Basil troubles

KayvaanFebruary 12, 2012

So I have a few basil plants that are languishing. They are indoors in San Francisco, so I realize it's an uphill battle.

The thing is I got a grow light and it seemed to make them WORSE. They got yellower and have started flowering! I don't think I over water, I wait until top of soil is dry (usually once a week or so).


1- Can I start over with these plants by pruning all the way down to the very stem? DO I need to leave any leaves? They're so leggy that I would prefer to cut them all the way down.

2- Why would a grow light seem to make them worse?

3- So if light wasn't the problem, and overwatering isn't the problem - then what is? Should I just give up on indoor basil in SF and move to something else?

(Our other shade liking house plants do fine.)


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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

Surely temperatures are not an issue this time of the year for you. Can you grow your basil outdoors?


    Bookmark   February 13, 2012 at 6:59AM
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"They're so leggy that I would prefer to cut them all the way down. Why would a grow light seem to make them worse?"

Leggy means not enough light. Grow lights need to be on 14 to 18 hours a day. I have mine on a timer and they turn off for 6 hours at night. Check this out (copy & paste into browser url).

The plants need to be as close as possible to the fluorescent light source to maximize light intensity, within a couple inches!

I also set the plants outside in direct sun, when weather permits, starting at a young age. So far, this seems to help reduce transplant shock (sun scald, wind damage) when moving them outside for the summer.

I'm in zone 5. I have no zone 10 experience.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2012 at 9:17PM
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With the grow light it's possible that it's not being run for enough time during the day, or it's not strong enough which could be the problem with cheap fluorescent. I'm guessing your grow light is fluorescent. It will flower eventually, especially since fluorescent is spread spectrum. If you had less red wavelengths the plant would not flower.

Since it's already flowered the taste of the herb will start to change. It may be best to start over or experiment with this one.

Here is a link that might be useful: Artificial Lighting for Growing Basil

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 10:37AM
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Claydirt, have you considered further testing to see if the aquarium lights degrade anymore after 6 months? If they're holding their own at months 5 and 6 with a 10% reduction in output, perhaps they'll hold it a little longer, and make swapping the bulbs out a month or two later?

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 11:09PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

You need to leave a few leaves on top for photosynthethesis. I would keep them misted daily. As soon as you can get them outside the better!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 6:34PM
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weedlady(Central OH 6)

Only the top leaves of any plant will benefit from artificial light, plain fluorescent or grow light, doesn't matter. And with basil, as an annual with a finite life cycle, I feel that once it has persistently begun to bolt (which it will do if stressed for whatever reason--including lack of sufficient light) you have lost the battle! Basically, all it is striving to do at this point is set seed in order to ensure the survival of the species!
Also, since the leaves are are yellowing, I am surmising a nutrient deficiency. I'd suggest you start new plants, and if you simply cannot grow them outdoors (really? in CA??) at least try a dwarf species more suitable to a container such as Spicy Globe.
Get a good organic fertilizer --maybe Sea Magic or Neptune's Harvest, maybe add some worm compost to the soilless mix you are using. Just don't try to plant in regular garden soil or commercial potting soil with fertilizer added. Potting soil is too heavy. Use something labeled seed starter, then add your own nutrients as suggested. Or if you must use potting soil, mix it half & half with perlite and maybe even some vermiculite also to lighten it up and make it drain better.

The good thing: you are correct in not overwatering!
Good luck.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 7:51PM
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