It doesn’t matter where you live. Having basil plants means that you need to have a cool temperature plan for them, and that will mean covering them. A basil plant will only last a few months and will ultimately drop its seeds. In many gardens, those seeds will one day become new plants, but it will take some time for them to germinate and become something wonderful.
In the meantime, you want the plants, and their dropped seeds, to stay warm in the cooler temperatures. Use this guide when you are starting to cover your basil plants, and you will always have warm basil seedlings ready to go when the season starts again.
Related To: How to Bring a Dead Basil Plant
The Seasonal Temperature Cycle of Basil
Basil is a hardy plant, but not when it comes to the cold. The best way to start with your basil every year is by planting the seedlings inside before you can bring them outdoors. This will give your plants the time they need to adjust to warmer temperatures inside before you take them outside. They will have a chance to grow in the cooler temperatures without the cold bothering them.
Depending on when you start, you may still even need to keep them covered inside. Indoors or outdoors, there are a number of ways to cover your basil plants. But you’ll want to understand what basil needs temperature-wise first.
You can get fairly cold with basil, even close to freezing. Try to make the efforts to keep basil warm when the temperatures, indoors or outdoors, reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit. You can still grow basil if it has been exposed to 32-degree Fahrenheit weather, but this will be a challenge. You might see some evidence of cold damage if you play it too cold for the basil.
You don’t want to bring basil outside until it is at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the evenings, as a general rule of thumb. If you put them out sooner than this, covering will need to be a priority.
A good rule of thumb that many gardeners go by is the first and last frost rule. The first frost in the Fall is the dreaded date gardeners have grown to loathe. This is the time of year when you have to start covering everything up again. The last frost in the spring is the time when you can begin to put your plants out again. Playing with these dates could be disastrous for your plants.
You might see local frost warnings on your local news, so keep your eyes and ears tuned to the weather updates when you are planning on bringing plants outside or taking them inside, or covering them up for the season. Weather apps or gardening apps with weather updates can help you here as well.
When it comes to planting basil, it can be very tempting to want to get it outside as soon as possible. You may live in an area where you get a nice warm or humid snap in the middle of April and just be aching to get everything outside. Don’t do it if the last frost has not yet arrived or if the evening temperatures are still higher than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Planter’s Way of Keeping Basil Warm
If you are keeping basil outside in the winter and it is in pots or planters, do your research on what is the best pot or planter to do that in. You may need to replant or transplant some of your basil when you are doing that. Or, you may want to start the season with this plan in mind so that you don’t have to transplant basil when the temperatures are lower. You also may not have a choice.
If your basil grows larger over the season, as is the plan, obviously, you may have no choice but to transplant it into a larger container. Fiberglas containers are the best containers to use when it comes to retaining warmth. If you have basil that is outdoors all year long, put your basil in fiberglass containers, and it will be able to withstand cooler nights a little easier.
Putting those containers in the garage is just as doable for your basil plants as bringing them inside when they are in fiberglass containers. Fiberglass is not only durable and beneficial when it comes to heat retention, but it is also a very lightweight material and can be transported very easily.
The Many Ways of Covering Your Basil Plants in Winter
There are many ways of covering your basil plants in winter. Each one requires just a little bit of planning. Bedsheets, plastic sheets or tarps, large buckets, and cloches are the most common kinds of coverings for basil plants in the winter. Mulch is also a very common covering for basil over the winter as well.
Cardboard boxes are known to work also, but not in temperatures where there is going to be a lot of precipitation. If you have basil in the greenhouse and it will be covered, newspaper and cardboard boxes will work beautifully to keep basil warm over the winter months.
Plastic is a great tool to use outdoors, and you can create entire row covers with plastic. If you have never covered plants before, then you have likely driven by rows of plants covered in plastic for the season. If you have a lot of basil in rows, sheets of plastic held at the sides with stakes called row covers are ideal choices for covering over the winter.
