Green Patch: Growing Basil From Seeds

For the Beginner

Growing basil from seeds

Question: I’m intrigued by the many varieties of basil—cinnamon, lemon, lettuce-leaf, purple, Thai, etc.—but our local garden center sells transplants of only common basil. When I asked them about other kinds, they said I’d have to grow the plants myself from seeds. I’ve never done that before. Can you give me some tips?

Answer: Raising seedlings takes a little planning and patience, but it isn’t difficult and the results are very gratifying. Most of the seed and herb companies that advertise in The Herb Companion sell basil seeds. Study the catalogs and place your order early. Just one packet of each variety you choose will contain far more seeds than you need for a single growing season, so save the extras for future use by refrigerating seed packets in a plastic or glass container with a tight-fitting lid.

Although basil may be sown directly in the garden, sowing outdoors requires close attention and good luck. Sowing indoors is safer because you can protect the plants and provide ideal conditions. Here’s a simple method that works well for growing small quantities of several varieties.

• Timing. Ask local gardeners when it’s safe to plant basil, tomatoes, or other heat-loving crops outdoors. Count backwards about eight weeks from that date to determine when to sow basil seeds indoors.

• Indoor setup. A windowsill isn’t an ideal place to grow seedlings because it tends to be too hot on sunny days, too cold at night, and too dark on cloudy days. Instead, grow your seedlings under artificial light. An inexpensive shop-light fixture with two ordinary 40-watt, 48-inch fluorescent bulbs will illuminate six to eight dozen seedlings in small pots.

Choose a room where air temperatures range in the 70s by day and high 60s at night. Hang the light fixture from the ceiling or support it on blocks so that the bulbs are about 12 inches above the surface where you will set the pots of seedlings. Plug the lights into a timer so they will turn on automatically at about 7 a. m. and off at 11 p. m.

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