Basil can be a finicky herb to grow from seed. It can fail if the light or humidity isn’t right, or if you speak to it too sternly during the germination process. Fortunately, there’s a different way to cultivate it that’s much more effective. Read on to learn how to grow basil from cuttings!
What are Cuttings?
We know that plants are spectacularly awesome in many rays, right? Well, one of the most incredible things about them is the fact that nearly any plant’s cells can adapt to create whatever kinds of new cells the plant needs at that time.
Now, cuttings are aerial plant parts that have been severed in order to propagate plants. These create clones of the parent that they were taken from.
This would be akin to taking a severed human hand and growing a cloned version of that person from it. 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 sterilized pair of garden snips or a sharp knife.
Sneak up on a basil plant and distract it by singing to it or telling it a story. Then cut off a green, non-woody stem that has at least two or three leaves on it. Cut below a node, close to the main stem. Then thank the parent 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 growth cycle. Once it starts flowering, the cuttings won’t do as well. Similarly, those taken when the plant is starting to die off in autumn aren’t ideal either.
The best time to grow basil from cuttings is in early to mid-summertime. Of course, the exception to this is if you’re taking your cuttings from greenhouse or indoor hydroponic plants. These are cultivated year-round, so you aren’t limited to a couple of months per year.
By the way, if you buy one of those live basil plants from the grocery store, the best way to propagate it is to cut off all the stems and root them. Don’t try to plant those crowded roots in a container. It won’t work well. Cuttings work better.
Growing Basil from Pre-Cut Stems
I’ll tell you a secret: half of the culinary herbs in my potager garden were cultivated from store-bought, pre-cut plants. We’re not talking about freshly harvested farmer’s market plants either.
For example, my basil, parsley, spearmint, and tarragon (among others) were all grown from supermarket-purchased herbs in plastic containers.
To grow these, I used a clean razor blade to cut their stems at 45-degree angles, then made additional cuts as mentioned earlier. As you can see, if you want to grow basil from cuttings, you don’t just have to harvest them from friends’ plants. You can try growing them from standard supermarket offerings as well.
It’s Rooting Time!
Take a sterilized razor blade and make some small vertical nicks around your cuttings’ stems, near the bottom. This will encourage roots to grow out through these cuts, rather than solely from the original cut edge.
From here, 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 soil. Method 2 involves planting the cuttings directly. Let’s delve into these methods, shall we?
Method 1: Water-Based Rooting
This is the method I use for all herbaceous plants, as it’s worked well for me every time.
After making those stem cuts, pop them into a sterilized glass container. I like to use half-pint Mason jars as they’re the perfect size. Add enough water so the stems are well submerged, but the water isn’t touching any remaining leaves.
Change the water every three to four days so it doesn’t get manky. You should see new root growth on the stems after a few weeks. Keep changing the water out until those roots are about half an inch long.
At this point, you can transplant the cutting into the soil. If you’re going to be growing your herbs in pots, then choose well-draining potting soil with plenty of perlite and/or coir in it. Alternatively, you can plant directly into garden soil outdoors. Just try to plant during a sunny spell so your new plants can get the best start possible.
Method 2: Soil-Based Rooting
For this method, you’ll need loose, well-draining potting soil, as well as a rooting hormone. There are a number of great rooting hormones that you can use. I’ve had the best luck with willow bark tea or honey, but use what you feel most comfortable with.
Fill some small pots with the potting medium and add water to moisten it.
After you’ve nicked the stems with your (sterilized) razor blade, dip the ends in the rooting hormone. Then, use a chopstick or pencil to poke holes in the potting soil, and pop your cuttings into them. Next, press the soil down around them and water them in gently.
Place these cuttings on a sunny windowsill or countertop so they get plenty of light. If your home is quite dry, then 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 happens, you’ll see new growth start to appear. The cutting will grow taller, and you’ll see tiny new leaves appear.
If you don’t see new growth after a few weeks, tug on the cutting gently. If it comes out of the soil easily, then it hasn’t grown new roots successfully. Toss that cutting into the compost and try again.
Alternatively, if it resists being pulled and seems to be rooted, let it be. It just needs a bit longer to establish its root system before it creates 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 have been cultivars with taller growing habits and larger leaves. For example: ‘Genovese,’ ‘Marseilles,’ and ‘Romanesco’ work well.
In contrast, smaller cultivars such as ‘Pistou’ or bush basil seem to do better when grown from seed or purchased as seedlings. I haven’t yet tried to cultivate tulsi from cuttings but shall update this article if and when I do.