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Most gardeners grow basil by sowing seeds or transplanting seedlings into their garden beds or containers. There is a third option, however and it’s far quicker than waiting for seeds to grow! Growing basil from cuttings is a fast, easy, and cheap way to maximize your crop of homegrown basil. Are you ready to learn how to grow basil from cuttings?
Basil is one of the most popular herbs grown by gardeners. Its spicy clove flavour is essential in pastas, pizza, sauces, and pesto. It loves heat and shouldn’t be planted outside until the risk of frost has passed in late spring. When picking a site for basil, look for a garden bed or spot on the patio where the plants will receive at least eight hours of direct sun each day. I’ve written extensively about growing a bumper crop of basil HERE and about the many awesome types of basil HERE.
Why growing basil from cuttings is a great idea!
Growing basil from seed takes time. In gardening zones 2 to 6, basil seed is given a six to eight week head start indoors under grow lights. The seedlings are then hardened off and transplanted into the garden in late spring. In zones 7 to 10 basil can be direct seeded outside but still takes about eight weeks before the plants are large enough to begin clipping. Growing basil from cuttings cuts growing time by about half. It takes a few weeks to root but once the roots emerge, the plants quickly push out fresh growth for harvesting. Plus, you can grow basil from cuttings year round!
Where to get the basil for your cuttings
Wondering where to source basil stems to root? There are several sneaky places to find basil for cuttings. My main source, especially in fall, winter and early spring is the grocery store where there are usually at least five plants crammed together in a single pot. Those five plants can be clipped back by half with the tops rooted to make new basil plants and the bottoms pushing out fresh growth for future harvests. Of course, you can also root basil from your own garden. Here are five places to source basil for cuttings:
- Grocery store – Many grocery stores sell pots of fresh herbs year-round. If you look closely at the pots of basil, you’ll see that there is more than one plant in each container. In fact, there are usually five or six plants in each pot. I’ve tried to divide up these pots of tightly packed basil plants to transplant into my garden, but the rootball is such a tightly woven tangle I end up damaging or killing at least half the plants. Therefore, I prefer to take cuttings.
- Garden center – You can buy basil seedlings at garden centers, but they often have large pots of basil too. You can take these home for your deck or patio and trim them back to encourage fresh growth. Root the trimmings for new plants.
- Your garden – I clip cuttings from my mid-summer garden basil to root for a late summer and autumn crop. As summer winds down, you can also root stems from basil plants to grow indoors on your windowsill or under grow-lights for a fall and winter crop.
- A friend’s garden – Got a gardening friend with a big pot or clump of basil? Ask for a few cuttings.
- Farmer’s market – Many farmer’s market stalls sell bouquets of freshly cut basil. Take these home, give the ends of the stems a trim, and root.
How to get started growing basil from cuttings
There are two main ways to root basil; in water or in potting mix. For each method, you’ll need basil cuttings. To take a cutting from a basil plant, use clean herb snips or scissors to cut a four to six inch long stem. Clip it just below a leaf node (the spot on the stems where the leaves emerge) and at an angle to increase surface area for water uptake. Remove any leaves on the bottom third of the stem. This is especially important if you’re going to be rooting the cuttings in water as you don’t want any leaves submerged and rotting.
How to root basil in water
Fill small glasses or jars with filtered or spring water. You can use tap water, but if it’s chlorinated leave it out for 24 hours first so that the chlorine can evaporate. Once the water is ready, take the prepared cuttings and place them in the water. Double check to ensure no leaves are underwater.
Place the glasses or small jars in a spot with bright, indirect light. Change the water every day or two to prevent bacteria or algae from growing. You’ll start to see little roots in about 10 to 14 days. I keep a spritzer filled with water nearby so that I can mist the cuttings daily.
When the roots are an inch or two long you can remove the cuttings from the water and pot them up into a container filled with pre-moistened potting mix.
How to root basil in potting mix
Basil cuttings can also be rooted in containers of potting mix. Before you begin, you’ll need to gather a few supplies:
- Four-inch diameter pots (you can also use recycled containers like yogurt containers but add drainage holes).
- Potting mix, moistened
- Large clear plastic baggies (such as those used for fruit and vegetables at the grocery store) or plastic plant domes
- And of course, the basil cuttings
I like to fill my pots with the moistened potting mix before I make my basil cuttings. Why? Because they should be inserted into the potting mix as quickly as possible to avoid the cut ends potentially drying out. So, once you’ve filled the containers, clip the basil stems and insert them into the soil medium. Firm the potting mix around the stem to ensure good soil-stem contact.
Place the planted cuttings where they will receive bright, indirect light. A clear plastic bag can be placed overtop each plant to create a high humidity environment. Or, if you have the pots in a tray, use a plastic plant dome over the tray to hold humidity. I slip the covers off daily to mist them with a water-filled spray bottle. Keep an eye on the soil moisture and water when it feels dry to the touch.
You’ll know roots have formed when the cuttings begin to push out fresh growth. Or, after two weeks you can gently tug at a cutting to see if it feels anchored. If it does, you can harden it off and transfer to your garden or containers.
*NOTE* You may wonder why I don’t recommend dipping the cuttings into rooting hormone before I insert them in the potting mix. Rooting hormone is not recommended for use on edible plants, especially if they will be consumed short-term.
Basil is not the only culinary herb that can be rooted in water or potting mix. Other soft-stemmed herbs that can be grown from cuttings include mint, lemon balm, oregano, marjoram, and bee balm.
For more information on growing herbs, be sure to check out these awesome articles:
- The best herbs to grow from seed
- How to grow and harvest lemongrass
- Growing a culinary herb garden
- The 7 best herbs for container gardening
- Learn how to use and preserve homegrown basil with these 16 recipes from Garden Therapy
Are you ready to try growing basil from cuttings?