Planning to add an aromatic herb to your kitchen or garden? Then you surely cannot omit the ever-popular culinary herb that is basil!
Botanically known as Ocimum basilicum, the basil plant is a lush green herb that belongs to the mint family. For many years it has been well-known for its versatility and flavor, making it a perfect addition to almost any kind of dish.
Since basil is an herbaceous plant, it needs to be watered correctly to stay firm and upright. Herb plants like basil do not have a skeletal framework to keep themselves upright and rigid, which leaves them susceptible to wilting and even death due to underwatering. Proper watering and sufficient sunlight are non-negotiables for your basil plant, so you need to consider these requirements to successfully grow it in your kitchen or your garden.
How often should you water your basil plant?
There are many varieties of basil, but when it comes to their watering requirement s they are all alike. To keep your basil growing lush and flavorful leaves, you have to make sure that you are meeting its basic growing requirements. In general, it will need a well-draining potting mix, at least six hours of sunlight each day, and regular watering to stay healthy and happy.
As a rule of thumb, a fully established basil plant needs about one to one and a half inches of water per week in order to thrive. This means that you will need a little over half a gallon of water every week for plants grown in a regular 10-inch diameter pot.
Most gardening enthusiasts recommend the following watering frequency for basil:
- For basil planted outside in a pot, water every one to two days
- For basil planted outside in the garden, water every three to four days
- For basil grown indoors in a pot, water every four to five days
- For basil seedlings, water every one to two days
Keep in mind that the suggestions above are just guidelines. Your plant’s watering needs may vary depending on several other factors, such as your location and the weather where you live. Unfortunately, there is no universal watering formula for every plant. Regular monitoring and being able to gauge when your plant needs watering will go a long way in keeping those green leaves in consistent production.
How to water a basil plant
Whatever variety of basil you have in your kitchen or garden, you need to remember one basic watering rule: Always water your plant from the bottom, not from the top. The reason for this is simple. Watering from the top will wet the leaves, which creates an ideal environment for fungal diseases. You do not want this to happen.
Houseplants, in general, can become susceptible to fungal growth due to incorrect watering. There are several types of fungi that thrive in soil and can infect seedlings or plants potted in the affected soil. These pathogens can be further aggravated by wet conditions as a result of overwatering, misting the leaves, or using a potting mix with poor drainage.
Downy mildew is one common disease in basil plants that is aggravated by improper watering. Affected plants often show symptoms like yellowing leaves, wilting, greyish spots underneath the leaves, and leaf drop. The common remedy for plants with this disease is to follow the correct watering regimen, use a fast-draining potting mix, and provide sufficient sunlight for the plant.
Unfortunately, plants that are severely damaged due to incorrect watering can be almost impossible to revive. You may need to start all over again and hopefully learn from your mistakes.
Watering your basil – Different planting scenarios
It can be challenging to determine the correct amount of water for your basil due to the various possible growing conditions. Although basil is quite easy to grow, especially in warm environments, it can be quite demanding and specific when it comes to watering. This is where most gardeners become frustrated and fail.
The planting scenarios below should serve as a guide to help you determine the right amount of water for your basil.
1. Basil seedlings
The seedling stage is a crucial time for your basil plant. One wrong move, especially with watering, can wipe out all your hard work in an instant.
To successfully cultivate basil seeds, you need to plant them in the correct medium. A high-quality, loamy soil combined with compost should be enough to jumpstart germination.
If you are using a plug tray to germinate your seeds, it is recommended to water the seedlings from the bottom by filling the underneath of the tray with water. This will allow the potting mix in the tray to slowly absorb the water and stay moist. Moreover, this watering technique will prevent the seeds from floating off. Keep in mind that at this stage, your plants are still developing tiny roots that cannot yet tolerate a large amount of water.
Using a small pot for the basil seeds also works fine, as long as you keep the soil moist but not flooded with water. To keep the soil damp, fill a tray with some water and let the small pot of seedlings soak it up. When the soil is moist enough, remove the pot from the water. Remember that seedlings need consistently moist soil, but too much water can kill them.
Once your seeds have started to grow firm roots, you can start watering the seedlings every second day until they are ready to be transplanted into a bigger pot.
