Grow Guide: Reviving Basil

Without a warm greenhouse, your best choice for growing this sun- and warmth-loving summer annual during the winter is in a sunny window.
Sweet Genovese is Intensely Aromatic Basil

Sweet Genovese is Intensely Aromatic Basil

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Q: My little herb garden did so well this year I decided to try growing basil in my kitchen window over the winter. But the leaves wilted and turned black on one side. Could it be too much sun through the window?

ANSWER:

As much as I enjoy the different kinds of basil in my little herb garden all summer and fall, I really pine for fresh basil in winter, when I cook more soups and sauces. Luckily, I have a tiny greenhouse attached to my cabin that is warm enough for me to grow enough to get by.

By the way, I’m a basil purist. Though I use homemade basil vinegar on salads and for dipping bread, and have frozen pureed basil and water in ice trays, I personally don’t preserved basil. And basil steeped in olive oil can quickly develop mold. To me, fresh basil is best.

So without a warm greenhouse to keep plants in, your best choice for growing this sun- and warmth-loving summer annual during the winter is in a sunny window, which is an “iffy” spot for a couple of reasons.

Heaters remove humidity

One common problem is how the draft from a heating system can suck away all the humidity this soft-leafed plant requires, which may cause the symptoms you have described. This can be prevented by deflecting the dry air from the basil — perhaps with a small pane of decorative glass, or by covering the plant with an open-topped terrarium. You make the latter from a large clear cola bottle with the bottom cut off, but be sure to leave the top open to allow excess heat from sun streaming through the window to escape.

Windows can “radiate” cold several inches into a room

But I think the real culprit is the window itself. Unless you have well-sealed double pane windows, during the winter window glass can lose heat very quickly. On a cold day, put your hand close to the window and notice how chilly the air next to the glass is – it can seem as if the window is radiating cold.

If leaves of basil, African violets, or other very tender plants are very close to the window — or worse, touching the panes directly — then the leaves will be quickly damaged and turn black. It has happened to the best of us.

Just pinch off the bad parts of the plant, and move it back from the window a little, but remember the heater draft thing coming from the other direction. Your basil should put out some new growth very quickly. In fact, the pinching or snipping off new growth that comes from regular culinary use, and of course watering and light feeding with a potted plant fertilizer, will keep your basil plant full of healthy new growth.

Gardening expert and certified wit Felder Rushing answers your questions and lays down some green-wisdom. You can get more of your Felder fix at www.slowgardening.net.

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