How to Grow Basil Plants in Your Garden
Sweet basil or French basil is the most popular and easiest to grow herb. It likes to grow under long days, in full sun and well-drained soil. Yet it can grow in partial shade also but will have less vigor. You can grow it in your garden as well as indoors if you are able to provide light for at least 10 hours a day.
Basil is thought to have originated in north central India. It is now grown as a native in the tropical regions from Central Africa to Asia. It does well in subtropical and temperate regions. In regions of cold climate or winter season, basil may be successfully cultivated indoors in pots
Perfect Climate and Soil Conditions
It requires temperatures between 50° F to 80°F for growth, ideally between 70 and 75°. For germination 68° F is the recommended temperature.
It is highly sensitive to frost and cold temperatures. Cold can not only slow its growth but also increase its susceptibility to diseases.
Rain and Watering
Basil is not tolerant to drought stress as its tissue is very tender. You can use overhead sprinklers or drip irrigation as you choose. Drip irrigation has an advantage that the foliage stays dry so the plant is less likely to develop foliar diseases. But if you are not a regular gardener, I would recommend using overhead sprinklers only.
Basil prefers well-drained soil with good organic matter content and moisture. pH of soil should be between 4.3 to 8.2.
Best Time to Grow Basil
It is important to wait before planting basil until temperature is warm where you live. If you live in warm temperature zones you can plant basil any time of the year. But if you live in the regions of cold temperatures, you must start planting basil indoors about three to four weeks before the last expected frost date and wait until the soil temperature reaches 60°F and the air stays above 50°F to plant basil seedlings in your garden.
About a week or two before your planting date, put the basil plant outdoors for some time each day. For first few days keep them in a partially shaded spot and gradually increase their outdoor time. This prepares the seedling to move outdoors full-time. This is called “hardening off”.
Planting in a Pot - Staring Indoors
Planting Basil from Seeds
1. Selecting the Seeds
You can get seeds from your friends or neighbours who have basil plants. But if you are going to buy seeds from online shops always buy them from reputable suppliers. Look for the quality, the germination percentage, date of packing, and reliability.
2. Pot or Tray
Choose a container as per your need. For example, if you plan to grow a single seedling to a size of 3-4 inches and plant it in your garden soil later you may only need a container as small as a plastic cup. If you want to grow it to a good height before planting in your garden then you will need a bigger pot.
Seed starter trays are also available to buy from stores but why to buy from outside when you can use containers from your home. It is only useful to buy from outside stores if you want to grow a lot of plants and looking forward to gardening for a long time.
Whatever container you choose, make sure that it has good drainage as the basil seeds need very well draining soil to flourish.
3. Preparing the Soil
Depending on whether you want to grow a lot of plants or only a basil plant, you should choose to prepare your own soil or purchase it ready made.
To grow many plants you need large amount of seed starting mix. It can get real expensive if you keep buying seed starting mix from online stores. I would recommend you to prepare your own seed starting mix and save about half the bucks.
For preparing your own seed starting mix, you need:
1 part coir or cocopeat: It is an alternative to peat moss extracted from coconut husks. If your coir have come in a block, soak it in water until you can easily break it apart.
1 part compost: You can use your own garden compost or buy it in. Sieve the compost to get a fine texture before mixing.
1 part garden soil or perlite: You can use either of the two. Perlite will lighten the mix and improve its air content while soil could be heavy.
Thoroughly mix all the three until they are evenly distributed. After using as needed, you can store the rest for a long time.
Commercial seed starting mix
If you intend to grow just one or two plants, you should directly buy the seed starting mix from a reputable seller. One bag of seed starting mix should be enough to start a few seeds.
You can buy the soil specifically prepared for herbs or basil for that matter.
4. Adding Soil
Fill the pot or tray up to 1.5-2 inches from the top. Lightly tap the pot on the table for 5 or 6 times to compress the seed starting mix. If required add more starting mix to get to the desired depth.
Using hands even out the seed staring mix and gently press the surface to level and make it ideal for sowing the seeds.
5. Sowing the Seeds
Take the basil seeds and sprinkle them across the medium. Sprinkle with light hands so you don't cover the whole area. You want the seeds just 4 to 6 mm deep. Lightly press the seeds once after sprinkling them so they don’t wash away when misting.
Sowing Directly in the Garden Soil
If you want to plant directly into your garden soil, sow the seeds every 2-3 cm in each row with rows being 10-15 cm apart. Thin the plants to 3 to 4 inches apart after emergence. Continue to thin the seedlings until the final plant stand is 12 inches apart. Thinned plants can be eaten or transplanted to adjacent areas. Continue to thin the seedlings until the final plant stand is 12 inches apart. Thinned plants can be used in kitchen or transplanted to adjacent areas.
