Learn how to grow basil hydroponically and start new plants from seeds and cuttings. We also review the different varieties to choose from that do well with this type of growing and cover all the best practices for success.
Known for its intoxicating aroma and classic Italian flavor, basil is one of the most popular culinary herbs out there. If you love making homemade pesto or just adding fresh basil to your meals, you’ll be happy to learn that this herb is quick and easy to grow in a hydroponics garden.
Once you know how to grow basil hydroponically, you can have year-round access to this plant to use for cooking, drying, or even selling at the farmer’s market.
The Basic of Hydroponics
Simply put, hydroponics is a method of growing plants in water instead of soil. Most systems use a sterile growing medium such as Rockwool or clay pellets to anchor the plants and help keep them upright.
The plants take up nutrients through a nutrient solution which is an efficient way to grow in a cleaner, more controlled environment preferred by some commercial growers.
The hydroponic style of growing works very well for herbs since many of them are compact in nature and quick to harvest. There are several types of hydroponic systems suitable for growing herbs, including vertical towers, small deep water systems that can be a great way to start for beginners.
What Variety of Basil is Best for Hydroponics?
Basil is a wonderful candidate for hydroponic gardening because it grows quickly and takes well to this method of growing. When conditions are optimal, you can start harvesting your basil in just 28 days using a hydroponic system.
But just like with any other plant, some varieties seem to do better with hydroponics than others. Some are faster-growing, others slow-growing, and some are specialty varieties.
Fast-Growing Basil Varieties
Quick-growing varieties go from seed to harvest in as little as 28 days. There are several types of basil that work well for hydroponic gardens.
- Aroma 2: Popular for hydroponics because of its quick growth rate and uniformity. This variety has fewer leaves than more compact types, but it offers Fusarium resistance.
- Genovese: A classic variety for hydroponic growing. Leaves are large and cupped, and plants are fuller than Aroma 2.
- Prospera: Uniform and fast-growing, the Prospera variety offers downy mildew and Fusarium resistance.
- Rutgers Devotion DMR: Productive plants with large, ruffled leaves. This variety offers downy mildew resistance.
Italian Large Leaf Varieties
- Newton: A uniform and fast-growing variety with a traditional Italian flavor. This variety offers Fusarium resistance, large leaves, and high productivity.
- Italian Large Leaf: Fast-growing with larger leaves. The flavor is sweeter than Genovese, and leaves have a flatter shape.
- Nufar: A popular choice for hydroponics because of its fast, uniform growth. This productive variety has large leaves and offers Fusarium resistance.
Slow-Growing Basil Varieties
While many hydroponics growers prefer fast-growing varieties, slow-growing types can work just as well.
- Elidia: Compact, a full plant with large leaves and uniform growth. Classic flavor and aroma with large, cupped leaves.
- Prospera Compact: Offers downy mildew and Fusarium resistance. Classic basil aroma and flavor, with large, glossy, and cupped leaves.
- Everleaf: A highly dense variety with medium-large cupped leaves. Uniform growth with classic aroma and flavor. This variety is extremely slow to bolt.
- Genovese Compact Improved: A full, compact variety with large cupped leaves and classic flavor/aroma.
Compact Italian Large Leaf
- Rutgers Obsession DMR: Offers excellent downy mildew resistance as well as Fusarium resistance. This compact plant delivers high yields, uniform growth, and slow bolting. The flavor is earthier and spicier than the classic Genovese types.
Many specialty varieties of basil are excellent for hydroponics growing. These unique varieties offer different colored and shaped leaves as well as exciting flavors and aromas.
- Red/Purple: These varieties have characteristic red/purple leaves. Dark Opal offers fast growth with ruffled leaves, while Amethyst Improved offers the classic Genovese leaf shape.
- Asian/Thai: A popular category of specialty basil varieties. Flavors are a bit spicier. Leaves are large, plants are tall, and most varieties are fast-growing.
- Citrus: These varieties have a mild lemon scent and aroma. Leaves are a silvery green color.
- Lettuce Leaf: The Tuscany variety in this category offers very large leaves that look like lettuce. Plants are compact and full.
- Greek: The Pluto and Spicy Bush varieties offer a spicier flavor. Plants are more compact, and leaves are much smaller than Genovese varieties.
In general, most hydroponic gardeners prefer the fast-growing varieties of basil primarily because of their quick, high yields. But if you have patience and want to try different types of this popular herb, the slow-growing and specialty varieties are worth it.
Source: Johnny Seeds Hydroponic Basil
How to Grow Hydroponic Basil: Two Ways
Basil is straightforward to grow hydroponically, and there are two main ways to do it: from cuttings and seeds.
