How to Propagate Basil

Basil is a great versatile herb that is a staple in my summer cooking.  In past years I’ve purchased a small plant early in the season, plucked leaves sparingly, and purchased sprigs of basil from the grocery store to supplement my needs.  This was neither cost efficient nor convenient.  I knew there had to be an easier way – I needed to propagate basil.  

How to Propagate Basil title - pot of basil

Early attempts to propagate basil

I first tried cutting a couple pieces of basil off the top of my existing plant and plopping the end in water.  After a couple weeks I saw no signs of roots and gave up.  I figured there must be some trick to make the basil cuttings root.  

Successful method to propagate basil

This year I was finally successful at rooting basil cuttings and getting them to grow successfully in soil.  I’ve used this method to more than quadruple my basil crop this season.  

Cut the basil

Using cleaned scissors, cut several healthy basil stems, about 1 inch below a node where leaves and branches split off.  Remove the two lowest leaves.

cut basil preparing for root growth
two springs of basil cut, with lowest pair of leaves removed

If there are branches with more leaves above this point, cut those close to the main stem.  

cut basil preparing to root
cut basil sprig, with lowest 2 leaves removed and lowest branches cut to root separately

Place the cuttings in clean water, keeping the bottom 1/2 inch submerged at all times.  Keep leaves out of the water, or they may rot.

cut basil in a glass bowl, rooting
cut basil in water, day 0

Replace the water every couple days to ensure it stays fresh.  Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see roots quickly.  After 4 days, the cuttings looked the same as day 0. 

cut basil in a glass bowl, rooting
cut basil in water, day 4

But by day 7 I found roots starting to grow!  After the roots start, they grow very quickly. 

cut basil in water, day 7

Watch the root growth and add or replace water as needed to keep the bottom of the stem and all roots submerged.  

basil cuttings, day 9
cut basil in water, day 9

Once the roots are 2″-4″ long, transplant them into a pot of soil.  For the first few days, the plants are delicate.  Make sure the soil stays moist, and if the leaves begin to wilt, try moving the plant out of direct sun for part of the day.

basil cutting, day 11
cut basil in water, day 11

My plants live happily under my second floor deck, which gives them direct sunlight for half of the day, from about noon until sunset.  

pot of basil with newly rooted sections growing
newly rooted basil planted with parent basil
Don’t fear

If your basil cutting does not root.  My early attempts failed almost 100% of the time.  Once I started following the above steps, I upped my success rate to about 90%.  Sometimes the cuttings just do not root.  I think the most common reasons for my basil cuttings not rooting are not giving the cuttings enough time (it’ll take at least 1 week for roots to start growing) and not cleaning my scissors before cutting.  Like my yogurt, Greek yogurt, and sourdough starter, bacteria can kill the living basil. 

How I use basil

Some of my favorite recipes using basil are:

  • caprese salad: grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, basil, and balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze
  • basil pesto on pasta: basil, olive oil, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese
  • margarita pizza on sourdough or soaked bread or pizza crust: I use my soaked bread recipe either as bread slices or baked into crust, topped with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil.


Have you tried propagating basil or other herbs?  Do you have any tips?  Share them in the comments below!