Ask Henry!

Can I Grow Basil on the Windowsill?

How do I keep my basil alive? Do I need a bigger pot? Better light? I love basil and even have more seeds. So what should I do next to help my basil flourish? 

These questions, from a newbie millennial gardener, are excellent, and I’d love to help others, particularly new gardeners. Everyone needs help getting started. Here is what Jennifer needs to know.

These basil need more light!

1.   Basically, you started your basil WAY too early if these are going outdoors in a garden. I start basil indoors in mid-April so that 8 weeks later, when the small plants are ready to go in the ground in mid-June, they are stocky and have good root systems but are not root-bound.

Advertisement: Content continues below...

2.   All is not lost, however. If you want to grow them to maturity in a pot, you are fine. You can grow a few basil plants in a pot. But in a 6-inch pot such as you are using, 2 to 4 plants is better. Even then they will be a little crowded. One big plant per pot would be best of all.

3.   Basil will germinate and start to grow anywhere, even in minimal light conditions. And in February we rarely get much sunshine. Even in March the light is not very intense. You need supplemental light in order to get something you can put in a salad. Light is what fuels the growth, along with adequate water and soil minerals.

This tray of basil (shown in April) has grown in a warm bright greenhouse at Luna Bleu Farm. Crowded? Yes, but the plants will be separated and transplanted soon.

4.   Instead of depending on the sun, get a 2-bulb fluorescent fixture. You don’t need fancy Gro-Lite bulbs or a pricey plant stand. But you need a way to suspend the fixture 3 inches above your plants, and a way to raise the lights as the plants grow. Hooks in the wood window frame and light-weight jack chain will work fine.

These onion seedlings are getting plenty of light from the fluorescent fixture above them

A quick check on-line for a 2-bulb, 2-foot long fluorescent fixture showed me that you can get something for around $20. You could hang one of those in your windowsill above the basil. Or if you want to do lots of plants, you could get a 4-foot fixture and put it in a picture window wide enough to accommodate it. The sun will help, too.

5.   Once your plants get more leaves, you can thin them out, eating the small plants. I know that sounds vicious, but it’s what you need to do. Snip them off at ground level, and they won’t come back, effectively thinning them out. Or you could dig them out one at a time and put them into pots.

Baby basil will soon be too crowded to thrive.

6.   If these basil are going to live their lives in a pot, they will need some supplemental nutrition. Potting soil is basically devoid of minerals, and whatever is in the potting soil will wash out with a few heavy waterings. I want to eat on that is grown organically, so I don’t use Miracle Grow or other chemical fertilizer, though it does work. Instead, I recommend a fish or fish and seaweed fertilizer, well diluted.  

7.   If you want to use those extra seeds, good for you! I don’t imagine you used garden soil in your pots, which is good. Garden soil gets compacted and doesn’t drain well. Potting soil is the right consistency for potted plants. I like Moo-Doo brand because it is Vermont made, and organic. If you plan to transplant your next planting in the garden in June, wait until mid-April. You can buy a tray and special containers for seedlings – they come as plastic cells in 6-packs and are available at garden centers.

Planting cells are good for starting seedlings

Importantly, Jennifer, remember that we all start as beginners, and that means there will be some challenges. You will learn as you go. And feel free to ask more questions!

Click here to sign up to get an alert by email every time I add a blog entry if you like! And if you like an article, please share it with your friends. Facebook works great, or just copy the web address and e-mail it to your buddies.

Visit my personal website by  clicking here . I'm the author of 4 gardening books.  

Comments 1

Download the DailyUV app today!