What am I doing wrong to my basil?

floramora101July 1, 2013


My favouritest of all the herbs is not looking well. I feed the basil with baby bio herb once a week, and I only water it every 3 days. Can I fix it and this point? I have two basil plants next to each other and they both now look like the photo, yellow/brown leaves or with black specks. I try to remove the black speckled leaves when I see them. The plant IS growing but looking terribly unhealthy!

Thank you!!

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It looks like the plant needs thinning quite some so air can move freely through them. I know what you mean, I am growing 12 herbs but I can't live without basil:) I hope someone else comments on what they think is.... good luck

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 10:39AM
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Ah thank you for the reply, i have pruned the discoloured leaves and that should hopefully thin it out enough! I really hope its not some sort of disease. I've added a photo of the leaves. I might possibly just leave them alone and hope for the best?

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 1:13PM
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balloonflower(5b Denver CO, HZ 5-6, Sunset 2b)

How many stems are still in there? I generally grow basil in pairs, spaced around 6-9" apart. This gives them room to bush out. The thinned out pictures still looks rather crowded.

Also, basil does not need feeding if the soil is decent. Lots of fertilizer causes lots of leaves, but with much less flavor as it dilutes the concentration of oils that give the flavor.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 3:28PM
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oh gosh, stems? Quite a few by the looks of it. I'll show you both plants together...I literally started gardening from the end of spring so im a newbie. thus the panic over the colour of my basil :(
What would you recommend I do? Separate the plants? Prune more?? I bought them from homebase in a pot and I just transferred them into my herb garden. Thank you for your help!

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 3:43PM
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also, is it still edible? sorry for all the Q's!!

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 3:46PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

They are EDIBLE, no matter what. Just pull out some of them and enjoy and let the other one get some elbow room.
But one thing is that I have no clue why they are yellow? is it the variety, is it too much water ? is it too much shade, not enough sun? Pehaps because of being so crowded, they are fighting for food !!

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 10:16PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

I would seperate them. My basil gets about 2 1/2 feet wide when It is only one plant in the ground. I'm not familiar with your fertilizer. I just use a tiny amount of 6-6-6 and my plants are very healthy looking.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 3:15AM
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balloonflower(5b Denver CO, HZ 5-6, Sunset 2b)

Yup, entirely too many stems. While it sounds nice to have all those plants, the reality is that you have lots of not healthy plants, instead of a few healthy ones. I would prune them down to no more than 3 or 4 stems out of each bunch, based on your pics. Also, do some googling on how to pinch (prune) your basil to encourage bushing. It's a good way to grab just a few leaves.

I also agree that they're edible despite the color. If you thin them out and give the remaining stems a chance to adjust, hopefully the color should even back out. The leaves do look like a traditional sweet basil, which is generally a deep green.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 1:34PM
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i get a LOT of sun here in New Orleans, my basil needs to be watered every day, at least the ones in pots
the ones in the ground do OK with normal rain unless it hasnt rained in a week then i water them.
the only thing i use is fish emulsion 1-2 times a month and they do well with that
the roots may be competing with each other also if they are very close

    Bookmark   July 3, 2013 at 12:07PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Pale green/yellow coud be an indication of "N"itrogen and Magnesium deficiency. fertilize with something rich in nitrogen(NO phosphorous is needed) Also disolve one TBS Epson Salt per Gallon and water them.

Another issue could be pH problem. If the soil is TOO acidic, then plants might not be able to intake nutrients. Magnesium sulfate (Epson Salt can increase pH = reduce acidity). At any rate, it will not do any harm at the given dosage.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2013 at 2:36AM
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floramora - I have just realised you are in the UK. I never even attempt to grow basil outdoors here but keep it under glass throughout the summer. Firstly, what you bought in Homebase was lots of basil seedlings, not two plants. US posters are used to growing their basil outside and it gets big. We can't hope to emulate that. I would suggest you thin your basil by cutting out quite a lot of those stems. Each stem is a separate plant. Eat them! They will be fine. Then, since you have already planted it outdoors I would try to find a large transparent plastic container like a 5l mineral water container with the top cut off, a cloche or some other kind of mini greenhouse and place it over your basil. We just don't get enough heat to grow good basil outside, especially not this year. There is no problem with pH, minerals or anything else that complicated - almost all our soils are fairly neutral and have adequate nutrients unless you live in Ireland, Scotland, Dartmoor or parts of Cornwall.