6. Watering the Seeds and Seedlings
Lightly mist the seeds from top when they are germinating. Mist the soil surface twice a day or as necessary so the seeds are kept moist all the time but the whole soil area is not that soggy. Make sure the soil stays lightly moist throughout.
Use mist sprinkler till the seedling grows to a good height. After well grown, supply 1½ inches of water per week to maintain good growth. Water requirements depend on the type of soil and temperature. When compared to ground the soil in the pots dry out faster, so as long as the plant is in the pot you may need to water it more frequently, enough to keep the soil moist.
7. Providing Light
Basil requires full day sun. Keep the pot in the sun for whole day then bring it indoors or you may keep it in the west-facing window. Alternatively, you can use a grow light indoors.
8. Germination Time
Seeds germinate in about 5-7 days. Sometimes, it may take longer upto 14 days.
Planting Basil from Shop Bought Basil Seedlings
- Shop bought basil seedlings come in a small pot. Usually 10-20 seedlings come in a single pot. To start with, first prepare the pots you want to grow your seedlings into. Follow the same steps written above.
- Next take the pot that have the seedlings. Hold the whole bunch of seedlings from the leaves part and invert the pot in your hand. Separate the seedlings from roots into a tray.
- Select the seedlings with healthy stem and roots. For example, if the stem looks black or drooping, you can exclude it.
- Now dig a hole in your pot as deep as the roots of your seedling.
- Place the seedling and put soil around the roots. Be careful to not touch the stem of the seedlings while doing this.
- Sprinkle water enough to keep the soil moist.
If you want you can directly plant the seedling in your garden. Follow the steps below for transplanting in your garden.
Transplanting Basil Plant in Your Garden
To transplant your indoor grown basil or shop-bought seedlings in your garden, follow these simple steps:
- After your indoor-grown basil plant has reached to a height of about 15 cm with 3, 4 nodes in about 4 to 6 weeks, it can be trimmed to encourage growth and lateral branching prior to planting in the garden. Trimming is not required for seedlings that have not reached this size.
- Prepare your garden bed by mixing a couple inches of well-rotted compost into the six inches of soil from the surface. This will increase soil drainage and improve the level of organic matter.
- When transplanting be careful not to touch the stem as it is very delicate. Touch it by holding one hand to the leaves (the whole bunch of leaves) and using a trowel dig a hole with the other hand to get the hold of roots.
- In your garden soil where you want to plant the basil, make a hole deep enough the whole roots can get into it. The size of the hole can be just about the size of the pot in which your basil plant was there. Now place the plant inside the hole and push it down. Put soil around it to make it stand firm.
- Once done, water and lightly fertilize with a diluted organic fertilizer. Initially the plants will droop a little then they start being upright. After about a week the roots will be well developed. It will take about four to six weeks to grow to size.
Watering the Plant in Your Garden
Deep, infrequent watering encourages the plant to extend its roots deeper and improves the flavours of basil. Water once every week using enough water to moisten the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches.
Again if you have a garden and drip irrigation system available, it is the ideally recommended one as the foliar damage to the plants can be prevented. But care must be taken during the harvest so that no damage is done to the irrigation line.
You don’t have to bother installing a drip system as the overhead sprinkling also does as well especially, if you want to grow a few plants.
If you want to fertilize your basil plants, do so only once every growing season. Use 1.5 ounces of 5-10-5 fertilizer every 5 feet of gardening row. Immediately after adding the fertilizer water the plants to help carry the fertilizer down into the soil.
Mulching the basil plants will not only discourage weeds but it also maintain the moisture level of the soil and improves the soil nutrients as it decomposes keeping the plants healthy. Put 2-3 inch thick layer of mulch around each basil plant. You can use shredded leaves or weed-free grass clippings as mulch.
How to Prune Basil
Taking Care of Basil in Winter
Prolonged exposure to subfreezing temperature can kill the basil plant. Even temperature below 50°F can stunt the growth of the basil plant.
You can protect your plant from winter once it is in the garden soil by following some simple steps:
- Water the plant thoroughly before the first freeze date is expected. Moist soil absorbs more heat from the sun and tends to stay warm longer than dry soil.
- Alternatively, you can also cover them with a light weight sheet of plastic. Keep the covering off the leaves using stakes to reduce radiant heat loss from the leaves. Anchor the edges to the ground with earth staples. Remove the covering in day time if the temperature rises.
- Mulching the plant roots and covering the top of the planta with loose straw can also protect it from cold damage. When temperature rises in the day remove the upper covering.
Taking Your Basil Plant Indoors for Winter
Dig up the basil plants that are healthy. Leave behind the those with blackened leaves or drooping stems. A little damage to leaves can be corrected by trimming off the damaged parts. Put the plant in pot adding soil as needed. Keep the pot near a window that gives sunlight or under grow lights. While indoors water sparingly letting the top two inches of soil dry between watering.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Sherry Haynes