Purple Basil Problems

garnergardenApril 9, 2014

Hi, I'm new the Rocky Mountain forums and to Colorado gardening in general. I've only dabbled in gardening a few times and it was in Oklahoma, my home state, so still very much getting used to the order of things here.

I have been having some issues with my newly transplanted purple basil... It's obvious in the picture that they are not happy at all with me. The one farthest from the camera seems to be doing pretty good, heck great, in comparison. I am willing to admit blame, as I am sure there is something I've done horribly wrong or am continuing to do with these young plants. I'm pretty sure they are all in varying degrees of transplant shock, since they did not perk up with watering and I had allowed a few day between watering as well. I must admit, they all came in one pot as a cluster and I separated them out to try and give them s bit more space... I feel this may have been a huge mistake.

Long story short, I feel bad and hope to salvage as much of them as I can, since I don't have many to begin with. I'm forced to grow them in containers since this is strictly a balcony garden. I can potentially put them in larger containers or in with companion plants if the risk of moving them again would be worth it. They are currently in a high quality potting soil, Fox Farm, so hopefully that isn't an issue.

Any advice or input is appreciated. Oh, and as for sun conditions... They get full morning sun, sunrise til around 1pm, then it turns into more dappled sun until around 2:30pm, ending in indirect sunlight for the rest of the day. The balcony and windows face east and I have been bringing them in at night when temps dip under 40.

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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Garner,

Too much water! Don't feel bad, you have a LOT of company when it comes to watering more to "help" the plants when they're looking unhappy.

Here's some info from a couple different posts I did recently about watering. Since they're from different posts they might sound a little bit disjointed!

Watering! Anytime you pot something into a new pot you want/need to water it really well, completely saturate the soil. That will help the new soil settle into the pot, and help the new soil settle firmly into contact with the existing soil/rootball. BUT! After you've repotted it and saturated it, THEN is when you want to wait for it to dry "most of the way" before you re-saturate it. Since there are no roots using water in the "new" soil, it'll stay wet longer than the "old" soil that has roots in it. By leaving it dry at least 50% (I recommend more like 70-80%), the existing roots need to "go looking" in the "new" soil for water, so you develop a bigger/better root system MUCH more quickly than if you keep (all) the soil wet all the time. I know it's scary to be looking at plants that look like they're in DRY soil, but what the surface of the soil looks like is pretty much irrelevant. It's how much moisture there is down around the bottom of the root system that really matters.

Roots need both oxygen and water. When the soil is saturated there's very little/no oxygen in the soil, and that causes the roots to rot. The roots don't need to "look" rotted to kill the plant. Once they start rotting they can't take up water anymore, the plant starts to "look bad," and at that point most people water it even more--trying to "help" it. (By the time it starts to "look bad" it's probably too late!) So, besides helping the plant to develop new roots by letting the soil dry to the "current" bottom of the roots, it's also very necessary to leave the soil dry adequately for the plant to thrive. "Saturating" (after the soil has dried) is not a problem because with a "good" (well draining) soil, any excess water starts to drain off immediately and O2 starts to reenter the soil. "Saturating" simply ensures that ALL the soil gets wet. Watering a "little bit" all the time usually just keeps some parts of the soil too wet while others stay too dry. It can really mess with plants, but even if it seems to be working with a particular plant, by keeping just the surface of the soil wet all/most of the time, the roots never need to "look for water," so they never grow very deep, and a good root system is what gives you a good plant. The roots are FAR more important than what you see above the soil!

From what I see I don't think you'll be able to save the bottom one. But let the soil dry most of the way and don't give up till all three of the shoots are obviously dead!

One thing I didn't put in the two paragraphs above! Under watering and overwatering look very, very, very much the same! The plants will start to wilt! The difference is that wilting from under watering won't do serious damage to the plant (unless it's getting "crispy!"), and if it's too dry and you water it'll perk up again. If it's wilting from too much water the roots are usually already starting to rot, and they WON'T perk up if watered more. Under watered plants may not look happy at all, but under watering won't normally kill them, and when they start getting properly watered again they'll recover. If in doubt, don't water.

A couple more things!

Did you make holes in the bottom of the cans/pots? Watering plants in containers without holes is extremely difficult.

Also, When you pot things up into a bigger pot it should normally be just "one size" bigger than the pot you took it out of. As I said above, with too large a volume of soil with no roots in it makes it take a very long time for the soil to dry, and overwatering becomes more likely.

