Almost Magic: Rooting Basil From Cuttings

Almost Magic: Rooting Basil From Cuttings
Almost Magic: Rooting Basil From Cuttings

At the end of last week’s post on growing basil, we promised a follow-up on how to turn some of your harvested basil stems into vigorous, leaf-producing plants.

I’m the first to admit loving a bargain and rooting basil from cuttings certainly qualifies!

In fact, for me, the process of rooting basil from cuttings borders on the magical. Take a few skinny stems, root them, and you have enough basil plants to keep you in pesto for a summer.

When fall arrives, root cuttings from those plants on a sunny windowsill indoors for fresh, sweet basil leaves all winter long.

Nothing about rooting cuttings requires long-time gardening experience, specialized equipment, or significant amounts of time and money.

 And, if you’ve never rooted anything before, you won’t find a more forgiving teacher than basil. So let’s get started!

Rooting Basil from Cuttings Placed in Water

This method of rooting basil cuttings is so easy that any budding gardener, regardless of age, can manage it.

Things You’ll Need:

  • Sharp stem clippers sterilized with 90-percent rubbing alcohol or a 9:1 water-to-bleach solution
  • Sterilized opaque glass jar, cup, or another watertight container
  • Clean filtered or spring water
  • Healthy basil plant
  • Spray bottle 


Step 1: Select a healthy, pest-free garden basil plant with several stems that haven’t flowered.

Step 2: Take 4- to 6-inch cuttings with clean diagonal cuts right below leaf nodes (the joints on the stems where the leaves emerge). Diagonal cuts provide more surface area for roots to grow.

Step 3: Pinch the leaves from the lower sections of the stems, leaving just the top two sets. Avoid tearing them off so bacterial diseases don’t attack the nodes.

This newly rooted basil cutting will soon be ready for potting.

Step 4: Fill a sterilized jar or container with clean spring or filtered water. An opaque container will discourage algae by keeping sunlight from reaching the water.

Step 5: Put as many cuttings as the container can comfortably hold in the jar, with the lip of the jar supporting the upper leaves.

Step 6: Pour off enough water so that what remains covers only the lower two-thirds of the stems.

Step 7: Set the jar of cuttings in bright but indirect light. Change the water daily to keep bacteria and algae at bay. Mist the leaves lightly with a spray bottle every day to provide humidity.

In about ten days to two weeks, your basil cuttings should be showing their new roots!

Potting Newly Rooted Basil Cuttings

When your basil cuttings’ roots are about 1 inch long, it’s time to trade their water for a sterile, moist potting medium. The Purdue University Consumer HorticultureSite recommends a 50/50 mix of perlite and vermiculite.

If the cuttings’ final destination is your garden, give each one its own 3- to-4-inc pot. However, if you intend them to stay indoors and provide your winter supply of leaves, it’s OK to put four or five cuttings in a single 6-inch pot.

Whichever way you’re going, fill the pot about halfway with the moistened medium. Remove a cutting from the jar and gently tease its roots apart. Spread them over the surface of the medium. 

Once all the cuttings have moved to pots, slowly fill in around them. Build up the medium around their stems until at least one node is covered on each.

When they have enough support to stand upright, water them well and move them to a sunny window away from hot or cold drafts. 

Give them a few weeks to establish more robust root systems. Keep their medium moist but not soggy, and turn them occasionally if they start leaning toward the light.

When you see new leaves emerging, you have successfully cloned your first basil plants. And that definitely calls for a green thumbs-up!

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