Basil is arguably one of the most popular herbs. Similarly, growing basil is easy and productive, especially the common or sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum).
This member of the mint family is grown for its sweetly scented leaves used either fresh or dried that compliment a variety of foods.
But is it possible to grow this tasty microgreen totally on autopilot?
The short answer, yes it’s possible!
You want details, read on:
Actionable Tips for Growing Basil on Autopilot
Step #1: Get a bag of high-quality organic soil.
Do not fill your containers with soil from your garden or bagged topsoil.
You can save yourself the trouble associated with soil-based media by using a recommended "soilless" blend that will retain moisture and resist compaction.
Do yourself a favor and get a bag of quality organic soil.
Step #2: Get one packet of organic basil seeds
There are so many different types of basil with more appearing every year.
Try curly basil, Dark Opal basil, and the traditional Genovese.
The tiny leaves of the bush basil are very tasty as well as lovely to look at. Just make sure to use tested and treated seeds or buy only healthy transplants.
Step #3: Get a suitable planter preferably a self-watering
You really can grow basil in almost anything.
All kinds of containers will work.
However, if you want get an endless supply on autopilot without having to do much, a self-watering planter is a must. I’ll discuss more on this later.
Basil likes room so air can circulate around the plants. It also doesn't like to dry out completely, so you should use a large planter.
You don't want to crowd your plants, though if you are making your planter for looks as well as function, you can put them closer than the recommended 12 to 18 inches apart.
Try them more like 6 to 8 inches apart. Basil is prone to fungus, so keeping airflow between plants is important.
If you’re like most lazy black thumbs but still need to enjoy growing basil, you can make use of a smart garden that does everything for you.
Step #4: Wait till the temperature is right
Basil is cultivated in climates with temperatures ranging from 45˚ to 80˚F. This tender herbaceous annual is susceptible to frost and cold-temperature injury.
The cold tolerance of basil begins to suffer when the temperature drops into the 40’s but really affects the plant at 32 degrees F.
The herb may not die, but basil cold damage will be in evidence.
Keep in mind the cold tolerance of basil and wait until overnight lows are above 50 degrees F. (10 C.) before setting out transplants.
Step #5: Choose growing basil from seeds or stems
Lightly moisten fresh potting mix and pack firmly into 4-6" pots or your self-watering planter.
Pour some seeds into your palm, and sprinkle the soil surface with a few seeds.
Cover the seeds with a thin layer of organic soil and press gently to firm the soil. Water gently or use a mister.
You can also root basil stems in water.
Take the stem of a plant and put it in a clear vase or glass of water. When roots appear you can transplant out (after hardening off) into your pot.
For continuous harvests, plant a batch of seeds every few weeks.
Step #7: Choose a location with plenty of sunshine
Basil thrives in a warm, bright location, such as a south-facing window that is sunny for most of the day.
Six to eight hours of direct sunlight is perfect, though if you live in a really hot climate, you may want to give your basil some afternoon shade.
For basil to really take off, the soil and air need to be fairly warm, so don't rush putting out your plants in the spring.
A good idea is to place the planter in a warm window with a southern exposure.
Avoid drafty windows or places where temperatures drop considerably at night. As the plants grow, rotate the pots to keep them from leaning in one direction, toward the light.
If you decide to use grow lights, set a timer so that they are on for 14 hours a day. Place the lights a few inches above the seedlings, raising the lights as the plants grow.
If the plants look leggy, move the lights closer. If you see white spots on the leaves, the lights are too close.
Step #8: Supply the basil with optimum moisture
Basil is picky about water.
It doesn't like to be too dry or too wet, so make sure not to let your pot dry out because if you do, your basil may be toast. To know if you should add water to your pot, stick your finger down into the soil about up to the second knuckle.
If the soil feels dryish, add water.
Keep the soil moist, but not soaking wet. If the plants start to look crowded as they grow, use scissors to thin them out.
Snip the extra seedlings at the soil line and enjoy them in a salad.
Luckily, you don’t have to go through all that pain of manually checking the moisture content.
Heck you don’t even have to water yourself.
Most modern self-watering planters ensure your plants thrive, regardless of your busy lifestyle.
The planters have their own integrated water level indicator providing a simple visual feedback mechanism to ensure you'll never forget to fill the reservoir.
You can top up the reservoir via rainwater, if exposed to the elements or do the following:
- Manually water the soil in the growing chamber using a garden hose, drip system or watering can.
- Manually fill the water reservoir via the fill point, when the level indicator is low.
- Clip in a hose and irrigate directly into the reservoir.
The planter’s technology ensures excess water is collected and released over time so your plants receive constant attention and nourishment on autopilot.
You can buy a set of modern self-watering planter on Amazon.
