How to repot basil (for more to harvest)

To successfully repot seedlings and young basil plants is a skill that will help you create a successful herb garden for less. 

Mastering how to repot or transplant does take some practice even when you already know the do’s and don’ts. 

To summarize you should repot store-bought basil as soon as you get home, and repot seedlings from seeds when you see at least one set of true leaves.

Repot supermarket basil plant

Basil is one of the easier herbs to repot and propagate from store-bought plants. But before we look at the method, you need to understand 3 facts about supermarket herbs and basil in particular.

3 facts about store-bought basil plants

Fact 1: Store-bought herbs are grown densely in small starter pots to look impressive. The whole idea is that you harvest the aromatic leaves and then dispose of the plant. 

Fact 2: The small starter pots are not meant to hold enough nutrients for the young basil plant to grow and thrive. The basil plant is there to be consumed within a few days to a week or so.

Fact 3: The plants have been driven hard in an optimal growing environment that is close to impossible to replicate for non-commercial gardeners. 

Given the above, you now know that you need to offer is the following:

  • Larger pot than original container as planted too densely
  • Good quality potting soil to help plants grow
  • A growing environment that will help the plant adapt and survive

Step 1: Basil stem cuttings to grow multiple plants

Stem cuttings with new roots
New white roots on stems

Basil bought at the supermarket is most often called common or sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum). It is a wonderfully aromatic herb and it will grow quickly. If this is the only type of basil you want, you can start your basil herb garden from a store-bought basil plant. 

Please read our article on growing basil indoors. When propagating basil from stem cutting you want a 7-10 centimeter (3-4 inches) long sprig. 

  1. Cut the stem just above the third pair of leaves 
  2. Trim off all leaves but the top 2 – 4 
  3. Insert the cutting into a glass of water / pot with soil
  4. Replace water every day / keep soil moist

Your plant will start setting new roots in 1-2 weeks.

If you like the sound of Thai basil, cinnamon basil,  opal basil, etc. you may have to buy seeds or plants from your local garden center. It will be much more economical to grow your basil from seeds at home.

Step 2: Repotting basil plants

After harvesting and planting the stems from your store-bought basil you are left with one or several basil plants. Next we will look at repotting this basil plant.

To give your plant the best possible chance of survival you should prepare your new pot first.

  1. Place store-bought basil plant in water
  2. Fill your new pot to ⅔ with fresh potting mix 
  3. Water the pot
  4. Remove store-bought plant from water 
  5. Use your fingers to gently open up the root system
  6. Place plant in new pot and fill with more potting soil
  7. Water and let excess drain from drainage holes

Do take care to keep the root system wet throughout the entire repotting process. Store-bought basil is not too difficult to repot but still it is reasonable to expect a success rate closer to 50 than 100 percent.

Repotting basil seedling grown from seed

First leaves of opal basil
First leaves of opal basil (10 days old). Read our article on growing basil from seeds.

Is it difficult to grow basil plants from seeds? No, basil is thankfully one of the easier herbs to grow and germinate from seed.

When you grow a basil plant from seed you do have a couple of advantages. You are no longer dealing with overcrowded seedlings that are driven (too) hard and planted in a small starter pot. 

And as long as you do not forget to water the basil plant seedlings you will often achieve a 90-100% success rate when repotting basil seedlings. 

  1. Water pot with basil plant seedlings
  2. Fill new pots with ⅔ of potting mix 
  3. Water pots
  4. Gently remove 1 seedling taking care not to disturb root system
  5. Make hole in the mix and insert the seedling
  6. Press potting soil gently around the seedling
  7. Water thoroughly to remove any pockets of air

7 lessons repotting basil plant seedlings

Repotting basil plant cuttings and seedlings is an economical way to multiply the number of plants in your herb garden.

Transplant shock is a term used to summarize stresses and adverse reactions when plants are moved, transplanted or repotted.

Here are 7 tried and tested experience-based rules that will help you when repotting basil into larger pots. 

1. Avoid disturbing roots

Be gentle and careful when you are in contact with the root system. Roots are delicate and seedling’s young roots are still under development. 

2. Keep root system moist

Do not let the root system dry out. Water the young plants before repotting to help the potting mix stick to the roots to increase the level of moisture.

3. Stay with the same medium when possible

Repotting a plant introduces the risk of transplant shock. You will greatly reduce the risk of shock if you use the same type of medium in your new pot or container. Basil cuttings in water are, for example, ideally suited for growing basil hydroponically.

Plants need light to grow and thrive. And this is also true when repotting basil in pots or outdoors. A windowsill may give enough light during spring and summer. But come winter you need to use grow lights for herbs and other potted plants to grow and thrive.

4. Bring as much of the root ball as possible

When repotting the plant, take great care to bring as much of the root system as possible. Watering beforehand helps support the root system as the soil adheres to the roots.

5. Water thoroughly to help roots grow

When repotted you need to water thoroughly to help new roots grow in their new environment. And thoroughly means slow and several times. Well draining soil will let the water run off before the soil has had time to absorb enough moisture. Watering slow will allow the soil to absorb all the moisture it needs.

6. Preparation of new pots or site comes first

Prepare the new pots, containers or site with a good quality medium. If transplanting into soil you can never go wrong with a well drained quality soil. Make sure to keep the soil moist, and work fast without being careless. An example would be to move one seedling at a time to avoid roots being exposed to air when waiting to be transplanted.

7. Do not over fertilize

You want your indoor plants to grow and thrive but do not assume that you always need to add fertilizer. Most quality potting soils and mixes come with enough fertilizer and nutrition to sustain the seedlings first stages of development.

And remember that you can always add fertiliser but it is really hard to remove when added. When it is time to add fertiliser, select one plant and add half the recommended dosage and observe before administering to all your plants.

If you are repotting or transplanting more established plants, trim back the plant to help it focus energy on growing strong roots over new growth.

Summary and conclusion:

You now know how to use stem cuttings to grow new basil plants. You understand why store-bought herbs offer some unique challenges compared to basil plant seedlings grown from seeds at home.

Regardless of how you decide to grow basil, you will find that all varieties of basil require well drained soil and pots with drainage holes. Basil plants do not do well if water pools at the bottom of the container. 

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.