It is imperative that you make sure that the plastic does not touch the leaves of the plant, or it will have an impact on the plant, trapping moisture that it can not afford to trap during the colder season. You can avoid this by using fleece as a row cover if you are not sure about using plastic, and this will help to insulate basil during the colder months.
A cloche is another ideal way to cover basil plants. These are small dome-style coverings that you can put right over your basil plant to keep it warm over winter. This is a protective tool that will prevent your basil from coming into contact with frost or inclement weather.
This method is ideal for fickle weather and climates. You may not want to go to the trouble of creating row covers, and a cloche over each of your plants may suffice until you have a permanent winter solution.
Cloches offer excellent protection but are not the most affordable type of plant cover. Another similar solution is the upturned bucket, which can be placed over plants to help basil survive cooler temperatures or winter. You can purchase these at a dollar store or garden center. This can be an affordable solution if you don’t have a lot of plants to cover.
Buckets and cloche coverings are useful as a temporary winter solution as well. You may not want to keep buckets on your plants over the winter if you live in a seasonal climate where poor weather may upturn the cloche or the bucket. Buckets and cloche coverings work well until you can find a more permanent solution to insulate your plants all winter.
When you are using either a cloche or a bucket, you have to watch the outdoor temperatures for when they begin to go back up again. These covers can lead to your basil overheating if it is too warm outside. Once the temperatures are in a seasonal range, with the temperature at night over 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you may want to take the covers off for the season.
A makeshift or pop-up greenhouse is another way that many gardeners help their plants survive the winter. You may want to have one in use all year long, or you may want to set one up just before the cooler temperatures arrive.
This is an ideal solution if your basil can be moved. These are tiny sheds that you can build that copy greenhouse conditions so that your plants can survive in cooler temperatures.
A pop-up or makeshift greenhouse is much like a small shed that you build. You can place your plants here just before the cold weather comes and also use the greenhouse as a location to start your seedlings when spring arrives as well. This is a good solution for a milder climate.
The Joys of Mulching
Mulching is a gardener’s chore that is as common as weeding. Mulching occurs when you lay a layer of mulch at the base of your plants to insulate them through bad weather and cooler temperatures. You can put it around the stems of your plant or cover your entire garden bed with mulch. Mulch can also be very attractive if you want to use it for aesthetic appeal as well.
Mulch is commonly used by gardeners because it helps to keep the moisture in the garden beds, even in gardens that will freeze over the winter. It also helps to keep weed growth to a minimum during the spring and summer months. Mulching offers a lot of benefits, and this is why so many gardeners use it as a go-to every single year.
One thing that happens to gardens every year is the heaving of soil when the temperature goes up and down. When this happens, the soil freezes and then thaws freezes and then thaws. You will notice marks in your soil or shifts in the flatness of the planes of your gardens.
Mulch can really help to prevent this by keeping the areas of your soil even around your plants. When your garden undergoes a lot of different freeze or thaw cycles, it may disrupt the soil around your basil and could even pull the basil out slightly during a thaw after a freeze.
Mulch works wonderfully to maintain consistency in both the moisture and warmth that basil needs and is effective for that for basil all year round. You want to add approximately three to five inches of mulch to the soil as soon as you start gardening for the season. You won’t want to add it throughout the season. The beauty of mulching is that as much as it is a chore, you only have to do it once.
The best things to use for mulch are chopped cedar chips, straw, and dead leaves from the winter. You can purchase mulch or make it yourself from organic material that you may already have lying around your home or garden.
Other kinds of mulch include grass clippings and compost. If you have a natural mulch that is going to break down naturally, the cleanup after the winter is even that much easier. It is also healthier for the plant, as the nutrients in the mulch will break down and feed into the soil below.
If, after trying all of these methods, you are still worried about your plants getting cold over the winter, a common gardening trick is to add portable holiday lights that use battery packs to the base of basil plants.
Once your plants are covered, you can add lights to the base of the plants, and this will heat up the plants over the winter or help them to retain some warmth in the months when the temperatures drop to near zero. Holiday lights will add warmth, but you don’t want to use them as a sole tool in keeping your plants warm over winter. You will still need something to cover your basil.