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Get a taste of spring: Growing basil indoors

Basil plant. Photo: Mary Meyer, UMN Extension

Fresh greens are truly a sight for sore eyes in white February and March in Minnesota. Fragrant fresh greens feed our eyes and provide a refreshing reminder of summer. 

The scent of fresh basil filled my grocery cart, my car and my kitchen recently when I purchased a potted basil plant from the produce section of the grocery store. Locally grown with about 6 plants in a small pot, I could not resist this fragrant plant. The plant survived the single digit temps that day by being double bagged, completely covered, and getting back inside as soon as possible.

That was 2 weeks ago and the plant is still doing ok. If it lives another 2 weeks that will be a success! Of course, I am removing leaves daily and eating on salads and many other dishes.

Indoor growing requirements

To grow herbs indoors in a Minnesota winter, the plants need the most light possible, full sun is great, supplemental light is a good option for any herbs you want to grow longer than a few weeks. Plants with thin, large leaves like basil may need watered daily indoor in our dry winter homes. Inspect plants closely after purchase and regularly.

Watering, fertilizer & more

Downy mildew has been a new, and very difficult problem on basil.  Remove any off color leaves and discard them, keep the foliage dry, watering only at the base of the plant.  A new mildew resistant form AmazelTM will be available in 2019. If you're interested, here's the link:
https://www.provenwinners.com/plants/ocimum/amazel-basil-ocimum-hybrid
      
Good drainage is essential for herbs--never let them stand in water. The small pot of basil I purchased really requires repotting to a larger container if it’s to grow successfully indoors for a longer time. Fertilizer is not essential for herbs.

Can I grow it from seed indoors?

If you have basil seed left from last year, and potting soil, its easy to start the seed indoors and enjoy as microgreens or grow to larger plants. 

Now is also a good time to sort out your seeds from last year and make a list of what you need for the coming year. Seeds racks are up in garden centers and make a great outing for these white winter days.

For more information see Extension's "Growing Herbs", general info:

Learn more about Basil downy mildew:

Author: Mary H. Meyer, Professor and Extension Horticulturist


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