Basil can be a difficult herb to grow from seed. It can fail if the light or humidity isn’t right, or if you talk to it too harshly during the germination process. Fortunately, there is another way to grow it that is much more efficient. Read on to learn how to grow basil from cuttings!
What are cuttings?
We know plants are spectacularly impressive in many departments, right? Well, one of the most amazing things about them is the fact that almost any plant cell can adapt to create whatever types of new cells the plant needs at this moment.
These plant stem cells (contained in structures called “meristems”) are totipotent. This means that they can create entirely new plants from cuttings taken from them.
Now, cuttings are aerial parts of plants that have been cut in order to propagate plants. These create clones of the parent from which they were taken.
It would be like taking a severed human hand and growing a cloned version of that person. Only the rest of the human would grow properly and proportionately from said hand.
How to take a basil cutting
To take a cutting, start with a pair of sterilized garden shears or a sharp knife.
Sneak up on a basil plant and distract it by singing to it or telling it a story. Next, cut a non-woody green stem that bears at least two or three leaves. Cut below a node, near the main stem. Then thank the mother plant, offer it some water, and run off with the cutting you took.
Note that you can take cuttings at any time during the plant’s vegetative cycle. Once it begins to flower, the cuttings won’t do as well. Similarly, those taken when the plant begins to die back in the fall are not ideal either.
The best time to grow basil from cuttings is early to mid-summer. Of course, the exception to this is if you take your cuttings from greenhouse or indoor hydroponic plants. These are grown all year round, so you are not limited to a few months a year.
By the way, if you buy one of these live basil plants at the grocery store, the best way to propagate it is to cut off all the stems and root them. Do not attempt to plant these crowded roots in a container. It won’t work well. Cuttings work best.
Growing Basil From Pre-Cut Stems
I’ll let you in on a secret: half of the culinary herbs in my vegetable garden were grown from store-bought pre-cut plants. Nor are we talking about freshly harvested plants for the farmer’s market.
For example, my basil, parsley, spearmint and tarragon (among others) were all grown from herbs bought from the supermarket in plastic containers.
To grow them, I used a clean razor blade to cut their stems at 45 degree angles, then made additional cuts as mentioned before. As you can see, if you want to grow basil from cuttings, you don’t just have to harvest them from friend plants. You can also try growing them from standard supermarket offerings.
It’s time to root!
Take a sterilized razor blade and make small vertical slits around the stems of your cuttings, near the bottom. This will encourage roots to grow through these cuts, rather than just from the original cut edge.
From there, there are two different methods you can use to root them. Method 1 is to encourage them to root in water and then transplant them into the ground. Method 2 is to plant the cuttings directly. Let’s dive into these methods, shall we?
Method 1: Water Based Rooting
This is the method I use for all herbaceous plants because it has worked well for me every time.
After making these stem cuts, place them in a sterilized glass container. I like to use half pint mason jars because they are the perfect size. Add enough water so that the stems are well submerged, but the water does not touch the remaining leaves.
Change the water every three or four days so that it does not become dirty. You should see new roots growing on the stems after a few weeks. Keep changing the water until these roots are about half an inch long.
At this point, you can transplant the cutting into the ground. If you plan to grow your herbs in pots, choose a well-drained potting mix with plenty of perlite and/or coco. Alternatively, you can plant directly in garden soil outdoors. Just try to plant during a sunny period so your new plants can get off to the best possible start.
Method 2: Soil Based Rooting
For this method, you will need loose, well-drained potting soil, as well as rooting hormone. There are a number of great rooting hormones you can use. I’ve had the best luck with willow bark tea or honey, but use whatever you feel most comfortable with.
Fill a few small pots with the potting soil and add water to moisten it.
After slashing the stems with your (sterilized) razor blade, dip the ends in rooting hormone. Then, use a chopstick or pencil to poke holes in the potting mix and insert your cuttings. Then, tamp the soil around them and water them gently.
Place these cuttings on a sunny windowsill or counter so they get plenty of light. If your home is fairly dry, consider covering them with a plastic dome (like half an empty two-liter soda bottle) to keep moisture in.
New roots should form within a few weeks. After that, you will see new growth start to appear. The cutting will grow and you will see tiny new leaves appear.
If you don’t see new growth after a few weeks, gently tug the cutting. If it comes out of the ground easily, it has failed to develop new roots. Throw this cutting in the compost and try again.
Alternatively, if it resists being pulled and appears to be rooted, let it be. It just needs a little longer to establish its root system before creating new leaves.
Which basil cultivars do best from cuttings?
From personal experience, some basil cultivars do better than others when it comes to propagating them from cuttings.
So far, the most successful cultivars have been cultivars with taller growth habits and larger leaves. For example: “Genovese”, “Marseille” and “Romanesco” work well.
In contrast, smaller cultivars such as ‘Pistou’ or bush basil seem to do best when grown from seed or purchased as seedlings. I haven’t tried growing tulsi from cuttings yet, but I’ll update this article if and when I do.
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