Everything You Need To Know About Growing Hydroponic Basil
Basil is one of my favorite herbs to cook with, and it’s incredibly easy to grow in soil or through the use of hydroponics. In this article, we’ll talk through the ins and outs of making the most of growing basil hydroponically, and I’ll include some products you can use to automate the process.
Additionally, we’ll guide you on the best growth medium and the appropriate sunlight duration needed for new plants to flourish.
Hydroponics, in one form or another, has been around for thousands of years, dating back (at least) to the Gardens of Babylon in the sixth century BC. Hydroponics is the process of growing plants without soil, using some kind of sterile growing medium (like rock wool, leca balls, etc.) for stability and nutrient-rich water.
Hydroponic systems are especially suitable for herbs due to their small size and fast growth rate – and they use less water than traditional gardening methods.\. Several hydroponic systems have been developed to facilitate the growth of herbs like basil, including towers and compact deep-water systems.
Pre-Built Hydroponic Systems For Basil
We’ll talk through an easy way to build a hydroponic system below, but if you want to just buy a product that can grow hydroponic basil, your best bets are likely AeroGarden and Gardyn.
AeroGarden – There are many types of AeroGardens out there – with the smallest only able to grow three plants at a time and the largest growing up to 24. But the hydroponic systems used by AeroGarden are excellent for basil growth. The basil I grew with my AeroGarden Bounty was massive and grew incredibly quickly.
Gardyn – While AeroGarden is likely the best product for specifically growing basil, I actually prefer the Gardyn. It does a fine job with basil (although my basil plants are still bigger in the AeroGarden) and a wide variety of plants. If you want to grow basil, AeroGarden is likely your best bet – but if you want to produce large quantities of greens and veggies, I recommend AeroGarden.
We are affiliates of both of these products and many other hydroponic systems. These are the ones we’ve had the best success growing basil with.
That said, you don’t need to buy anything if you don’t want to. The rest of the article will focus on growing in a system you build from scratch.
Why Basil? Why Hydroponics?
In our community garden in Chicago, there are dozens of small gardening beds, which growers can reserve for the season. Almost all of them are currently growing basil. And even the families that have clearly neglected their gardens are – somehow – still growing healthy basil among their otherwise dying plants.
Similarly, if you walk down just about any street, you’ll likely see a basil plant or two sitting in a window sill. They’re just in traditional soil and a pot and growing very well.
What does this tell us? It shows that basil is incredibly easy to grow. It doesn’t take a green thumb to make a ton of basil. So that begs the question – why do you need to grow basil hydroponically? It can grow in soil either inside or outside, and it doesn’t require much maintenance or space. Meanwhile, growing with a hydroponic system could range from a little more complicated (if you’re growing with Kratky) to significantly more difficult (we’re looking at you, aeroponics!). So again – why are we doing this?
Here are the main reasons I can think of:
- You’re experimenting before you dive into the exciting world of hydroponics – This is probably the best answer. Hydroponics can become pretty tricky. You basically need a green thumb AND an engineer’s pinky (Ring finger? Pointer? The metaphor isn’t great). The point is that you’ll need to build or buy something that your plants can grow in. But basil is a great intro course if you’re trying out hydroponics for the first time. Then, as you become more experienced, you can try other plants.
- You’re making a science project out of it – If you’re teaching a child or student about plants or hydroponics, using this growing method is a good option. In most cases, I would recommend starting with Kratky and working your way up to DWC.
If you’re just trying to grow basil in the winter, it grows well inside with the necessary light. A simple LED grow light is likely all you’ll need to grow this plant traditionally.
All that said – do your own thing. If you still want to grow basil hydroponically, let’s dive into the varieties you should choose.
Basil Varieties Suitable For Hydroponics
Basil, a widely-used culinary herb, is a delightful addition to any herb garden due to its fragrant foliage and spoon-shaped leaves. Here are some basil options we recommend for growing hydroponically.
This is the classic basil choice for hydroponics – its sweet-spicy flavor is ideal for pesto, salads, and various dishes. It grows quickly in a hydroponic setting, and its large leaves make it easy to harvest.
Another hydroponic-friendly variety, sweet basil, has a mild yet sweet flavor that complements salads, sauces, and various dishes. It’s easy to cultivate in hydroponics.
Distinguished by its lemony flavor and tangy scent, Lemon basil is a unique variety perfect for Thai dishes, salads, and herbal drinks. As with the previous two, growing and delivering abundant yields is easy.
Italian Large-Leaf Basil
This popular basil variety, known for its large, tender leaves, is ideal for salads, sauces, and various dishes. Its flavorful leaves are a favorite in Italian cuisine.
Originating from Southeast Asia, Thai basil is a staple in Thai cuisines, offering a spicy, anise-like flavor that enhances soups, curries, and other dishes.
