I love my potted plant garden that I have inside and want to keep it going all winter so that we can continue to cook with fresh herbs. I used to have a “black thumb” because I refused to put in the research and work to keep my plants going. Now, I do the necessary reading and research the plant thoroughly if something isn’t working. I take shortcuts whenever I can, but I have been mostly successful with my experiments, and I am happy for that.
My biggest hurdle this winter will be basil. I used to buy them from my local Superstore when they had the basil plants on sale. I would get one harvest of basil leaves from them and then the plant would slowly die. It turns out I was doing it all wrong! Not only that, but basil is a finicky plant that doesn’t love being grown indoors. We love it so much that I am willing to take on the hurdles of getting it to thrive.
- Keep Basil Warm!
The first thing I was doing wrong was putting my basil plant next to our drafty kitchen window. I read that the basil plant loves full sun and it is the brightest spot in the house, so I stuck it right next to the window. Basil loves 6 hours of sunlight but it loves being warm even more. A warm room with lots of sun is its ideal location. In fact, it is hard to keep basil warm enough if you are growing it indoors. They are ideal plants for the small indoor greenhouses you see at garden centres or at IKEA.
What can you do if you don’t have a mini greenhouse? One suggestion I came across was a 2 litre pop bottle. Cut the bottle in half and take the cap off for ventilation. Place it over top of your basil plant and- voila!- cheap greenhouse or hothouse. My house has very few windows that have windowsills for plants, or that get enough sun, so I set up a growing light in my china cabinet for a growing space. To get the seedlings started, I put a loose layer of plastic wrap over top of them to keep in the heat. It worked like a charm. I would caution you to take the plastic wrap off as soon as you see the tiniest of leaves popping through. If you leave the plastic wrap on too long the soil could get mouldy or mossy due to excess moisture. Now that they are getting large enough I will have to switch to old sparkling water bottles.
One more suggestion was putting the basil in a deep tray or on a shelf and covering that area with a tarp made of an old plastic tablecloth or plastic wrap to keep in the heat. It is up to you! I also recommend terra cotta pots (you can find these at craft stores on the cheap, I got mine for $2-5) because they keep the heat in better than plastic pots and also help keep the soil moist a bit longer.
2. Use the Right Soil and Don’t Overwater.
Using the right soil and keeping it damp (not overly wet) is a good rule of thumb for all plants- but especially basil.
Make sure the pot has a good drainage hole and is large enough. I read that 12″ wide and deep is a good size for each seedling. Then, fill with soil! DO NOT line the bottom of your pot with gravel or rocks. Instead, use a loose, nutrient rich soil or a coarse textured growing mix. If you have a Soil pH level testing kit, that soil should be 6.0-7.5. I don’t have the kit, so I bought a soil mix that said “great for growing indoor herbs” at the front of the bag. This is one of the examples where I cut corners a bit! It is recommended that you add a pinch of lime to the pot to help the acidity level.
Watering basil is tricky. They are tiny green divas. Basil doesn’t like to get its leaves wet so it is a good idea to water at the base of your plant. Soak the soil deeply with each watering and water again only when water is FULLY dried out. This is where a moisture meter comes in handy since testing with your finger often leads to overwatering. Yellow foliage is also an indication that you are overwatering your basil. Just pinch away any yellowed or dead leaves if this happens, so that the plant isn’t spending any energy trying to keep those alive, and cut back on watering to solve this issue.
3. Fertilize and Harvest at the Right Time.
I never thought to fertilize my indoor basil before and maybe that’s why I had weak and spindly-looking plants.
Fertilize the basil plant every two weeks or so with a low-potency liquid fertilizer at the base of the plant.
If pests find the plant- I am dealing with a fungus gnat infestation again as I type this- just spray the soil with a mixture of water and a few drops of Dawn dish soap every other day.
By now your basil plant should be happy and thriving. When your plant is 6 inches high (6 is the magic number for basil plants it seems!) you can begin to harvest it by pinching off the largest leaves. If it grows so quickly that it gets flower buds, just pinch those off so that the plant doesn’t flower and think it is done.
What if your plant does so well you can’t keep up? Freeze the leaves! Take the leaves and lay them in plastic freezer bags, then freeze until you need them. Alternately, you can make small batches of pesto and freeze them in small glass containers or ice cube trays. Yum!
I have some basil plants starting to grow and I’m very excited. Let me know if these tips worked for you!
The websites I used to get all of this helpful information are: