Basil Watering Tips: Proper Watering For Basil Plants

Basil Watering Tips: Proper Watering For Basil Plants

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

There’s nothing like the scent and flavor of fresh basil. Basil is native to India but has been cultivated for centuries in the Mediterranean and South Asian countries. Caring for a basil plant isn’t tricky but it does have specific watering needs that vary from the time it is a little sprout to when it matures to a large bush. A few basil watering tips are described in detail below.

Basil is a tender annual that will not survive in zones below USDA zone 10, but it grows beautifully as a summer annual in all zones down to 4. Basil is generally planted in May, but you can start it earlier indoors. The plant needs well-drained soil with at least six to eight hours of bright sunlight per day. The best growth is achieved with 10 to 12 hours of light per day, but this can lead to the plant drying out if it is potted. Knowing how to water basil plants will help ensure a high yield of the flavorful leaves over the entire season.

Watering a Basil Plant

Basil starts should be sown at least six to eight weeks before planting out. In regions with short growing seasons, this should be even earlier for fully producing plants. While considered an annual, you can grow basil in a container and bring it indoors for longer production.

Eventually, this tender herb will flower and die, even as a houseplant. Flowering is discouraged, as it reduces leaf production and flowering is promoted by drying out. The flowers are pretty but not useful in cuisine, though they are edible. For this reason, basil plant watering is crucial.

New and established plants require consistent moisture but cannot be left soggy. It is a fine line that cannot be crossed because overwatering will cause the plant stems to mildew and rot.

How to Water Basil Plants at Seedling Stage

Plants started indoors in flats should be misted every other day. Watch the soil carefully for signs of mildew or fungus, as moist, warm earth may cause these potentially damaging conditions, which will cause damping off of the seedling basil. Watering for basil babies requires consistently damp soil.

At the seedling stage they cannot handle a deep watering like adult plants can, whether in the ground or in a container. Use a sprayer or plant mister to moisten the top layer of soil as the plant germinates and once you see sprouts. Don’t let soil dry out, but also don’t let soil become soggy when watering a basil plant.

Watering Established Basil Plants

Seriously, the best basil watering tips include simply to sticking a finger in the soil. This works especially well for a container-raised plant. Test both the top of the soil and the drainage holes at the bottom. The top should feel cool and dry, while the bottom should be cool and moderately damp.

In the ground, this is a bit harder to determine but the plant needs deep watering at least once per week in full sun situations where the soil drains well. A novice gardener may want to use a soil moisture meter for basil plant watering. This will determine if the soil is moderately moist and prevent over- and under-watering.

Watering for basil plants is generally a weekly chore, but management of the moisture levels is crucial to preventing excess moisture that can cause rotting and reduced production and appearance.

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How to Take Care of an Indoor Basil Plant

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Light, light and more light are the essentials in growing basil (Ocimum basilicum) indoors. Native to tropical Asia, basil, also called sweet basil or common basil, is an annual, growing outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 11. It dies back at the first frost of the season, but you can avoid that problem by growing a pot indoors in the brightest spot you have.

Do you water basil every day?

QUESTION: Do you water basil every day? I’m trying to grow it the first time. — Michelle E

ANSWER: Basil is a moisture-loving herb that shouldn’t be permitted to dry out too much between waterings. It should be given at least one inch of water per week, which translates to one deep watering session weekly, but that can vary depending on your climate and circumstances. For example, basil plants that are growing in containers will always need to be watered more frequently than those growing directly in the ground.

If you are growing basil in containers and you live in an especially warm climate, like the American South, you may need to water basil once or twice per day in the summertime. The best way to determine whether it’s time to water your basil plant is to stick a finger into the soil near where the plant is growing to find out whether the soil is still moist or is starting to dry out. As long as it’s still moist, the plant does not need to be watered yet.

How to Water a Basil Plant

Basil is grown as an herb in both indoor and outdoor gardens. An annual plant, basil must be replanted each spring even if it is grown indoors. The large leaves are used fresh or dried in many recipes as a seasoning. The large, bright green leaves also add an ornamental touch in beds and borders. Basil must be supplied the proper amount of water in order to thrive, too much or too little water can lead to plant damage or death.

Prepare the garden bed before planting to maximize moisture in the soil. Add a 4- to 6-inch layer of compost to the bed and till it in with a hoe or power tiller. Compost helps retain moisture while adding nutrients to the bed.

  • Basil is grown as an herb in both indoor and outdoor gardens.
  • The large, bright green leaves also add an ornamental touch in beds and borders.

Irrigate basil once a week in a single, deep watering. Provide about 1.5 inches of water per plant each week. Water more frequently during hot, dry periods if the soil is drying out.

Apply a 2-inch layer of organic mulch, such as bark or straw, around each plant to help preserve soil moisture. Mulching also prevents weed growth around the basil plants.

Water potted basil until the excess moisture drips from the bottom drainage holes. Water when the soil surface begins to feel dry. Outdoor containers are more prone to drying and require frequent irrigation, as summer heat causes the soil in the pots to dry more quickly.

  • Irrigate basil once a week in a single, deep watering.
  • Apply a 2-inch layer of organic mulch, such as bark or straw, around each plant to help preserve soil moisture.

Install drip irrigation hoses for garden beds. These have a device on them that ensures they provide the exact amount of water needed when they are set properly.

A thin layer of mulch can also be applied on top of the soil in potted plants to help preserve soil moisture.

Over-watering may cause basil roots to rot, causing the death of the plant. Wilting and yellow leaves are a symptom of over-watering.


For edible plots and raised beds:

Any type of basil can be grown.

For beds, borders, and pathways:

Use especially ornamental forms such as purple or variegated to add an unexpected splash of color to mixed borders or along pathways.

For containers:

Dwarf varieties are best, though any variety can be grown in containers if given adequate space and nutrients. Larger forms can be kept pruned to a compact size.

Cooking With Basil

The leaves from a basil plant are packed with savory, rich flavor when you use them immediately after harvesting. Always use basil that is freshly picked and only add it the meat, sauce, stew or vegetable dish after the food has been cooked.

The fresh taste of basil should not be subjected to the high heats needed for cooking and should only be incorporated into the cooked dishes shortly before they are served at the table.

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