Basil is one of most popular plants in herb gardening around the world, and their flavorful leaves are a wonderful addition to any home cooking. However, for those who do not live in a tropical climate where Basil can thrive all year round and easily reseed themselves, it could be a challenge to keep your Basil growing healthily during the winter months.
Basil is an annual plant. Unless under an optimal condition, it does not survive the next season. However, you can extend the plants’ life until the winter months (or even beyond) and enjoy the tastiest leaves based on these simple rules.
1. Collect Seeds. Many seasoned herb gardeners know the secret of pinching away Basil flowers so that the plant can focus all its energy to produce the healthiest, vibrant leaves. However, if you plan to grow basil year after year, it may be wise to let a few basil plants to flower and produce seeds, so you can collect and store them for next year.
What you should do:
- Let the flower blooms and then withers and turn dry. Then, if you look up from below, you will see tiny black seeds attaching to the dry flower pods.
- Wait until the flower is dried, then cut them out, put them in a plastic bag and shake it. The seeds will be nicely collected in the bag.
- Please note that there is no need to shake it too forcefully — if some of the seeds refuse to detach from the flower, it might mean that they are not fully matured.
2. Transfer Basil Indoors. Basil originates from Central Asia and Africa where the temperature never falls below the 40s. If you live in an area where the temperature can fall below 45F (7C), you should seriously consider transferring your Basil indoors.
3. Give It A Nice Haircut. Before transferring your Basil in pots, it is a good herb gardening practice to prune your plant. There are many advantages: First, during the pruning process, dead or unhealthy leaves and branches are removed and so the nutrients will not be wasted to these unproductive part of the plant. Secondly, a proper pruning ensures good ventilation, which is very important in keeping the basil plant free from fungus and harmful insects. As a general rule, Basil and most herbal plants can be pruned back by one third, and no more than two-thirds.
4. Give It A Nice Shower. This is another simple yet important step in Basil care before winter arrives. A hearty shower to the plants can wash off the insects, larvae and eggs that may have stuck on the Basil leaves. For best results, insecticidal soap can be sprayed on the plant, once a week for a few weeks, before the actual transfer to ensure your Basil is completely free of these annoying little animals.
5. Pick A Bright Spot At Home. Basil is a sun lover, so it is natural that you should place the potted Basil in a sunny spot. You Basil will be happy if they can get 4-6 hours of direct sunlight. An ideal place would be the south and/or west corner which is typically the warmest part of your home.
6. But Not Too Close To The Window. This applies if your windows are not well insulated. While this area is usually the best sunny spot, the Basil can be damaged during the night chill when temperature drops to 40F or below, as the window is usually the least insulated part of your home.
7. Do Not Over-Water. Although Basil needs more water than the Mediterranean herbs (e.g. Rosemary), the herb can’t survive over-watering, especially if the soil or pot does not drain well. In particular, don’t let the pots sit in saucers full of water for a long period because when the roots cannot breathe they will quickly rot and die.
8. Air Circulation. Many herb gardening practitioners understand the importance of sun and water for the Basil. But most didn’t realize that keeping the spot airy is very essential for the health of the plant, especially for growing Basil in pots. Why? Air circulation is naturally poorer in an indoor environment, and your Basil (as well as other herbs and plants) are more succumb to fungal diseases. The solution includes a proper pruning to create more space for each individual leaves, as mentioned in Rule #3. The pots should not be placed too closely to each other for the same reason.
9. Do Not Over-Feed. Basil is not a typical herb in a way that it loves to be fed. Having said that, since its growth decelerates when the summer is over, it is important not to overfeed the plant as it enters its dormant period.
10. Check The Leaves Regularly. Because of its strong flavor, Basil is resistant to most harmful insects, but fungal disease may attack the plants in a cool, stale environment. It is always a good practice to check the leaves regularly for signs of mildews and other diseases, and all the affected leaves and stems should be removed immediately to avoid spreading to the whole plant. By “all” the leaves, I really mean it — If it means 80% of the plant, so be it! Having said that, if you follow the rules above, your leaves should stay healthy, vibrant and strong for the rest of the months at your home. Enjoy your herbal harvest, and best wishes to your Basil care success!