The fact that you separated the plants in a single pot is no problem, but you probably should have put them in smaller pots to get them going again--and then potted them up into the bigger ones. That's just for future reference! I suspect you'd do more harm than help if you tried to repot them into a smaller pot now, but not sure about that. If you can "encourage" the soil they're in now to dry as quickly as possible I think that's what I'd probably recommend--as much direct sun as possible outside, and a fairly warm place when they're inside, but not right on top of a heat vent or something like that----and lots of holes in the bottom! The one on top looks "recoverable" if you can get the soil to dry.

If they do die, just keep smiling (a Rocky Mountain gardening necessity!) and try again! You didn't fail! You just learned one way to not do it!

Welcome to Colorado, and welcome to RMG. We're glad you found us!


    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 1:47PM
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Wow! Thank you for you super quick and very detailed response! I can see this will be a good place to come for help and for information for sure. I definitely drilled multiple holes in any container I had which didn't come pre-drainable, learned that one the hard way lol. I also learn the soil is the most important part, rule lol.

I usually go with the cautious side and underwater... but I assumed they needed to be watered a lot when first transplanted, however, your advise makes complete sense to the contrary. I will let them all dry out a bit, except my strawberries who grow listless and pouty unless I water them frequently lol.

Thanks again for the advice/info and the welcome! :)

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 6:16PM
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You were so right that it's insane! I've stopped watering and they have really perked up. It's been less sunny the last few days with the approaching weather, so drying out has taken a bit more time than I'd like. Thanks to you, I may yet get a good purple basil plant or two this year. Even the pot where they were all laid over has one really strong looking plant, fully standing and another one standing a bit. May only have one actual plant lost.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2014 at 9:23PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Garner,

Thank you so much for coming back with an update! I love to see people succeed with their plants, so it's really nice to know they're "coming back" for you.

I saw on another thread that you have basil seeds, but do you know you can get seeds for the red basils too? 'Opal' is one variety, and 'Red Rubin' is another, but there may be other varieties I'm not familiar with too. Both red and "regular" basil are incredibly easy and fast to start from seed, so you might want to save some money next time with seed instead of plants--tho sometimes the reds from seed aren't "quite as red" as when you buy plants and can see for sure how red it is!

It looks to me like you're a very fast learner--about the holes in pots and using a good potting soil as you posted above. I didn't even comment on your soil in my first reply because from what I could see in the pics it looked pretty good to me! Don't let anybody who knows The Answer to something, anything, scare you off--or confuse you to the point where you give up! Gardening is a lot of trial-and-error, a little bit of help at times, and usually pretty simple and lots of fun in the long run!

Even if you only have the balcony to work with, garden on!


    Bookmark   April 13, 2014 at 4:19PM
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I'd love to try out some of the varieties of basil you mentioned, but it may have to wait until next season. I may be in over my head here with my small space issues lol. I just have so much I would like to do and so little space. Who knows, the way things are going, my husband and I may be able to rent a house by the next growing season. Wouldn't that be wonderful?! To have a yard again!

I do have some heirloom variety of sweet basil (wanna say Genovese or something) seeds which I have started. I didn't think they were going to germinate until yesterday. I had brought the seed flat thing back in and stuck in the window for shelter and sure enough, a few have sprouted. I put all the seedlings back outside today and gave them a little drink. Hopefully more will follow suit, but I prefer not to bring them back in so the other, more developed seedlings don't get leggy. We shall see.

On the fast learner note.... Learning is what I do day in, and day out, especially with gardening. For the past several weeks (since warm weather hit my skin) I have been studying every aspect I can think of on the plants I'm currently growing or intend to grow. My brain doesn't relent easily once fixated on a hobby or subject lol. So... now that I have a balcony to grow on (spent my first year and some odd months in Denver in a tiny apartment, no yard, no balcony.) I'm completely back into gardening. I used to have a huge backyard and large front patio deck for growing things in Oklahoma. I have learned to adapt to the smaller spaces since becoming a dreaded city dweller, but I do long for a little stretching room.

Anyways, got off topic a bit there. Thanks again, and I will post a pic once these babies take off!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 4:06PM
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It's still alive!!! The one pot is doing great, from the looks of it. The other ones are still recovering, but definitely not dead! The struggler got a little rain when I wasn't looking, but it's doing better.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 6:48PM
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