Basil is a delicious and incredibly functional herb. Not only is it one of the key ingredients for pesto, but it is also an important part of caprese salad, can be used in some meals, and is even a fantastic drink ingredient. You could simply buy fresh basil online or from the store, but why not grow some yourself? Learning how to propagate basil is an important part of doing so.
Now, propagating simply means that you’re creating more of your plant. This can involve collecting seeds and growing little basil plants using those seeds. Or, it might mean that you’re propagating basil from cuttings instead.
Using cuttings is a powerful approach, as there’s already some growth present. The process is also surprisingly easy. You just need to encourage your sprig of basil to grow roots, which you can do in water or even directly in soil. So, let’s look at the specific steps and how you can get the best results.
How To Propagate Basil From A Cutting
The first step is to take your cutting. It’s best to focus on young basil plants here, ones that haven’t flowered or created seeds.
At a minimum, the cutting should be between three and four inches in length, although you can go up to six inches if you prefer. The cutting should be taken at a 45 degree angle from below the leaf node. The angle means there’s more surface area, which increases the chance of developing roots.
You’ll then need to remove all leaves from the bottom two inches of the stem. You might remove or trim some of the leaves higher up as well, as doing so encourages the step to focus on root production instead.
The next step is to root your cutting. That simply means that you’re helping it develop roots. There are two main ways to do this.
The first way is also the simplest – placing the basil sprig in a glass of water in the sun. Bright sunlight is helpful here, but this needs to be indirect, as direct sunlight can easily shrivel your growing herb.
You can use regular tap water for this, as long as your water is of high quality. If it’s not, focus on spring water or filtered water instead.
You should change this water at least every other day while the roots develop. If you can manage it, changing the water every day is even better.
Rooting herbs in water works well enough and allows you to easily see the root development. However, it’s often best to use soil, as this contains more nutrients and increases the chance that your herbs will successfully grow roots.
Here, you’re looking for a light substrate, rather than soil from your garden or potting soil. Many garden centers will sell starting mix soils, which are perfect for this use. You can also try a combination of 50% soil and 50% sand.
From here, some patience is required. You need to wait until the roots have grown to around two inches in length. This will normally happen within two or three weeks, although you will sometimes need to wait a month instead.
The root length is easy to see if you’re rooting the basil in water. If you’re using soil instead, you’ll just need to wait two to four weeks and hope the roots are long enough.
Once the roots have grown, you’ll need to transplant the new plants into a planter or a garden outside. Many people choose to use a planter or pot in their home, as basil will grow well indoors. Besides, having a box of herbs in the kitchen is incredibly convenient when you’re cooking.
Just make sure that you transplant the basil carefully. After all, you’re moving a young and vulnerable plant. You could easily kill it by being rough.
Tips For Propagating Basil
Where you place the basil makes a huge difference. When you’re first rooting basil, you’ll need a location with plenty of indirect sunlight.
Ventilation and air circulation can help too. However, you’ll need to avoid any areas that regularly receive blasts of cold air or high wind. The perfect place could easily be a windowsill indoors that’s well away from the front door.
Environment matters once you’ve transferred the basil too. The growing plants should get direct sun for six to eight hours each day and be in moist soil that drains well and is rich in nutrients.
If you’re somewhere that gets scorching sun in the middle of the day, then you’ll need to make sure that basil is in the shade during those times. Otherwise, it won’t thrive.
Growth hormone products generally use synthetic versions of the plant growth hormone auxin, along with other chemicals to help roots grow. They’re designed to make plant propagation easier, especially if you’re working with a hard to propagate plant.
Growth hormone isn’t essential, especially not for basil, as is a very easy herb to propagate. However, using a growth hormone mixture can make the whole process faster and improve your chance of success. This is particularly helpful if you only have a few basil sprigs to work with or if you’ve never propagated herbs before.
You can easily find growth hormone in garden stores or online. it will sometimes be called rooting hormone instead, but it’s the same product either way.
A word of warning though. Plant hormone products often use synthetic ingredients, which can make the herb unsafe to eat for a year or so after using them. It’s important to check for warnings on any hormone product you plan to use, to make sure this isn’t the case for you.
You can propagate basil whenever you like, but you’ll see the best results if you do so during the growing season. This typically extends through spring, summer, and fall. Propagating in spring or early summer can be helpful, as this means you have plenty of growing season left for the plant to establish.
The exact time of year will vary a little depending on where you live and the variety of basil you’re using. If you’re unsure, it’s worth checking in with a local gardening center or club. They should know the best months to propagate basil in your location.
You’ve heard the saying “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”, right? Well, a similar thing is true when you’re propagating herbs. You’re not likely to get a new and healthy basil plant from every basil sprig you work with.
