through the winter no matter if you get frost or not. Some popular annual basil varieties include Lemon basil, Lettuce leaf basil, and the very popular and common Genovese basil and Sweet basil.
If you, like me, live in an area that gets frost in the winter or if you grow annual basil varieties, you should know what to do with the plants at the end of the season so they don’t go to waste. I explain everything you need to know about that in the article on this link.
If you are growing a perennial basil variety but live in an area that gets frost in the winter, there is actually something you can do to keep it alive through the winter. It involves taking the plant inside, but there is a bit more to it, so I will explain that now.
How to Keep Basil Plants Alive Over the Winter (Easiest Way)
As I wrote above, I talked to a true expert before I wrote this article, hoping to get some great input. He explained to me that it is actually sometimes possible to keep basil alive throughout the winter even in areas that get frost.
He did, however, also mention that while it is often possible to keep basil alive over the winter (as long as it is a perennial variety), it is rarely worth it since it requires a good amount of effort.
What you need to do depends if you live in an area that gets frost in the winter or not.
If you live in an area that doesn’t get frost:
If you live in an area that doesn’t get frost in the winter, you can just leave your basil plant outside. If it is a perennial variety, it will survive the winter and thrive next year when the temperatures rise and there is more sunlight.
If you live in an area that does get frost:
If you live in an area that does get frost in the winter, you need to take the plant inside before it gets too cold. You usually can’t just take it inside from one day to the next, though, since the sudden temperature change can stress and damage the plant.
Instead, you need to do it little by little so you need to start at least a few weeks before there is frost. Here is how.
- The first thing you need to do is to move your basil plant closer to your house. Some heat usually escapes, which means that it is slightly warmer near the house than further away.
- After about a week, you need to bring the plant inside at night and then put it back outside during the day.
- After doing that for 1-2 weeks, you can bring the plant inside and keep it there until the spring when it is warm enough outside. Make sure to put it in a spot where it gets as much light as possible when you keep it inside.
This is necessary because the plant essentially needs to get used to its new location and conditions every time you move it. Moving it inside in steps like this helps the plant get used to it without getting stressed and becoming damaged, which might happen if it experiences a very sudden change in environment.
The primary reason why I usually don’t bother doing this is that basil also needs quite a bit of sunlight to grow well and since it can’t get that during the winter (at least where I live), it will become leggy and look strange. You can use artificial lights to help the plant grow nicely throughout the winter.
It is still possible, though, and it can absolutely look good again once you put it outside (although you might have to prune it to make it look good).
Instead of doing that, I usually just make sure to harvest all the leaves from my basil plants before it gets too cold and let the plant die. I sometimes harvest the seeds too, which is a great way to be able to grow more basil for free once the next season begins.
I have a guide where I explain how to harvest basil seeds on this link. If you aren’t prepared to keep your basil alive throughout the winter or if you are growing an annual variety, I recommend that you harvest some of the seeds.
If you don’t think it is worth the effort to keep your basil alive throughout the winter, or if you grow an annual variety, you can extend the growing season slightly by sowing new basil plants indoors 2-3 weeks before the last frost in the spring to get a head start.
Read My Complete Guide to Growing and Caring for Basil
I have written a thorough guide where I cover all parts of growing your own basil including choosing a variety, sowing the seeds, the best growing conditions, pruning, propagation, harvesting, storing, solving various problems, and a lot more. You can find the article on this link.