How often to water basil: Tips for success in pots and gardens


A must-grow herb for millions of gardeners, figuring out how often to water basil can be a challenge. Maintaining the ideal watering frequency can mean the difference between a healthy, productive basil plant and one that is wilting, discolored, and suffering. In this article, I’ll discuss everything you need to know when it comes to watering basil, including how much water to use, how often to add it, and what signs to watch for to prevent both over- and underwatering.

Before we dive into watering tips for basil, I’d like to quickly go over the best conditions for basil growth. This is important because if you aren’t growing this herb in ideal conditions, whether or not you water properly isn’t really going to matter. If basil doesn’t have the conditions it needs to survive, no amount of water is going to make a difference. Here’s a quick Basil 101.

Basil (Basilicum ocimum) is a member of the mint family. Like other herbs in this family, it enjoys warm weather and direct sunlight. Basil is a tender annual that does not tolerate cold temperatures. The foliage turns black with even the lightest touch of frost. Wait to plant it outdoors until the danger of frost has passed. In my Pennsylvania garden, mid to late May is the perfect planting time.

If grown in the shade, basil will not thrive, nor will it grow well in cool conditions. At least 6 hours of full sun and high temperatures are best.

Now that you have a handle on the best conditions for growing basil, let’s talk about watering the plants.

Like most other plants, basil exhibits clear signs when it needs to be watered. The leaves wilt, the stems sag, and the entire plant looks droopy and weak.

Unfortunately, by the time a basil plant exhibits these symptoms, it is already stressed. Stressed plants are more prone to pest infestations and diseases like basil downy mildew. They also tend to bolt (produce flowers) prematurely. Basil that has bolted has a slightly different flavor, so most gardeners do everything they can to prevent their basil from going to flower. Keeping the plant well hydrated and unstressed is helpful in that regard, though most gardeners also pinch off the flower buds as soon as they start to develop. The trick to growing amazing, properly hydrated plants is to know how often to water basil so the plants never become stressed in the first place.

This may lead you to wonder if you should put your basil on a strict watering schedule. The answer to this is no. How often to water basil, how much water to add at any given time, and what time of day to add it depends on two primary factors: the age/size of the plant and where it is growing. Throughout this article, I’m going to talk about both of these factors in turn and how together, they influence basil watering.

The best time of day to water basil

If you want to be a responsible gardener, opt to water your basil plants in the morning. You’ll lose less water to evaporation. Plus, watering basil in the morning means the foliage will have time to dry off before nightfall. Wet foliage at night often spells disaster for basil since the spores of various fungal diseases thrive in wet conditions on still summer nights.

The second best time to water basil is in the evening. However, when watering in the evening, it’s important that you target the water directly at the soil around the root zone of the plant. Try your best to keep the foliage as dry as possible.

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