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Flowers & Herbs,  Grow Guides

How to Grow Basil from Cuttings: Easy Water Propagation

Last Updated on August 18, 2023

Basil is a (if not THE) quintessential summer herb! Its fragrant, tender, delicious leaves are a welcome addition to pizza, pasta, salads, sandwiches, tomato sauce, and more. You can never have enough basil, if you ask me! In addition to enjoying it fresh, we love to dry the leaves and also stock our freezer with “Besto Pesto” to preserve the taste of summer for seasons to come. Fortunately, it’s incredibly easy to propagate basil to create even more plants! Read along to learn how to grow basil from cuttings and root them in water.

Quick Tips on Growing Basil

  • To grow basil from seed, start seeds indoors about 6 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Find more details in our indoor seed starting guide here. Or, in zones 7 and higher, you can sow seeds directly in the garden any time after your last spring frost. 
  • Transplant basil seedlings outdoors once the risk of frost has passed. If starting from seed, be sure to harden off your seedlings first! Protect the plants if frost is in forecast.
  • Plant basil in a location that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of sun each day. Basil enjoys full sun but will tolerate (and even benefit from) afternoon shade in the hottest climates.
  • Provide consistent moisture; enough to keep the soil damp but not always soggy. Plants grown in containers will dry out faster and require more frequent water. 
  • Basil prefers fairly rich but well-draining soil, such as potting soil amended with compost. 
  • Basil is a tender annual herb, so it will only last for one year. However, you can keep up your basil supply right through winter by rooting cuttings and growing basil in a sunny window (or under a grow light) indoors!
  • Leave some basil to flower in the garden at the end of the season. It’s a bee favorite!

Check out our guide “How to Grow Bushy Basil to Harvest All Season Long for even more information, including harvest tips and videos. 

Aaron is holding a large bowl in front of him of freshly harvested basil. The harvest is so bountiful that the bowl is hidden underneath the amount of basil leaves. Use basil cuttings to create more basil plants for a longer harvest window.

Why Propagate Basil from Cuttings

Propagation is the act of reproducing plants from a parent plant. There are a number of ways to propagate plants including grafting, budding, division, or taking cuttings from the parent plant – which is usually the easiest method! Cuttings can be dipped in rooting hormone and then planted in soil, or allowed to sit in water to grow roots first. I prefer to use the water method; it is the most simple and successful! 

Growing basil from cuttings is easy to do, and a great way to get more free basil plants – fast! Compared to starting from seed, growing basil from cuttings gives you a several-week head start. Even if you do grow basil from seed too, rooting basil cuttings is a great way to increase your supply – and share with friends.

Topping basil (including taking cuttings) doesn’t hurt the parent plant at all. On the contrary, topping basil actually makes the original plant grow far larger and bushier. So much so, I always recommend topping basil plants – even if you aren’t going to root the cuttings!

Two six pack containers of basil seedlings, they have been trimmed and are much shorter, with a little pile of the trimmed basil and snips nearby.
Our homegrown basil seedlings after their inaugural first haircut. Even if we aren’t trying to propagate more, we always top our basil seedlings to make the plants more bushy!

Where to Take Basil Cuttings From

You can take basil cuttings and propagate new plants from any established basil plant! However, it’s best to take cuttings from healthy, fairly young basil plants. Avoid taking basil cuttings from stems that have already started to flower (go to seed) or appears to be infected with disease or pests. 

  • Grocery store – Potted basil plants from the grocery store almost always have at least 5 or more seedlings crammed into one pot – perfect to take cuttings from! Rather than leaving them crowded, I also recommend gently teasing apart (separating) the seedlings and roots to give each plant more space to grow.
  • Garden center – Buying basil seedlings at the nursery? Double (or triple) your take-home by propagating cuttings from them!
  • Your seedlings – We usually grow our own basil from seed. By the time the seedlings are ready for their first haircut or topping (explained above) I usually keep a few of the longest, biggest cuttings to root in water – just for fun, and to get a few more basil seedlings as backup!
  • Your garden – Once you’re growing basil in your garden, you can keep up an endless supply by taking cuttings! In the early summer, propagate a few basil cuttings from your existing plants to start a fresh round that will last through fall. Again, be sure to take cuttings from basil stems that haven’t yet begun to flower.
  • A friends garden – Have a green thumb friend who’s growing basil? Ask if you can take a few cuttings to root at home.
  • Already cut basil – You can usually find fresh bundles of cut basil at the grocery store or Farmers Market. If it was harvested fairly recently and still looks perky and fresh, you can likely propagate it! Give the stem end a fresh cut and then proceed with the rooting instructions below. 