2. Basil plant potted indoors
If you have decided to grow your basil indoors – let’s say in your kitchen – then it may need less watering than an outdoor plant. The climate inside your home is more stable than the temperatures outside, so it is easier to maintain the right moisture level for your plant.
You will probably only need to water your indoor basil every four to five days to keep it healthy. Do not forget to drain any excess water from the pot. You can use a plant saucer to catch the excess water once your plant is fully soaked.
3. Basil in outdoor containers
Growing your basil in a pot outdoors can be a little challenging and will need frequent monitoring. The main reason is that outdoor temperatures may vary and you will need to adjust your watering routine based on the current weather conditions. In this case, you will probably need to water your basil every one to two days during the growing season.
The frequency of watering may also depend on the type of pot you use. Clay pots, for example, are made of porous materials and can therefore draw away moisture very fast. Plastic pots, on the other hand, retain moisture for a longer time. Knowing this, you should be able to approximate the right time to water your plants.
Another technique commonly used to ascertain when to water is to check the top one or two inches of the plant’s soil. If it is very dry, it is time to water.
Lastly, make sure that the potting mix is well-draining to prevent water from accumulating at the bottom of the pot.
4. Basil planted in the garden
Basil planted in the ground can be watered every three to four days, but you can skip the rainy days. Unlike potting mixes, typical garden soils are good at retaining moisture due to the abundance of organic matter and clay they contain. If your soil is sandy, however, you may need to increase your frequency of watering a little bit. Adding mulch to sandy soil can also help keep it moist for longer periods.
How to know if basil is underwatered or overwatered
A healthy basil plant supports a handful of glossy green leaves with the tips pointing downward, creating a droopy appearance. It has firm stems and releases a minty fragrance when rubbed. Any other appearance should be cause for concern.
For example, an overwatered basil usually becomes wilted. You will start to notice leaves turning yellow and dropping off. The leaves may also start producing blisters or spots, while the soil may be partly covered with algae.
An underwatered basil plant, on the other hand, produces dry, brittle leaves. Instead of lush greens, you will see pale or dull leaves due to the lack of moisture. As the soil continues to dry, the plant will eventually turn brown or yellow and die.
Watering tips to keep your basil upright
Keeping your basil hydrated ensures a consistent supply of fresh herbs for your kitchen. Follow these additional tips to enjoy your basil plant for longer:
1. Monitor your plant’s condition regularly
Check the plant’s soil condition regularly. This will help you catch any early signs of wilting or leaf problems so that you can adjust your watering routine accordingly. Keep in mind that the soil should be slightly moist all the time to keep the basil healthy.
2. Water the basil early if grown outdoors
Watering early in the morning will keep the soil moist throughout the day as the sun passes over it.
3. Check the bottom soil
The appearance of the top soil in the pot can sometimes be deceiving. It could be dry, while deep down the soil is soaking wet. Or, the top soil could be moist while down below the roots are dry. This is why checking the soil condition with your eyes is not always enough. You can use a moisture sensor to monitor the soil, or insert your finger deep into the soil to check the moisture levels.
4. Allow excess water to drain
The best way to water your potted basil is to fill the container with sufficient water and let it drain properly. For indoor plants, use a plant saucer to catch the remaining water. Make sure that there is no standing water to avoid damaging the roots.
5. Adjust your watering frequency as the plant grows
As the plant continues to flourish, you may need to increase your watering frequency as well. Consider repotting the plant if the roots are starting to protrude from the pot’s drainage holes.
6. Do not forget to prune
Pruning and pinching your basil plant regularly prevents flowering and doubles the growth of the leaves. Do not worry if you trim off the flowers; you will not be needing them, anyway. Trimming will also keep the stems stronger for optimal growth.
The correct watering of your basil plant will reward you with a full head of tasty leaves for your daily cuisine. Inappropriate watering, on the other hand, can cause troubles such as wilting, yellowing leaves, and fungal diseases.
Remember that basil needs consistently damp soil, as well as the warmth of the sun to flourish. Prune it regularly and water it well to ensure that you have a constant supply of fresh herbs.
Image: istockphoto.com / Robertobinetti70