One of the reasons I love growing basil from cuttings is that I can harvest sooner than starting from seed, and for less money than buying a transplant. Win win! For example, if you grow Basil from seed, it will usually take about 6-8 weeks before you’re able to start harvesting from it. However, if you grow from cuttings, you’re going to be able to start harvesting in about 3-4 weeks.
It’s also kind of cool that you can grow basil from cuttings of the plants grown from those cuttings. Think about that… the cycle just keeps going - I love it! It’s like a tasty episode of Black Mirror. 😊
Ok, back to the topic of how to grow basil from cuttings! Although you can grab cuttings from anywhere, grocery store, garden center, your garden… your neighbors garden (wink wink - kidding!), but you get the idea. You’re likely going to have the same success from all of those location; however, there is one thing that may make a difference. Being the garden geek that I am, I’ve tested a few versions of this and time after time, I find that plants grown from organic cuttings tend to last longer and grow faster. I am not sure why that is, but I do know that the results have been consistent. So, for me personally, I will always try to use cuttings from organically grown plants.
How to prepare your basil cuttings
If you’re cutting your clipping the cutting from an existing plant, be sure to use a sharp knife. A clean cut helps the remaining plant stay strong. Aim for a stem that’s around 6” long and ideally has at least 4 to 6 leaves on it. Snip off the branch just below a leaf node at an angle. The angle helps create a larger surface space for absorbing water prior to the roots developing. The leaf node is the area of the branch where the leaf grows from.
Be sure to leave enough of a bare stem that you can rest the stem in water while keeping the leaves dry. Wet leaves lead to rotting leaves and unhealthy cuttings. Often to do that you’ll need to remove the bottom set of leaves, and that’s ok, you’ve cut a branch that’s long enough and has enough leaves to spare. No stress!
How to start your basil cutting in water
Fill a container with dechlorinated water. Any small glass container will do the trick. If you don’t have any spring or filtered water, you can remove the chlorine from your water by leaving it out for at least 24 hours. This should provide enough time for most of the chlorine to evaporate and leave a clean place for your cuttings to thrive.
You’re now ready to add the cuttings and move your container to a bright spot with indirect or filtered lighting. Ideally. However, if you need to choose between too much direct sunlight, not enough light, choose too much.
If growing in a lot of direct sunlight, you may need to add water more often and move the cutting from time to time to avoid the leaves getting burned. That’s fine, that’s a lot easier to work around than not having enough sun and needing to setup grow lights. There’s no shame in choosing the easy solution over the perfect solution. Nature is feisty and can usually adapt a little. 😊
Be sure to change out the water every day or two. Fresh water helps prevent bacteria from developing. If left in the same water for too long, you may find the stems getting sliming and they won’t develop roots as well.
Transplanting Basil Cuttings into Soil
Get basil plants adjusted to their new homes :) If you think you'd like to give transplanting your basil a try, then you're in luck - I've got home helpful tips here that can guide you through the process!
You can transplant your seedlings about 1-2 weeks after roots appear, and once there’s no longer any threat of frost. The goal is to wait until the roots are at least 1-2 inches long so there’s enough there to support the growing young plant.
For best results, I recommend planting them inside when growing basil from cuttings as they’re likely to go into shock otherwise. Hardening off cuttings isn’t as effective as hardening off transplants that have had a chance to comfortably take root in soil (usually about 2 weeks).
If you do ultimately want to grow your basil outside, make sure you harden-off your basil plants first! Before transplanting into your garden bed, keep your seedlings outdoors for a week, in a spot where they’ll be sheltered from any wind and/or hot sun. This will help prepare them for transplant and reduce any shock once they’ve been relocated. If there’s any threat of frost or cold weather, make sure you move your seedlings back indoors for the night.
Ready to start transplanting? Lets do it!
6 easy steps to transplanting basil cuttings
Prepare your soil just as you would for direct sowing, by loosening the top 6-8 inches and adding in some organic matter.
Dig some holes that 6-12 inches apart and deep enough so that the root balls of your basil plants are completely covered.
In the world of basil more doesn’t always mean more…don’t over crowd these beauties, there's no need, I promise. Just one well-pruned plant can supply 1/2 a cup of basil per week!
8” apart is ideal, but a little trick is to seed 3" apart and then remove some plants to cook with once they have a cluster of 4-6 leaves, leaving the main ones to grow undisturbed.
To plant, loosen the top 8” of soil, then mix in compost and fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.
Lightly firm the soil around the base of your plant and then immediately give it a drink. Remember to keep the soil moist (but don’t over water!) to keep your plants from wilting.
You can add mulch to your garden beds to prevent weeds from germinating but be sure to keep it away from the stems and leaves of your basil plants.
And there you have it! Just like us, basil plants like to experience the least amount of stress possible when moving. :)
Supporting the growth of basil plants
If you’re growing indoors, lightly ruffle the leaves with your hands to stimulate growth as you go past. Or put a small fan on low for 10 minutes a day. It can make a BIG difference!
Ditch the flowers. If you start to see flowers at the top of your basil plant, pinch them off. Left on, and your plant will focus on spreading seed, which means less leaves for you.
Let the sunshine! Your basil seedlings like at least 6 hours of sunlight a day, if you’re growing by a window rather than under a grow light, try rotating your tray each day so they don’t start to tilt.
Watering. It’s usually best to water in the early morning, so the water has time to soak into your soil rather than evaporate with the hot sun. Early evening can also work in warmer climates; however, make sure leaves have time to dry before night fall.
This is important because damp leaves at night tend to encourage fungus problems, such as powdery mildew or sooty mold, which can harm your delicate Basil leaves. Mid day is rarely advisable. 😊
How to Harvest Basil
The best part about basil? It’s a cut-and-come-again plant – so after you harvest, your basil will grow back – even fuller!
Keep in mind that you’ll want to harvest from alternating plants to allow your basil time for regrowth. Also, herbs that are grown for their leaves like Basil should be harvested before their plants flower as the leaves can turn bitter after.
Also, always use sharp scissors to ensure the stem gets a clean break. Tearing can damage the stem and act as a gateway for disease.
You can start harvesting once your basil plant has 6-8 leaves, and always aim to leave at least three-quarters of your herb plant intact. This ensures that your herb has enough leaves to photosynthesize, keeping it healthy and growing.
And make sure to cut the stem, rather than just rip the leaves from the step. This helps, and you’ll soon see new leaves growing at the base of the leaves you left behind. Where you left 4 leaves, 8 new ones will grow making your plant thicker rather than just higher. 😊
For best the results (and flavour), try harvesting your herbs in the early morning, right after the dew fades, but before the heat of the day evaporates the aromatic oils of your plants.
How to best store your Basil:
Short term storage for fresh use: The key for storing fresh basil cuttings in a jar of water is to do so away from direct sunlight. Yes, away, I know it seems counter intuitive for such a sun loving plant, but trust me, shade if it’s cut for supper.
Long-term Storage for for later use: Cover the jar, stems, and leaves with a plastic bag then keep it in your fridge. You can also preserve basil leaves by tying bunches together and hanging them upside down in a dark place to dry, which should take 5-10 days.
Another option for storying basil after you’ve grown them from cuttings is to dry them at 150-200°F for 3-5 minutes in your oven.
In general, dried basil leaves keep for about one year when they’re stored in an air-tight jar in a dark place. You can also freeze whole basil leaves in frozen ice cubes, and they’ll keep for 3-6 months. This method of freezing is amazing for preserving that yummy basil flavor!