Growing basil from cuttings for limitless supply of fresh basil

You cannot have too much basil. And basil can be used for so much more than fresh tomato salads and pesto. Stay tuned for how to make sure you have a limitless supply of fresh basil at home.

Looking to grow basil plants from cuttings? 
1. Cut the stem just above the third pair of leaves
2. Gently cut off (and use) all but the top 2-4 leaves
3. Place cuttings in a glass with room temperature water
4. Wait a few weeks for roots to form and transplant into potting soil.

5 step guide: growing basil from cuttings

We prefer propagating basil cutting in water over potting soil. I find it easier and more effective. And it is so rewarding to see the fresh new roots grow and take form.

1. Taking cuttings from an established basil plant

Use sharp garden scissors to cut the stem at an angle just below a leaf node above the third pair of true leaves.

I like my cuttings to be 7-10 cm (3-4 inches) long. Shorter stems will work, but if too short they may “curl up” making it hard to keep them submerged in water.

2. Prepare the basil cuttings

Carefully remove all leaves below the crown. Be gentle as you do not want to bruise or cut the actual stem. Needless to say, the basil leaves you remove makes for good eating.

Growing new basil plants from cuttings
New white roots starting to form

I prefer to use sharp garden scissors and I do recommend that you do use sharp and sterile garden scissors.

But I have to admit that I am guilty of pinching the leaves more often than not. Then again, I propagate basil from cuttings throughout the year. And after a while, pinching those basil leaves almost becomes second nature.

3. Prepare container

I prefer to use a tall glass container that will help support the cutting. But I also often use a regular drinking glass.

White new roots forming on basil stem cutting
Thai basil rooting

Again, make sure the glass is clean to give your basil the best possible chance to grow and develop. When the container is clean, fill it with room temperature water. Do not fill the the container all the way up.

I use regular tap water and I recommend you start by trying to use (drink quality) tap water. It will most likely work just fine. Should you have a problem using regular tap water where you live, try using distilled water or boil tap water and then let the water cool down to room temperature before using it.

I wash the container as if I was to use it for drinking a glass of water. I have found no need to use any specialised chemicals to sterilize my containers.

4. Place cuttings in container

Place basil stems in the container with water and add more water as needed. You want the stem but not the leaves to be in contact with water.

You do not need any rooting hormone to propagate basil. We never use rooting hormone for edible plants, but in the case of basil it is truly not necessary.

Next, place the container in a warm and light place with plenty of indirect light. Avoid exposing the container to direct sunlight.

5. Give your basil fresh water

Replace the water every other day or so. If you notice any smells or discoloration, replace water immediately.

Always use room temperature water. There is really no need to risk transplant shock by exposing your young plant to cold water from the tap.

In 2-4 weeks you will see fresh new white roots starting to develop along the stem.

When you have sufficient root growth, transplant into a pot filled with fertile potting soil that drains well.

And be a bit brave, plant 3-5 cuttings in one and the same pot. If you want a large and impressive basil plant, make sure you transplant more than one cutting into your pot.

And there you have it, you now have a brand new basil plant to enjoy and harvest.

Propagate basil from cuttings year round

You can propagate basil year-round into pots and containers as long as you can provide sufficient light and a warm growing environment. 

Basil cuttings showing first signs of setting new roots
Fresh new white roots

But for me, the general rule is that I sow basil seeds in pots indoors from the month of February. I then propagate more basil from cuttings continually throughout the growing season. During the colder and darker periods of the year, I prefer to grow basil hydroponically.

Basil does not like cold weather or windy conditions. Do not plant basil outdoors until the minimum temperature reaches 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit). Ideally you wait even longer until the ground temperature reaches 15 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit).

Grow different varieties of basil from cuttings

Propagating basil plants from cuttings is one of my favourite “gardening hacks”. And it is in part because propagating basil is rather easy. The root system develops nicely in water and it is almost guaranteed to work every time.

Not all herbs are easy to root from cuttings. Rooting cuttings can actually be both tricky and time consuming. Mediterranean herbs like sage, tarragon, oregano and rosemary are examples where it can be done but it will in comparison take much, much longer before you see new tender roots spring to life. 

And even better, all types of basil can be grown from cuttings. The photo below shows 3 week old Thai basil where 2 seedlings are close to being overdue for transplanting.

Thai basil cuttings with developed root systems
Thai basil: do not wait too long. You want fresh, white roots.

Again, all you need is an established Thai basil plant, a sharp pair of scissors and a glass of water. When growing Thai basil, you are looking for a 7-10 centimetres (3-4 inches) long cutting.

Can you grow basil plants hydroponically?

Basil is an ideal herb to grow hydroponically. We use Deep Water Culture (DWC) as well as Ebb and Flow hydroponic grow systems to grow basil indoors during the colder parts of the year.

Ideally, you will root your basil in the hydroponic grow system of your choice and thereby avoiding the need for transplanting the plant later on.

But you can of course also transplant the plant into your hydroponic grow system when you see fresh new white roots forming.

To grow basil from cuttings hydroponically is actually an ideal way to ensure that you have enough basil to harvest year-round whether it is outdoor growing season or not.

How to grow larger basil plants from cuttings

Forget all the photos of solitary basil seedlings each planted into separate pots. To grow large and productive basil plants you need to plant several cuttings per pot.

When you propagate basil from cuttings you need to start a minimum of 3-5 cuttings per pot or container.

Forget one pot, one seedling. You will need to transplant quite a few cuttings to grow an impressive plant.

Still, you need to give the basil seedlings space as air flow and proper air circulation is critical to develop healthy plants. The answer is however simple, use a slightly larger pot.

Where to get a good cutting to root

To root basil stem cuttings is not difficult. Still, rooting basil cuttings gets even less complicated when you harvest every single cutting from strong and established plants.

Here are 3 good ways to find good quality basil plants for growing basil from cuttings:

  1. If you have time: Grow your basil from seeds at home
  2. More expensive: Buy a basil plant from your local garden center
  3. Most popular: Buying basil plants from grocery stores

Either alternative will work as long as you ensure that you start with a healthy basil plant. You want the basil stems to be strong, fresh and full of vigour.

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants and garden vegetables. For the past two years he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.