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How to Transplant Basil Plants (8 Steps for Doing it Right)

One of the simplest herbs to grow indoors for transplanting into the garden is the fast-growing basil. Transplant shock is always a risk, so extra caution is required. However, you can transplant basil without being a gardener. Follow these 8 steps to transplanting basil plants…the right way.

Steps in transplanting basil plants.

The breed of plant that we have all grown to love in many a favored savory dish is basil. Many of us love it so much that the thought of purchasing it seems so bland. Why not have it in your home or garden where you can enjoy it whenever you want? Basil is an easy plant to grow, but it is also a plant that is easy to grow fast.

The simple answer to that is transplanting the basil when you need to. But transplant shock is always going to be a risk, no matter what plant you are moving from one size of container to another. You can transplant basil without having to be a gardener. Follow these 8 steps to transplanting basil plants…the right way.

1. Start With Your Seedlings

A woman's hand putting basil seeds on small pot.

Every basil transplant story starts with seedlings. Here, you are going to put your seeds in the soil in tiny containers and begin to grow your basil from babies. Start by filling your containers with one-half inch of soil and then scattering your seeds across the top of that soil. You can use many containers or one large one with many seeds.

You want a soil that is nutrient-rich, and general potting soil from your local supermarket or garden center will do. This shouldn’t be more than five dollars or so, and you can purchase a large bag for a large amount of planting. General dirt from outside will not work as well for seedlings.

You want something rich in nutrients so that your seedlings have a lot of food to work with while they are starting as baby basil until they become the mature plants that you will love. Once you have covered the bottom of your tiny pots, you will cover the seedlings with one-quarter inch of soil.

Moisten the soil lightly with a mist or a small drink of water, and then gently press the top of the soil with the bottom of your hand. Now you will wait. This is going to be approximately two weeks of waiting for your seedlings as they germinate.

In the meantime, you want the basil to stay nice and warm, preferably at room temperatures of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Put your basil under a nice bright light or in windows with direct sun. You will water and mist over time while your basil is sprouting.  Within two weeks, the leaves will begin to emerge from the top and the roots from the bottom. It is going to be time to transplant soon.

2. Harden the Seedlings

Basil sprout on small pot near the windowsill.

To harden the seedlings, you are going to just get them used to more light. You will do this gradually. Basil is a very gentle herb, as much as it is a hardy plant. You want to grow them under the light for approximately two weeks, after which you will put them in more light, gradually increasing their time in the light every day.

Spend the time increasing the amount of light they are exposed to every day until your seedlings can tolerate the middle of the day sun without getting tired. At the same time, you want to keep giving them a little more water daily. You will see that the amount of sun they receive will dry out their water supply significantly.

You can put the seedlings facing the south so that they don’t get too cool overnight. Get them used to being near the sun over time, with a little more direct sun every day. You can even get the seedlings accustomed to the outside time by leaving the pots or tray of seedlings outside overnight. It hardens them and gets them ready for the transplant.

3. Start Preparing the Transplant

A woman preparing raised bed for basil.

It is time to take the seedlings outside for good, or to the bigger containers for good when the last frost has passed. You want the outside temperature to reach at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and you want the evening temperatures to be no cooler than 50 degrees. When this temperature has arrived for the season, it is transplant time.

You are going to be looking for a bed to transplant to that is fertile and has soil that will drain quickly. Even clay soil or one that is sandy in texture will work. Consider your compost, as adding three inches of compost on top of the soil will be good for the basil.

The best time to transplant the basil will be in the morning. Their first full day outside or in bigger pots will be a big day. You want them to have the day to get accustomed to the direct sunlight.

Plan your spacing by preparing ten inches of space in between each basil plant. Now, the spacing will matter where it didn’t when you were just germinating seedlings. If it is your first time, this will feel like a lot of space, but you will soon see the miracle of how basil can cross-pollinate on its own rather quickly.

If you are ever unsure of when it is time to transplant, you will know by the size of the seedlings. You are looking for at least two leaves on the seedling, and you want to know that the roots are at the bottom of your pots.

In some cases, if your pots or seedling containers have holes in the bottom, you may see the roots coming out of the bottom. When there are two leaves in each seedling, it is a good time to start thinking about the transplant. You can wait a little longer than this if you are worried the seedlings won’t be strong enough.

4. Separate the Seedlings

A gardener separating basil plants.