Some of those sprigs might never develop roots, while others might fail to establish once you transfer them into soil. This is true even if you use growth hormone.
If you’re looking for two healthy basil plants, you might even use six or eight cuttings. This way at least a few of them should end up establishing successfully.
How To Grow Basil From Seed
Basil is often grown from seed rather than cuttings, as the herb germinates easily and normally develops sprouts within 5 to 10 days. This approach is perfect when you’re first getting started, as you can simply order the seeds online.
Home gardeners sometimes take this approach too, especially if their plant has already started to flower. There are only a few steps that you need to think about.
You might buy these seeds from a nursery, order them online, or collect them yourself. If you’re harvesting your own, then you’ll need to cut off flower heads from the plant once they are dry and spent. You then need to dry the heads out. Doing so is as easy as keeping them in a warm dry place for a few days.
Once the flower heads have dried, you can crush them over a fine colander. The seeds should fall through the holes in the colander, while any chaff remains on top. Now you have fresh seeds that are ready to plant.
The next step is simply to sow the seeds. If you’re using tiny planting pots, then you’ll want two to three seeds per pot. If you’re sowing the seeds in the garden instead, aim for roughly 10 to 12 inches between the seeds.
Basil will do best in warm and fertile soil. Sunny environments are important, but be careful with intense midday or afternoon sun, as this can be too much for basil plants.
The soil should be kept moist and warm as the seeds germinate. Germination normally occurs within a week, sometimes sooner.
Basil is easy to grow from seeds or cuttings, so either is a viable approach. The best option for you will be influenced by what you have on hand.
In particular, if you have purchased basil sprigs from the grocery store or have a juvenile basil plant, then you can easily grow basil from cuttings. But, if your plant has started to flower, then cuttings won’t work so well. You’ll need to wait for the plant to set seed instead, then use these seeds to grow new plants.
Another consideration is time. Basil normally grows faster from cuttings, given that the plant has already been through some development. This can make cuttings the best approach if you want more basil plants as soon as possible.
Even if you plan to focus on cuttings, it may be worth allowing a plant to produce seed. This way you can store the seeds for the future, just in case you ever fail to make cuttings at the right time.
Types Of Basil
We’ve been talking about basil as if there was just a single variety of the herb, but this isn’t the case at all. There are many different types, including the following.
- Sweet Basil. This is the single most common variety of basil and the one you’ll find most often in grocery stores.
- Thai Basil. This version of basil tends to have small dark pointed leaves and a distinct licorice flavor. The basil has light green leaves, coupled with dark purple flower heads, creating excellent contrast.
- Genovese Basil. This is an Italian variety of basil that features large dark green leaves. Genovese basil tends to be stronger and more aromatic than sweet basil, although it can be used in many of the same applications, like pesto.
- Lemon Basil. Lemon basil lives up to its name, offering a distinct lemon flavor. The herb is particularly good in dishes that benefit from lemon flavors, including fish and grilled vegetables. You can even use it to make a herbal tea.
- Purple Basil. As the name suggests, this variety has a deep purple color. It isn’t as sweet as other basil varieties. Instead, purple basil tends to be aromatic and carries a distinct clove-like flavor.
- Cinnamon Basil. Here’s another interesting variety. The basil flavor is lower in cinnamon basil than in some other varieties. There’s also a distinct cinnamon flavor and some pep to the flavor profile.
- Greek Basil. This is one of the smallest basil varieties and only grows to around eight inches in height. The small size makes this an easy plant to grow in a pot and you still get plenty of flavor from the leaves.
You should be able to propagate all types of basil using the same techniques that we’ve discussed. However, the germination time and your level of success may vary from one type to the next.
The approaches we’re talked about here don’t just apply to basil. Instead, many fresh herbs can be easily propagated.
Other soft-stemmed herbs to try include mint, lemon balm, and sage. These can easily be rooted with just a glass of water and some sunlight. Woody herbs, like rosemary, thyme, and oregano are trickier. You may need some rooting hormone to speed the process along and may need to grow the roots in soil, rather than water.
Still, while some herbs are more difficult to propagate than others, you should be able to grow most herbs this way, with a little patience.
If you’re new to the idea, why not stick to basil and other soft-stemmed herbs? Once you’re familiar with doing so, you could start branching out to the more challenging herbs.
Propagating basil is an easy way to get more free basil plants and to improve your skills as a gardener. It’s an especially powerful idea if you have an unusual variety of basil that you want to preserve.
Even if you’re unsure, why not try the approach out? Basil is one of the easiest herbs to propagate and you have nothing to lose.