Three plant sprigs that have rooted in a half mason jar of water. Their roots are visible through the glass jar and are filling out the bottom of the jar.

How to Root or Propagate Basil Cuttings in Water

Rooting basil in water takes about two to three weeks, but is incredibly easy to do! In fact, it’s so easy that we’ve done it by accident several times – simply by storing our cut basil stems in water on the kitchen counter! (Did you know that’s the best way to keep basil fresh after harvest? Store it like cut flowers.)

  1. Collect basil cuttings by trimming off the top 4 to 6 inches of a basil stem or branch.
  2. Remove the leaves from the bottom 2 inches of the stem, if there are any. 
  3. Put the basil cuttings in a glass of water. Clear glass is fun so you can watch the roots grow, but not required. The stems should be submerged in at least a couple inches of water. 
  4. Place the cuttings somewhere they will receive bright but indirect light, such as your kitchen counter or in a windowsill. 
  5. Change the water in the glass every few days until roots begin to grow, which can take a week or so. 
  6. Allow the roots to grow until they’re 1 to 2 inches long before transplanting the rooted basil cuttings into soil. 
  7. Now you can plant your rooted basil cutting directly outdoors in the garden, into a larger pot to keep indoors, or wherever you plan to grow it. We usually transplant them into a small pot of fluffy seed starting soil for a week or two first, just so their new tender roots have a chance to get accustomed to soil first. 

Small scissor snips are positioned above a growth node of a basil seedling. This is a great way to top the basil seedling to make it more bush while using the cutting if stuck in a jar of water to grow a new basil plant.
Three freshly harvest sprigs of basil sticking out of the top of a half mason jar filled with water.
These particular cuttings where honestly a tad short. I took them from the top of fairly short basil seedlings, so I didn’t have enough room to remove a full 4 to 6 inches… but it still worked!
Two basil cuttings with roots shooting off of their main stem are laying on top of two small pots filled with soil.
The roots a few weeks later. Time to transplant into soil!
Two basil cuttings freshly planted into 4 inch containers of soil.

Cheers to free plants!

Now that you know how to propagate and grow basil from cuttings, enjoy your bounty – and share some with your friends! Don’t miss our delicious freezer-friendly Besto Pesto recipe. We love it with walnuts, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and parmesan cheese, but it’s easy to make vegan too! You can use a variety greens (arugula, kale, fava bean greens, etc) and also an array of nuts, including pecans, pistachios, or classic pine nuts. Or, skip the nuts and use hemp hearts, sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds instead!

Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments below. If you found this article to be helpful, please spread the basil love by pinning or sharing this post!

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    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Suzonne, that’s a tough one. The best thing you can do is fully remove all of the infected plant material from your raised beds, soil, and surrounding area and throw it in your green waste bin. Also, if you have the ability to rotate your crops year to year, try planting powdery mildew susceptible crops in a raised bed that didn’t have plants with PM on them the previous growing season. Outside of that, look for varieties of veggies that are more powdery mildew resistant which will help keep the powdery mildew more manageable. Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Paula VanDeventer

    Hi – thanks so much for all of these blog posts – our organic backyard garden in Vermont just keeps getting better! A quick question – this article says you should not try to root basil cuttings that have begun to flower; But I have some cuttings on the windowsill that are growing roots and looking bright and cheerful, although they have begun to flower. Will these cuttings not grow into new basil plants? Why should flowering cuttings be avoided?
    Thank you!

    • DeannaCat

      Hi Paula, it is so great to hear your backyard garden just keeps improving with time, that is the goal! I would still try and plant out your basil cuttings, just keep pinching the flowers off. They say that once basil starts to flower, it won’t produce as many leaves. However, our basil plants typically start to flower by mid summer and we still keep harvesting off of them fairly heavily until cooler weather sets in. Hope that helps and have fun growing!

  • Stephanie P

    Love this – thank you!!! So once the basil cuttings have developed roots in water (on my windowsill), does that mean they don’t need to “harden off” before going directly into the garden or a pot outside, like other seedlings grown indoors?

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Stephanie, that’s a good thought, you may want to harden them off for only a couple of days as opposed to closer to a week that we recommend for plants started from seed. Good luck and have fun growing.

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