It is now time to begin separating the seedlings and getting them ready for transplant. Here you are going to begin by removing and discarding the smallest seedlings or pinching them off so that they can continue in their containers. The smallest seedlings will die off if they are not growing right, and they will no longer compete with the larger ones for nutrients and moisture from the soil.

The seedlings that separate and die off may even provide more nutrients for your larger and healthier seedlings. For the rest, you are going to focus on separating the seedlings without damaging their roots and root systems. You will do so by separating the plants as gently as possible. You want to hold each seedling as loosely as possible, and it is safe to do so by the leaves now.

Gently pull the seedlings from the container without separating them from the roots. You will see them easily separate from the soil if the root system has germinated well. Don’t worry if you have never done this before, it can be a scary task as you don’t want to harm the seedlings you have nurtured for weeks.

You can always use a fine tool such as a toothpick in order to untangle the seedlings and their roots from the soil. The roots are the most important component of the plant now. Once you have a seedling and its root system, you are ready for the transplant.

5. Choose Your Containers or Location

A woman's hand holding basil seedlings.

Now you are ready to choose the location for your basil’s new home. You want a large pot that has some drainage holes in it. The pot should be at least five to seven centimeters in diameter.

You can expect a fully grown basil plant to reach at least two feet tall. You will want a pot that can sustain that. You don’t need something too large at first, you can even transplant it again when the basil gets very large.

In addition to choosing your containers, you need to choose your soil. You can use the same potting soil here, or at least choose one that is very similar. You want soil that will drain well and has a neutral pH. For many indoor transplants, adding gravel to the bottom of your container will help to improve drainage.

6. Harden the Transplant

A man's hands holding a group of basil seedlings.

You are going to harden the transplant in the same way that you hardened the seedlings. You can do this by simply leaving them outside for a little bit of time at a time. This step is especially important if you are going to be bringing the basil outside for good.

If the temperature at night is not over 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you don’t want to do this step yet. Keep them inside and in warmth until you can begin to harden your transplants.

When you are ready to transplant, choose an area in your home or your garden where your basil will get at least six hours of direct sun every day.

7. Begin the Transplant

Transplanting basil to garden.

Now you are going to begin putting the seedlings into bigger pots. You will transplant and plant your basil here the same way you did with your seedlings, and you are just going to have bigger plants to work with. Start by sprinkling the bottom of your containers with the soil that you selected in the previous step. You want to have at least one inch of soil here.

If your seedlings have become plants, you want to gently turn their pot upside down and slowly and softly apply pressure to the surface of the pot. This will allow the plant to slide out naturally.

Take this plant and put it on the surface of the soil in the new container that has approximately one inch of soil in the bottom of it. You can fill the container with more soil than this if you want your basil to become a large plant.

You want the root ball of your basil to be just above the soil line, either indoors or outdoors. If you are planting outside, you want the roots to be just above the soil. If you are transplanting inside, you want the roots to be one inch above the rim of the pot container.

Once the basil has been transplanted, outside or indoors in a new container, sprinkle the area around it with more soil. Gently tuck and tamp down the soil around the transplanted basil. Now it will be time to water the transplanted basil. If you are transplanting indoors, you will need to move the basil to the sun.

8. Prevent or Treat Transplant Shock

A healthy basil plants in raised beds.

You will know that your basil has transplanted well in time, but you won’t know right away. In the meantime, you have to watch your plant for transplant shock. Transplant shock occurs when plants get accustomed to one habitat and then are moved to another. Even if the next habitat or location is very similar, or even better, than the area they are moving from, they can suffer greatly.

The reason this shock can occur is because plants are meant to live outdoors and stay in one place once they grow. They are not used to moving around and changing locations. Your basil may experience some shock during this process.

Try to avoid moving the root ball around or even touching it too much when you are moving the basil plant. You don’t want to bother the roots at all here. You may be tempted to shake the dirt off of the roots in order to transplant them. Try not to do that. Keep as much of their original dirt and soil on the roots as you can.

You also need to make sure you get the entire root when you are transplanting, or even the entire root if possible. The more of the root or root system that you can transplant, the less likely you will have to deal with transplant shock.

To treat transplant shock, water and nurture your basil as much as possible. Fertilize every few weeks and focus on watering your basil without overwatering it. You want to keep those roots nice and moist for the remainder of their growing period. From here on out, it is just a matter of waiting for the beautiful and fresh basil to arrive.