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Learn How to Propagate Basil for Fresh Flavor

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Basil is one of my favorite summertime herbs to grow. While you can probably pick up seedlings at the nursery, propagating basil yourself is easy to do. 

Go here to learn all about growing and harvesting basil

basil plants in a clay pot from above

Propagating basil

When you decide you want to plant basil in your garden, you’ll need to choose between purchasing seedlings or starting plants from seed. If you already have some basil in the garden and want MORE (or if you have a friend who’s growing basil) you can quickly increase the number of plants you have by taking cuttings. 

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Limited on space? Don’t let that keep you from growing some of your own food! In my 5-Gallon Garden course, I’ll show you how to grow food in the space you have! Learn more about it here.

Starting basil from seed

Basil seeds are small and black and produce a seedling that is distinctly different from other garden crops. The first sign of a basil plant emerging from soil is a pair of symmetrical, almost half-circle cotyledon, or first leaves. 

basil sprouts in a white dish with blue trim from above
Fun fact: When basil seeds get wet, they become surrounded in a mucilage and look like tiny little eyeballs. Thanks to some of my followers, I learned (WHO KNEW??) that these jelly basil seeds are actually used in boba tea!

Basil seeds sprout best in temperatures between 60º and 85ºF. Plant seeds in full sun, covered with a quarter-inch of soil. When the plants are a couple of inches tall, thin to allow about 12″ between plants. 

If you opt to start basil seedlings inside for transplanting into the garden later, use a grow light and a heat mat to increase the soil temperature.

Basil grows well in containers and is one of the featured crops in my 5-Gallon Garden course.


propagating basil cuttings in waterPropagating basil from cuttings in water

Here’s the cool thing about propagating basil from cuttings: You’ll cut the time to harvest in half compared to plants started from seed. 

Of course, you’ll have to get cuttings to get started. Here are three ways to consider:

  • Purchase a single seedling at the nursery and get it established, then you can start multiple basil plants from the first one.
  • Find a friend with a healthy basil plant and ask if you can take some cuttings.
  • Check your grocery store to see if they sell fresh herbs. 

However you do it, you’ll end up with a multitude of free plants!

To propagate basil this way, cut a 6″ stem from a basil plant, just below a leaf node. Choose a fleshy stem that has not flowered yet. Roots will sprout from the nodes, where leaves emerge from the stem.

Carefully remove the leaves at these nodes and place the cuttings in water. You may end up with several nodes under water; roots should sprout from all of them. 

While it’s not entirely necessary, if you have some of this homemade rooting hormone, you can add a tablespoon or so to the water. 

Change the water every couple of days. In about two to three weeks, when the roots are a couple of inches long, move the rooted basil cutting to soil — either in a planter filled with potting soil or directly in the garden — and water it in. 

You’ll be able to start harvesting fresh basil leaves in another few weeks, ready for lemon basil sauce, fresh pesto or other delicious basil recipes.

basil cuttings in a cup from above

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle. She's a certified Master Food Preserver and longtime gardener who loves to turn the harvest into pantry staples.

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