Basil is a lush, aromatic plant that adds spice and flavor to your kitchen and garden. There are several different varieties of basil with varying characteristics, but what you’ll find they all have in common is that they all love sun, heat, and water!
Basil is a luscious herbaceous plant, which means that it requires a lot of water to remain turgid. Herbaceous plants do not have a skeletal framework to keep them rigid as animals do, so they rely on turgor pressure to keep themselves upright and rigid. Turgor pressure is the pressure exerted by water on the plant cell walls. Loss of turgor pressure results in wilting of the plant.
So, if not properly watered, your basil plant may be in danger of wilting and subsequent death. But how often should you water your basil plants?
How Often Should I Water My Basil Plant?
Basil needs approximately 1 ½ inches of water per week. To be technical, if you were growing your basil in a 10-inch diameter pot, that means you would need to use a little more than half a gallon of water per week in order to meet your basil plant’s needs.
How much and how often you need to water your basil will depend on several factors. However, for the most part, you should be watering your basil every 3 to 4 days. These factors are sunlight, heat, rainfall (if plants are outside), and the soil or potting mix your basil is planted in.
Here’s a chart to summarize basil watering frequency per environment:
|Basil Environment||Watering Frequency|
|Outside in a Pot||Every 1 to 2 days, depending on the heat and location of the pot|
|Outside in the Garden||Every 3 to 4 days, depending on rainfall and heat|
|Inside in a Pot||Every 4 to 5 days; Empty the plant saucer after watering|
|Basil Seedlings||Every 1-2 days; Bottom water or mist at first|
How to Water
Believe it or not, there are ways to water your plants incorrectly. The first rule of thumb for watering your plants is to water at the base of your plant instead of overhead. This will reduce the prevalence of disease.
Next, it is important that you water in the morning. By watering in the morning, your plant won’t go through the day being “thirsty” and possibly wilt. Also, this will give the foliage and stems a chance to dry off before the cool, humid night, which also helps reduce the prevalence of disease.
Do not overwater. Overwatering can be just as bad as underwatering. You’ll know that you’re overwatering if a greenish haze (algae) starts to form on the surface of your soil or potting mix. Sometimes it may appear that your soil is dry, but it may just be that the surface has dried out. It seems strange, but the roots of plants actually need to breathe. Yes, they need oxygen just like you and me!
It’s important that the soil has enough air in it that the roots can take in the needed amount of oxygen. If the soil is flooded for an extended period of time, then the roots cannot take in the proper amount of oxygen. Your plants may end up collapsing and dying, or the roots may rot away due to disease if you continually overwater.
A good rule of thumb is to water your plants in the garden when the top two inches of soil is mostly dry (the soil can be moist, but not soggy). What’s the best way to know this? Stick your finger in the soil around your plant. If the soil is dry within the top two inches, then it’s time to water.
Don’t wait until your plants are stressed or wilting to water. Some people are inclined to wait if they know rain is in the forecast. While it is true that plants can recover from being wilted, it is very hard on the plant, and you always run the risk that the plant may never recover.
Watering in Different Scenarios
Before beginning a watering schedule, you need to understand that there are different watering needs at different planting scenarios. Not all basil plants will need to be watered the same amount at different stages. Basil can be a wonderful plant to grow with kids because it’s so easy, but you don’t want to fall into the trap of killing a plant by overwatering. Let’s look at how much you should water at each stage.
Basil is a seed favorite for organic gardening, and non-organic gardening. If you’ve just planted your basil seeds in the garden or if you’ve just sown them in a plug tray, then you’re going to have to make sure you keep a close eye on your baby basil plants until they become hardier. Water the soil gently after planting to help jumpstart germination.
Once the seedlings have germinated, make sure you’re keeping the soil moist, but don’t flood the area. The roots are still very tiny at this stage and as a result, the entire plant may be uprooted. It is a good idea to check on your seedlings every day during this time.
If you’re starting seeds in a plug tray (plastic tray with individual cells or even a small pot), it is probably best to bottom water. This is accomplished by filling up the tray underneath the sheet of cells with water. The water will actually be sucked up through the bottom of the tray into the potting mix/seed-starting mix. This way you don’t run the risk of uprooting baby basil plants. You also don’t want to risk having seed you’ve just sown float off.
If you’re using small pots to start seeds, just make sure that there are drainage holes in the bottom. Set your pot down in a tray of water and allow the water to soak up through the pot. Take the pot out of the water when the surface is moist!
Once the seedlings are bigger, you can wait about every two days to water. When it comes time to transplant your seedlings into the field or into a bigger pot, make sure to give them a good watering at transplant. You’ll also want to perform daily waterings for the following week so that the roots can establish well.
If you’re growing basil in pots, make sure to water every 1 to 2 days, depending on temperatures outside. Stick your finger in the soil of the pot to know whether it is time to water or not. If the top 1-2 inches is dry in the pot, then it is time to water.
I’ve found that clay pots seem to wick away moisture more readily because clay is porous (has microscopic holes in it). Potting mix in plastic pots will remain moist for a longer period of time. This is because water is not able to escape or evaporate from the sides of the pots.
Don’t wait until your basil plants are wilted to water! Also, make sure that your pot has a drainage hole in the bottom if it’s outside. You don’t want a big rain to flood your pot and drown out your plant!
In the garden, basil plants likely only need water every 3 to 4 days. Perhaps even longer if you’ve had steady rain events. Garden soil tends to hold moisture better than peat-based potting mixtures. This is due to the natural presence of clay and organic matter.
If your soil is sandier, you may need to water more frequently because sandier soils drain quicker. You also may need to water more frequently in hot, dry weather. To retain moisture in your soil, you can add mulch around your basil plants.
If your basil is inside, then you’ll likely have to water less frequently. Inside the home, the temperatures don’t tend to fluctuate throughout the day, and let’s face it, not many of us keep our thermostat above 75 degrees F.
Water your basil once every 4 to 5 days, and make sure you’re not overwatering. If you’re watering overhead, make sure to drain any excess water from the plant saucer after it has fully soaked through.
If you’ve made it to the end of this article, then hopefully you’ve learned that basil is a luscious, leafy plant that LOVES WATER. On average, you’ll probably need to water your basil plants every 3 to 4 days, but remember to take into account several factors like sunlight, heat, rainfall, and the substrate your basil is planted in.
Don’t be afraid to get dirty! Stick your finger in the soil if you’re unsure whether to water. If the soil is dry in the top 2 inches, then it’s definitely time to put that watering can to use!