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How to Propagate Basil Stem Cuttings

Never buy basil again! Learn how to propagate basil using stem cuttings. Propagating basil in water is an easy process that can help you prolong the life of your plant, prevent it from flowering and going to seed, and grow more plants.

Learn how to propagate basil from stem cuttings!

Today we’re talking about how to propagate basil from stem cuttings. It’s a super easy (and necessary) thing to do it you want to enjoy fresh basil leaves for your whole growing season.

And you can continue chopping and propping basil stem cuttings pretty much indefinitely, meaning you really only need to buy basil once! I know herbs are cheap to buy at the garden center, but if you’re like me, you spend too much money on plants and will take any chance to cut down that bill 😉

herbs and flowers growing in a greenstalk vertical garden

Why should I prune basil?

I mentioned above that this is easy and necessary. And here’s why. If you want your plant to continue growing big leaves you can harvest to use in cooking and whatnot, you need to prune your basil plant.

If you’ve ever grown basil, you know that it doesn’t take long before the plant begins sprouting what look like clusters of tiny leaves at the top of the plant. These tiny leaves eventually sprout flowers and then produce seeds.

This is a natural part of the plant’s lifecycle—it has entered its reproductive phase. The flowers mean that the plant is shifting its energy from producing leaves to producing seeds. If you are growing basil primarily for its leaves, you’ll want to stop or delay this process.

Oftentimes you can achieve this by simply regularly harvesting leaves and cuttings from the plant. However, basil grows pretty prolifically. And that means that my plants often grow faster than I can use them in the kitchen or preserve them.

You’ll also hear the basil pruning process referring to as “pinching back,” and it basically means the same thing. You are cutting back the plant to prevent it from entering its reproductive phase—or flowering and “going to seed.”

Of course, once you’re reading to let the plant go to seed, that’s totally fine, too. It will flower and produce small seed pods that you can harvest seeds from to save for next year.

basil flowering and going to seed
Basil beginning to flower and “go to seed”
basil flowering in a greenstalk vertical garden
Basil beginning to flower and “go to seed” in some spots

How to prune basil

You don’t need to overthink this. You can really cut anywhere on the stem of a basil plant. I like to look for a spot where the stem is branching out and cut around there. Basil isn’t like some other plants where you have to cut in a very specific part of the plant to get a growth point.

Take a look at the purple basil plant I have growing in my GreenStalk vertical garden below. You can see the area around the center of the plant where I cut it back. The plant is now focusing its growth on the two stems coming off of the main stem in a “Y” shape.

Pretty soon I’ll need to cut back the plant again. As I said, basil grows quickly and will begin to go to seed quickly as well. Especially in very warm temperatures.

basil growing in a greenstalk vertical garden

So here’s how to prune and propagate basil cuttings!

Now that you know why you need to prune a basil plant and how easy it is to do so, let’s talk about propagating basil in water to grow more plants! This is a super simple process that only requires a container, a cutting, and water (I use plain old tap water).

Step 1: Locate a stem that is beginning to flower

While it’s generally best to take a cutting before you see signs of flowering, I usually can’t keep up with how fast my plant grows! So instead I will take a cutting with signs of flowering.

Then I will remove the bottom-most set or two of leaves depending on the cutting’s size. And I will also chop off the very top of the plant where it was beginning to flower.

herbs and flowers growing in a greenstalk vertical garden
basil growing in a greenstalk vertical garden

For more gardening, check out my post about plants that attract beneficial insects, my tips for how to grow beautiful zinnias, and my GreenStalk Vertical Garden review!

Step 2: Stick the cutting in water

Next I will stick the cutting in water and set it on my kitchen windowsill. I just use regular tap water—no need to get fancy and use filtered or distilled water, though you certainly can if you want to.

Refresh the water as it evaporates to ensure the stem of the plant cutting remains submerged. After a week or so, you’ll start to see new roots sprouting. I like to wait until the roots are about as long as the ones in the pics below before planting them.

basil stem cuttings in water
basil stem cuttings growing roots in water
basil stem cuttings with roots grown in water

Step 3: Plant and keep the soil moist

Here’s another look at what the purple basil cuttings looked like with their fresh new roots. You can see that they grow all along the stem—not just from the areas where leaves sprout as with some other plants.

This is about the point that I transfer the rooted cuttings to soil. I rooted two cuttings and planted them in two separate pockets in my GreenStalk. That means two more purple basil plants!

I definitely recommend keeping the soil moist for the first several days after transplanting it. This will help the roots become established in their new soil home. Then you can begin treating the plant as normal 🙂

basil stem cuttings with roots grown in water
propagated purple basil growing in a pot
propagated purple basil growing in a pot

And one more thing…

And one more thing! If you snip some basil but aren’t quite ready to use it, you can also pop it in water to keep it fresh! It will begin to root, and it will give you much more time to snip off the leaves to use in the kitchen.

basil stem cuttings in water

Pin my post about how to propagate basil!

collage that says learn how to propagate basil in water including photos from this post
collage that says how to propagate basil with cuttings including photos from this post

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  1. Mairead Joyce says:

    thanks so much for your great post.perfect.greetings from the w.coast of Ireland 💚💜

  2. Tracey says:

    love how explained about seed top.Wasnt aware could save for next season, an where to cut showing photos. will try. 1 question though is it better take leaves from bottom or top of plant when need couple leaves?

    • Brittany Goldwyn says:

      Definitely the top of the plant! Just snip off the top of the stem to use them 🙂

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