It's just too COLD here. That's why your plants look peaky.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2013 at 4:57PM
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the yellowing could be either an airflow issue or an over fertilization issue. I planted mine in an organic potting mix, added some eggshells and a little bit of liquid powdered kelp. three months later I gave it a little bit more liquid kelp and a half teaspoon of epsom salt. All nine basil plants are about two feet tall and pleasingly bushy.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 3:58PM
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Katheryniridaceae - it's not that complicated and none of that fiddling about is necessary. The OP is in the UK and the basil is simply too COLD. It never really thrives outdoors here. It is also too crowded as a pot of seedlings was purchased and not split up. I grow mine from seed and keep it under glass all summer and it is perfectly happy in ordinary potting mix with adequate water.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 7:05PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

The OP is in the UK and the basil is simply too COLD
Flora, is the weather the same all across UK ?.

@ katheryn
You said:"The OP is in the UK and the basil is simply too COLD "

I have never heard that: The common reason for yellowing is the plants inability to get nutrients, especially nitrogen and Magnesium and/or lack of sunlight. It can happen due to cold too, which again goes back o the nutrients absorption from cold soil.
The problem( a major one) about the posters (most of them) is that they just describe their problem without any description of their growing conditions. How would I know the OP is somewhere in UK that it is so difficult to grow Basil outdoors ?

In the US, it is common for the poster to include his/her USDA zone number, Which give SOME clue about the climate but even that is not reliable. Now they have come up with a new concept, i.e, HEAT ZONE number. That is what can be useful when it come to vegetable gardening. For example, I am in USDA zone 7B and HEAT ZONE 1. There are 7B zone(down south) that their HEAT ZONE number is 10.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 10:50AM
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Flora, is the weather the same all across UK ?.

Yes, seysonn - the climate is pretty much the same all across the UK with far less variation than in the US. Remember, many of the States are larger than our entire country. Essentially the majority of the country can be treated as one zone. In fact we don't even use a zone concept here since everywhere is roughly the same. It is quite possible UK posters have no idea what the zone box is for and wouldn't know their zone anyway. I had to look mine up but although it says 8/9 that really only fits for the minimum temperatures and gives no comparison with a US 8/9. There is nowhere here where it is reliably hot enough to grow large healthy outdoor basil plants without some sort of protection. Outdoor plants are usually runty and often ill looking. Some years it will do OK but it is a gamble. This year we have had (and when I say we I mean the entire country), the coldest least sunny spring and early summer for 50 years. We also have pretty much universally reasonably good soils so nutrient problems are not a common issue, especially for Mediterranean herbs like basil.

Although, the OP's zone is not at the head of the post he/she said they bought the plants at Homebase, which is a UK store, and fed them with Baby BIo, a UK product, so I then checked their location and it said UK. Also I can usually tell by the language whether a poster is US or UK based, although sometimes the Canadians confuse me a little ;-)

Bottom line is - basil, like tomatoes, is not suited to outdoor culture in the UK. It can be done but it is a project and is often a failure. Plus the OP did not separate the multiple plants. No amount of tinkering with feeding will overcome this. They need to be separated and protected.

This is my basil - indoors in a container.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2013 at 8:00AM
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The problem is worse for basil because it is not a Medterranean, it is much more tropical than that. Basil was introduced into the Mediterranean from India!

We have a similar problem within the United States in comparing our own hardiness zones. For example, I am Zone 7 but a northeast coastal Zone 7, so my winters are more persistently cold than southern Zone 7's (though technically in the same zone because we share the same minimum expected temperature). Then, there are western zones in the USA where the Eastern US zonal system (which though flawed is very useful) totally breaks down. There are, for example, some subtropicals that I can grow which fail in some milder western zones because of a relative absence of prolonged season of subtropical heat. (Something about the wood not having adequate heat to ripen.--Which I never really understood.) Still, in the nursery industry heat zone information is seldomly provided in my experience (unfortunately).

Good luck with the basil!

P.S., the tropical origins of basil give it an advantage in northern homes over the winter as they seem to resent the indoor life less than True Mediterranean herbs.

This post was edited by njoasis on Sun, Jul 14, 13 at 15:22

    Bookmark   July 14, 2013 at 12:56PM
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