No herb garden is complete without at least one basil bush. This essential ingredient in many dishes, especially Italy’s favorite pizza and pasta, tastes much better fresh, straight from the garden.
But why stop at one?
Basil has many uses in the kitchen, from cooking to pesto – the more you can grow, the better. It doesn’t have to be an expensive exercise with a simple gardening practice: propagation.
Basil is one of the easiest herbs to propagate and roots easily in water or soil. A short grow session can produce several healthy plants to give you more basil than you can use all year.
Before you start
Basil can be propagated almost any time of the year, but the best time to start is in early spring. This will encourage root growth and give your new cuttings the best chance of establishing themselves.
Cuttings will still root in other seasons, although more slowly than in spring.
You will need a healthy basil plant and a very sharp pruner. Since basil stems are soft, regular scissors should suffice, as long as they are sharp. A clean cut will heal much faster on the parent plant than a rough cut which can lead to rot and disease.
Be sure to clean all the tools you will need before you begin. Dirt or bacteria on the shears can be transferred to the new cutting or plant, which can lead to disease. Wash them promptly with soap and water, especially if they have recently been used on damaged or diseased plants.
With all the supplies gathered, you can start spreading. Follow these simple steps to get started.
find the tribe
Before making a cut, find the correct stem to cut. First, the stem must be several inches long and have a few sets of leaves for rooting to be successful. It should also be completely disease-free and as healthy as possible.
Avoid stems with damaged or diseased upper leaves, as these are the only things that will give the cutting enough energy to develop roots. Any disease is simply transferred to the new plant.
make the cut
Once you’ve chosen the perfect stem, you’re ready to cut. With your sharp, clean scissors, pull the stem back at least four inches down. Cut just below one set of leaves on a stem with at least three sets of leaves.
Be careful not to cut too close or too far from the blades. If you cut too close, you can damage the part of the stem where the roots emerge, preventing successful propagation. Cutting too far from the node can cause the lower part of the stem to die, preventing re-rooting.
Cut off as many healthy stems as you want to spread out. Do not remove more than a quarter of the plant at a time to ensure healthy regrowth. Removing too many stems can result in shock, limiting new growth.
Gather your cuttings and remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting, at least two inches long. Gently pinch the leaves so as not to damage the stem. Just make sure you don’t throw them away: toss them on a fresh pizza or crispy salad sandwich.
When you’re done, your sculpture should have at least two sets of leaves on the top half. These will facilitate root growth in the exposed lower half of the cutting.
carrot in water
Now for the easy part: rooting.
Simply place your cuttings in a half-filled glass of water. Filtered water is best, as tap water may contain chemicals that inhibit rooting. You can also boil the water and let it cool before filling the glass. This will depend on the quality of tap water in your area, as basil will root quite easily and you shouldn’t worry about average quality water.
If you are looking for a foliage-based feature on your windowsill, use the finest glass available. There are also plenty of glass grow stations available online that will add an extra touch to the process, but plain glass will also do the trick.
Place the glass in a warm place on the windowsill. Basil is very fond of sunlight, so some sun during the day is ideal. Don’t leave it in direct sunlight for long, especially in front of a window, as this can scorch the leaves and damage delicate root growth.
The oxygen in the water will decrease over time, which could smother the roots. Keep an eye on the water and change it every few days or if it looks cloudy. If the water always seems clear, you can also refill it from time to time as it evaporates from the glass. Always keep the water level constant and above the base of the cutting to ensure root growth.
Once the roots have grown a few inches, the cuttings are ready to be transplanted. Don’t wait too long to graft. The roots that basil grows in water are finer and more tender than those that grow in soil. If you let the roots grow too long before transplanting, they may struggle to adapt to soil conditions, leading to transplant shock.
You can also limit the potential impact of the transplant by slowly adding soil-like material to the water each day until it is completely replaced. Coir or peat moss are ideal, as they have a closer texture to the ground, but are light enough to encourage root growth. Add a teaspoon daily until the glass is half full, then transplant.
Start by preparing your soil for transplanting. If planted in a pot, a potting mix with added coco and perlite will aid drainage and provide all the nutrients the plant needs. If you are planting directly in the garden, make sure it is loose, well-drained and weed-free to avoid competition.
Plant each cutting in its own pot or several inches apart if planting in the ground. When planting, try not to damage the roots to limit the impact. Water thoroughly immediately after planting to promote root growth.
carrots in the ground
If you want to skip the water rooting step, you can also plant directly into the ground. This saves you time and ensures stronger roots that better withstand outdoor conditions.
To root in soil, take a pot and fill it with a mixture of coir, perlite and vermiculite. This mix is light enough to promote strong root growth while retaining enough moisture to keep thirsty cuttings happy. Two parts coir, one part perlite and one part vermiculite are ideal, but there are many other options, such as peat or compost.
Plant several cuttings in a pot and pack the soil around them. Water well and leave the pot in a bright, warm place to root. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. After a few weeks, the basil should begin to develop new growth, indicating root growth.
Propagate basil by division.
Existing basil plants can also be propagated by division. This is recommended for established plants, as they can quickly become overcrowded and compete for nutrients, especially in smaller pots.
To divide, simply remove the plant from its pot or lift it out of the ground and separate the clumps of stems. Each division must have enough roots for regrowth. They should be easy to separate, but you can also shake off some soil and cut the roots with clean shears.
Replant each division in a separate pot or plant several inches apart in the ground. Keep them well watered to limit shock and promote new growth.
More Plant Propagation Tutorials
If the idea of growing plants from cuttings for free is your thing, here are some more plant propagation tutorials to try.