Hints for sowing basil, cilantro, etc.

nygardener(z6 New York)June 19, 2005

I've just planted out the basil I sowed indoors in April, and it seems to be taking off in the garden. Cilantro is already starting to bolt.

For later crops, I'd like to get a new batch started every couple of weeks. Of course, the danger of frost has now passed. I'm reluctant to sow directly into the garden because a hot spell might dry out the seeds or seedlings, but I don't want a flat of plants to bake indoors either. (Since I'm away sometimes for several days at a time, I can't check on them daily.)

I suppose I could have the drip irrigation system come on for a few minutes each morning to moisten the seed bed (and the rest of the garden), and/or leave the air conditioning on while I'm away to keep the seedlings at a steady temperature.


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I always sow my basil late to avoid having to mess with it indoors.

Take a discarded empty flat that is used to house 4-pack or 6-pack bedding containers. The open mesh ones will work the best, but if you can't find one of them, just make sure the one you use has plenty of drainage holes ... if not, make some.

Entrench the flat into an empty place in your garden that is not exposed to long hours of direct drying sun. You need some sun, obviously, since we are dealing with basil ... just not long long hours of intense drying sun. Mound dirt up around the tray so that it encases the tray and will help retain moisture in the potting soil.

Fill the flat with potting soil that has a good measure of spagnum moss and vermiculite incorporated to retain moisture. Pack the potting medium very firmly into the flat. Saturate the potting soil. Sow the basil seeds with an inch or so of space between the seeds and cover the seeds with very little potting mixture ... say twice the diameter of a seed. Gently tamp the covering soils to hold the basil seeds where you placed them.

Water your makeshift sprouter daily, adding some Miracle Grow type fertilizer at about 1/4 to 1/2 the rate recommended about once a week.

While you're gone, the seedlings will send roots down through the mesh to get moisture if you happen to get a meshed container, which works best for this.

When you're ready to transplant, use an old dining tablespoon to scoop out the small seedlings. I usually transplant when the seedlings are very young ... with about two or three sets of leaves (not counting the seed pedals)... since basil sends down such a long tap root so quickly.

I use this method through June and would still plant seeds this way today if I weren't already the proud foster parent of dozens of orphaned basils awaiting adoption.

Regards, Bill

    Bookmark   June 20, 2005 at 10:01AM
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nygardener(z6 New York)

Those are good ideas, Bill. Sowing into flats and leaving them outdoors in a moist, semi-shady spot should let them sprout without baking, and once they're up and have put down roots managing moisture is much easier. Thanks!

    Bookmark   June 20, 2005 at 12:50PM
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Thanks for the tips. Do you know if it's a good idea to mound dirt around the base of basil to give the stem more support? Or will this rot the stem? What herbs are safe to mound dirt around the stem?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2013 at 2:27AM
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