Step #9: Harvest as often as possible
A month after planting, you can enjoy the aroma of basil by running your hands over the small leaves. Two months after planting, you may have enough basil leaves to make fresh pesto and impress your guests!
To maximize the yield, harvest as frequent as possible by pinching from the time it is about 4 inches tall, taking off the top leaves.
To harvest basil, snip off a stem right above the point where two leaves meet.
While basil needs to be harvested regularly, make sure that you only harvest up to two thirds of the plant at a time, so it can continue to grow.
In order to increase your yield, harvest smaller amounts from multiple plants, rather than stripping a single plant bare.
Read: Container Gardening: How to Improve Drainage in Potted Plants
Basil Plant Care
Remove the flowers
The hallmark of any plant is to reproduce by flowering.
However, when your goal is to grow fresh basil full of flavor and aroma, it’s not wise to let them flower.
Therefore, it’s very important to remove the flowers as soon as they emerge. This is important so as to maintain the taste and flavor.
Apply fertilizer whenever necessary
To help boost the growth of your basil plants, you can apply a liquid fertilizer to them once a month or so.
This can be anything from seaweed to fish emulsion to even a bit of compost placed into your watering can.
Be careful not to over-feed your basil plants, because while this may encourage more foliage, the intensity of flavor will drop.
Thankfully, basil will tell you when a deficiency is present.
If the leaves start looking pale green in color, it’s a sign of nutrient deficiency. I’d recommend that you start using a liquid fertilizer, mixing at the rate recommended on the package.
Control Pest and diseases
Fusarium wilt (Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. basilicum) is one of the most common basil diseases.
Other destructive diseases include bacterial leaf spot (Pseudomonas cichorii), gray mold (Botrytis cinerea) and damping off or root rot (Rhizoctonia solani; Pythium spp.).
Moreover, although downy mildew (Peronospora belbahrii) is relatively new in North America, it is also very destructive, and widespread occurrence can happen if it is uncontrolled.
An initial symptom is yellowing of leaves, typically from around the middle vein and then spreading to most of the leaf surface.
As the disease progresses, the more characteristic symptom of fuzzy grayish-purple sporangia (the reproductive structures) develop on the lower surface of the leaves.
Initially, this may look like a fine layer of dirt sticking to the undersurface of the leaf, but under magnification, the sporangia can be seen and used for diagnostic purpose.
If the humidity remains high, the chlorotic lesions quickly turn brown.
Stunted and wilted plants with yellowish leaves are the initial symptoms that may develop when the plants are 6-12 inches tall.
Before this stage, the symptoms are not clear and infected plants may grow normally.
Brown streaks on the stems, discoloration of stem tissue, severely twisted stems and eventually sudden leaf drop are common symptoms in the late stage of disease development.
Sweet basil is more severely affected than other basil varieties.
Bacterial leaf spot/Basil shoots blight
Typical symptoms are the water-soaked brown and black spots on leaves and streaking on the stems.
The leaf spots are angular or irregular or delineated by the small veins.
This disease might be not severe under field conditions, but it can be devastating to seedling production.
The most characteristic symptoms are a brown to gray fungal growth on both leaves and stems. This growth usually appears as a denser fuzzy mold than downy mildew.
Diseased leaves die and eventually fall from the plant.
If severe lesions develop on main stem, the infected plant may die.
Damping off/Root rots
Damping off happens in the seedling stage when plants collapse after germinating.
The pathogen often infects the base of seedlings, causing shriveling of the stem.
For root rot, typical symptoms are the slow or sudden wilting leading to plant collapse because the roots are dead or too damaged to function properly
What to do in order to safeguard your basils
Once established, bacterial leaf spot, Fusarium wilt and gray mold may be more difficult to manage as few if any effective fungicides may be available.
To minimize problems, do the following:
- Where possible, use tested or treated seed or buy only healthy transplants
- Grow tolerant varieties
- Apply organic fungicides frequently (when possible).
- In greenhouses, minimizing humidity, circulating the air, increasing space between plants, and using drip irrigation may also help.
- In the field or garden, good sanitation practices should be used to minimize inoculum levels.
- Increasing space between plants / providing good air circulation, limiting splashing water, and irrigating at the base of plants to avoid wetting leaves may also be helpful.
- Remove diseased leaves or severely infected plants to help minimize the available inoculum.
- Practice crop rotation with plants other than basil or mint for 2-3 years to help reduce future infections.
These are simple and actionable tips on how to grow an endless supply of basil on autopilot.
And the best part is; it doesn’t matter whether you have a busy lifestyle or not.
You can establish a set and forget system to ensure plants are fed how they want, when they want. In return, you get 'pick as you go', nutritious, organic basil in your home all year round.
Back to you.
What other excuse do you have for not starting your own small garden?