Basil is a staple for any herb garden. It’s also one of the easiest herbs to propagate.
If you’re looking to grow some basil plants for yourself, there are plenty of places to purchase basil seeds and seedling plants, or if you have patience, you can grow basil from cuttings.
Propagating basil will take longer, but the result of growing multiple plants from basil sprigs can be an exciting experience.
Like other herbs, basil can easily be grown in many growing zones in the United States (including PA growing zones) and throughout the world.
But how do you start propagating basil? Let’s dive into the process for propagating your very own basil plant using a fresh basil sprig.
Can basil be grown from cuttings?
Yes, basil can be grown cuttings. This process is also known as propagating basil. Propagating simply means producing a plant that is identical (genetically speaking) to its parent by means of dividing, taking cuttings, etc.
Some plants are more difficult to propagate than others, but if given the right care, it’s certainly doable to propagate basil.
How to grow basil from cuttings
To grow basil from cuttings, you’ll need:
- A small pot (3″ is a good size, and make sure it has good drainage) or growing area with some potting soil
- Rooting hormone (optional)
Before we get into the specific steps, it should be noted that growing basil from cuttings is a lengthy process. Depending on the route you take, it could take as long as a year until you can harvest and eat from your new basil plant.
Step-by-step on how to propagate basil
Here’s a rundown of everything involved with growing basil from cuttings.
1. Get a hold of some basil
To start, you’ll need some basil cuttings of course.
If you are growing your own basil, simply cutting off some healthy, non-flowering sprigs of basil will do. No need to cut off full branches — sprigs that are 4-6″ long will be great!
It’s actually a good thing for your parent plant to take cuttings, as this promotes growth in fresh shoots of basil and lessens the chance of the basil plant “going to seed.”
If you do harvest basil sprigs that have sprouts or flowers on top, you can pull those off to ensure that the sprig’s energy goes into producing roots and not fueling flower growth.
If you aren’t currently growing basil and don’t know of anyone who is willing to share theirs, most grocery stores or farmers’ markets sell packs or bunches of fresh basil. While it’s certainly preferable to cut sprigs straight from a plant, some fresh sprigs of basil that are purchased should be fine to get started.
So, when is the best time to plant? To ensure you have a long growing season to get the plant started, propagating basil is best done in late spring/late summer. In all reality, though, growing basil from cuttings can be done at any point in the season.
2. Strip leaves off the bottom 2 inches of the basil sprig
Once you have a basil sprig, strip off the leaves on the lower end of the stem — you’ll want about 2″ – 4″ of the bare stem, which will serve as the base for future roots. You can use the leaves you strip off for a recipe right away or save them for later.
Ultimately, you’ll want to make sure that there are 1-2 sets of leaves at the top of each sprig of basil.
If you are ready to propagate the sprig right away, cut the tip of the sprig at a 45-degree angle. This will ensure some fresh exposure to the center of the sprig.
If you aren’t ready to propagate, you can store the sprigs in your fridge, wrapped in a plastic bag.
3. [Optional] Dip the stem into a growth hormone
At this point, you have the option of dipping the sprig’s bare stem into a rooting hormone.
Using a growth hormone is optional, especially when it comes to basil, which you’ll likely be consuming down the road. In some cases, it may be necessary for healthier roots, but in many cases, you can get by without it.
If you do want to use a growth hormone for a faster and healthier root system, you can purchase either the powder or gel form at your local garden center. Then, simply dip your stem into some water and tip into the growth hormone.
When propagating basil with a rooting hormone, keep in mind that most hormones (whether in powder or gel form) will require you to wait until a full year before consuming any part of the plant.
4. Start the root structure
If you chose to start the plant with a growth hormone, you can plant the stem in a potting soil mix to ensure that it has good draining. Since these are just little sprigs at this point, planting them in a small pack or pot is preferable. This will allow you to move the plant around if needed.
If you aren’t using a growth hormone, you’ll want to establish a root structure before planting in soil. To do this, you can place your basil plant in a glass of water, with the 2″ of bare stem fully submerged.
Basil stems are softer than other herbs, so they are more susceptible to rot. Make sure you swap out the water in the container every few days.
You’ll also want to make sure you keep it out of direct sunlight. A good place to put your glasses of basil cuttings is on the windowsill.
You should first start seeing roots sprouting 4-6 days in. And then after 2-3 weeks your basil sprigs should be ready to plant.
Once you have some mature roots, the plant is ready to plant in potting soil!
The type of soil isn’t as important as hos well-drained it is. Make sure that any container the basil sprigs are planted in has holes on the bottom so that excess water can escape. Otherwise, the plant may get a disease like root rot.
Make sure the sprig’s stem has good contact with the soil so that the root system can grow immediately into the soil.
5. Wait 6-8 weeks for maturing plant
Depending on what time you are propagating, the time it will take to root up and growing will vary. Typically, after 6-8 weeks you’ll start seeing some indicators of growth.
It’s best to store your basil plant in a warm, humid area. If you have a greenhouse, this climate is perfect! If not, you can achieve the same effect by putting a plastic bag over the plant and container. Depending on the outside climate that you are growing in, keeping the plant outside may be good enough.
If you notice that the leaves start to turn yellow after a few weeks, it may be due to transplant shock (much like us humans, plants don’t like sudden change). In this case, simply trim off the yellow leaves and prepare for more growth.
6. Care for your new basil plant!
Now that you have your plant started, it’s time to start treating it like any young plant you would purchase at a greenhouse or growing center. Make sure the basil plant gets plenty of sunlight, water (keeping the top level of soil damp is great!) and care is going to be crucial.
I’ve heard of some basil that isn’t mature enough not to survive direct sunlight right away, so play that by ear. You may want to ease the plant into the direct sunlight by exposing it to more and more gradually.
Here’s more information on how often to water your herb plant, or more specifically, how to water a basil plant.
Eventually, the basil plant will outgrow its original pot and you can plant this perennial directly in the ground for basil for years to come.
Summary: Growing basil from cuttings
To summarize, basil is a great herb to try growing from cuttings due to its fast growth and resiliency! To propagate your basil, you can follow these steps:
- Get a hold of some basil (either from an existing plant or from your grocery store)
- Strip off leaves from each stems’ bottom 2″
- [Optional] Dip the stem in a growth hormone and plant in potting soil
- Place the stem in a glass of water for a few weeks until mature roots have grown before planting
- Store the stem and pot in a humid climate and water occasionally for 6-8 weeks
- Care for your new basil plant