Growing your hydroponic basil from cuttings isn’t as complicated as you might think.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- An LED array (check out our article on grow lights for more detailed information)
- Mason jars
- 3” net pot
- Liquid hydroponic basil nutrients
- Rooting hormone for quick plant cloning
- Rockwool grow cube
- Hydroton clay pebbles
- Large jar to mix up your liquid nutrients
- Eye-dropper for measuring nutrients
- Squeeze bottle for easy nutrient distribution
- Clear plastic drinking cups
- Start by rinsing the Hydroton clay pebbles in a sieve, and set them aside.
- Create your liquid nutrient blend. Start by measuring out your nutrients, checking the back label for more detailed instructions. Add your nutrients to your large mixing jar using the eyedropper. Mix it well.
- Add some of your solution to your squeeze bottle.
- Grab your Rockwool grow cube and the plant you want to clone.
- Next, you’re going to snip off your cuttings to use for cloning. Look for healthy stems with nodes that have multiple leaves. Snip about halfway between the node and the main stem of the plant.
- Using your squeeze bottle, apply some of your nutrient solution to the hole in your Rockwool cube.
- Dip the stem of your cutting into the rooting hormone gel. The gel will help clone the plant quickly.
- Place the stem of your cutting into the hole in the Rockwool cube.
- Place the cube and plant into the net pot.
- Fill the pot (all the way up to the top) with the clay pebbles.
- Fill your Mason jar about a third of the way with your mixed nutrient solution.
- Place your net pot into the mouth of the jar. It should fit perfectly and rest just above the water solution.
- Using the squeeze bottle, add more nutrients until the water covers the bottom of the net pot.
- Place the plastic cup over the plant and top of the jar to create a humidity dome. This will help your plant grow roots.
- Leave the humidity dome in place for about a week.
Check the status of your root growth. Once your root system is established, you can transfer your basil to a separate mason jar to continue its growth.
Growing hydroponic basil from seeds is even easier than cuttings. It takes just a few simple steps.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Humidity dome or seed sprouting kit
- Heat pad
- Rockwool cubes
- Hole-less seed tray
To start your seeds:
- Place your Rockwool cubes into the hole-less seed tray.
- Soak your Rockwool cubes in water (while in the tray), and let them sit for about five minutes.
- Next, add your seeds to the holes in the Rockwool cubes. For basil, add about six seeds per cube.
- Grab your humidity dome or seed sprouting kit. It should have a tray and a dome.
- Place your heating mat onto the bottom tray of the humidity dome.
- Sit the hole-less try (with the Rockwool cubes) on top of the heating mat.
- Plug the heating mat in, or place your seeds next to a warm window.
- Place the humidity dome on top.
- Once your seeds have sprouted and grown their first adult leaves, add some diluted fertilizer (half strength works best) to the tray with your cubes to get things moving.
Keep your plants in this setup for about 2-3 weeks or until they are established. Then, you can move them into their permanent hydroponic system.
Check out this video from MIGardener for an easy-to-follow tutorial that shows these steps in detail.
Tips for Success When Growing Hydroponic Basil
While growing basil is not difficult, it does require ongoing supervision and maintenance. Here are a few important tips to keep in mind.
Keep the Air Circulating
Growing hydroponic plants requires a healthy amount of humidity in the air. But it is important not to let the air become stagnant as this can lead to problems such as mildew.
Keep the air circulating around your plants with a good fan and don’t let the humidity get higher than 60% in the greenhouse.
Prune Regularly With Shears
One of the most important ways to keep your basil is to keep it pruned. And since basil grows so fast, daily monitoring is generally recommended especially if you are growing for market.
Start pruning once it has a developed a second leaf node to begin the branching process. Remove any drying leaves that may not have receive enough light to ensure only the healthiest leaves remain. Continue to cut branches as the young basil matures to keep the shape of your plant compact and even.
Choose a Hydroponic Solution that Works Well for Basil
What hydroponic solution works best for basil? For thriving plants, you want a solution that’s high in nitrogen, calcium, and potassium.
Make Sure You Have the Right pH for Hydroponic Basil
Providing your basil with optimal growing conditions is vital if you want healthy, productive plants. Aim for pH of 6.0-6.2.
Provide Your Plants with Enough Light and Heat
Basil needs at least 14 hours of sunlight every day, and temperatures should be 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Warmth is essential for basil, especially when you’re just starting your plants.
Growing hydroponic basil is quick, easy, and fun. It’s a great way to add fresh flavor to your meals, but it can also be a great way to turn your gardening hobby into profits.