Characterized by dark purple leaves, Purple basil is easily recognized and commonly used in pesto or as a garnish. Its slightly spicy, clove-like flavor with a coppery aftertaste is beloved by many.
Overall, various basil types thrive in hydroponics, and the ones mentioned above are excellent choices for hydroponic growth. Given proper care, these basil varieties can yield bountiful, aromatic herbs for your favorite dishes.
What Hydroponic Systems Work For Basil?
You can grow basil in most hydroponic systems, but a few that come to mind are Deep Water Culture (DWC), Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), and Kratky. Each has its own levels of difficulty and set-up needs. First, let’s look at DWC and how to grow it with basil.
Deep Water Culture Basil
Deep water culture is a hydroponics technique where the plant’s roots hang in nutrient-rich water that’s been oxygenated by a water pump.
This method promotes quicker plant growth due to the roots’ direct access to nutrient-rich and oxygenated water.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) Basil
The nutrient film technique is a hydroponics method in which a thin, continuous flow of nutrient-rich water is looped around the exposed roots of plants inside a sealed trough. The main difference between this and DWC is that NFT has flowing water on its roots. In DWC, the water stays still beyond the movement from the air pump.
If the two options above seem too complex, you should check out the Kratky method, which is straightforward. The basil plant is grown in a reservoir filled with nutrient-rich water. The air pocket between the roots and the water helps aerate the plant.
It’s a straightforward process, but it doesn’t grow plants as well as the previously listed techniques. You can grow a basil plant in a mason jar with the Kratky method.
Optimal Conditions For Growing Hydroponic Basil
Hydroponic basil, like any other plant, can prosper under the right conditions. These include maintaining an ideal temperature, the right light, adding the proper nutrients, and keeping track of the humidity and pH.
Does it sound overwhelming? Don’t fret – we’ve got you covered.
Lighting Conditions For Basil Hydroponics
Lighting plays a vital role in hydroponic plants’ growth, particularly basil. Basil plants require high light levels, with a minimum of 14 hours of light (natural or artificial) daily. For indoor placement, they typically need a south-facing window, but they should also be able to survive in an east- or west-facing window.
LED-grow lights can be used to supplement, especially during the shorter winter days.
Key Nutrients For Basil Hydroponics
Hydroponic basil requires a nutrient mix rich in calcium and potassium, constituting 50% of the plant’s required nutrients.
Nitrogen is crucial for leaf yield, while magnesium plays a significant role in producing essential oils, which lend basil its aroma and flavor. Many liquid nutrient options exist, but my favorite right now is AeroGardens liquid plant food.
Optimal Growth Medium For Hydroponic Basil
Hydroponic plants grow in water and nutrient solutions without soil, requiring a support system for vertical growth. A growth medium provides this support.
Rockwool blocks are good options for basil. Alternatives like coco coir, perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss can be sterilized. Rockwool propagation blocks are often the preferred medium for commercial basil planting, growth, and production. I’ve also had success with LECA, especially with the Kratky method.
Ideal pH For Hydroponic Basil
Hydroponic basil thrives in a pH range between 5.5 and 6.5, with 6.0 being optimal. This is considered a neutral pH.
Maintaining the correct pH is vital for plant health and nutrient absorption. If the pH of the growth medium is too low or too high, the plants may experience nutrient deficiencies or toxicities, hampering their growth.
If you were growing basil commercially – or growing a more difficult plant – I would recommend getting a pH gauge and products like General Hydroponics “pH up” and “pH Down” to adjust your pH as needed. The choice is absolutely yours, but remember – growing basil is easy. It should always be easy. If you ever think – “maybe I’m not qualified to do this,” you’re probably overthinking how to grow basil.
Temperature For Hydroponic Basil
The optimal temperature for hydroponic basil growth is between 65 and 77°F (18-25°C). They like it warm and sunny, so you see them grow so much during the summer.
Prolonged temps above 86°F (30°C) can cause heat stress, leading to stunted growth. On the other side of the spectrum, temperatures below 59°F (15°C) can also negatively affect growth rates or potentially kill the plant.
Harvesting Hydroponic Basil
Harvesting hydroponic basil is a straightforward process, and if you do it the right way, you could theoretically keep harvesting the plant forever.
To do this, the keys are to harvest from the top and not let the plant flower (which can signify the end of its life cycle).
Harvest leaves from the upper part of the plant instead of the base. Removing leaves from the bottom can result in a slender, weak-looking plant. Regularly pruning the central stem communicates to the plant to boost its growth, eventually leading to a more lush and dense plant over time.
If you see any flowers at the top of the plant, just pinch them off. Between pruning and pinching, you should be able to keep your basil alive for a long time.
Growing hydroponic basil at home offers a fun way to enjoy fresh, flavorful basil throughout the year. It provides the advantage of using less water and having high yields while being relatively disease resistant. All in all, hydroponics can be a satisfying and rewarding hobby.
Give it a try, and we’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.