The Lazy Way/non-Water Way to Root/Propagate Basil and Herb-y Plants




Introduction: The Lazy Way/non-Water Way to Root/Propagate Basil and Herb-y Plants

About: Wife and mother, and jill-of-all-trades. I can garden and grow things, crochet, knit, embroider, cross-stitch, sew, make hairbows, cook, make bread, woodburn, craft jewelry, hula hoop, belly dance, and prob...

The traditional method of propagating basil cuttings is to root them in a glass of water, and then transfer to potting medium. But this has never worked out for me... The water gets nasty pretty fast, and if I don't change it often enough (daily!), the cuttings will rot. And even once they develops roots, they seem to struggle to make it afterI pot them. (I think a gardening book said something about there being a difference between "water roots" and regular roots...)

So being the lazy, impatient gardener that I am, I came up with a way to root them that skips the water stage. It's easy, maintenance-free, and works pretty well (like at least 90% success rate).

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

You will need:

  • cuttings (you can even use sprigs in fancy, overpriced packages from the grocery store)
  • nursery pots, pre-loaded with moistened potting medium
    • mine are dollar store plastic cups that I stabbed a hole in the bottom with a grilling skewer, and filled with "garden soil"
  • sharp knife, so cutting does not bruise stems and cause rot
  • a box with lid, or plastic wrap; a hot-food container like this rotisserie chicken container is ideal

*optional - rooting hormone. It's not recommended that you use it on basil and plants meant for consumption, but if you want to use it for ornamental plants, you will also need:

  • disposal bowl
  • some colored paper, just so you can easily see the white powder
  • cheap paintbrush of the kind that comes in kids' paint kits (they're also sold separately as a pack of 30 for .99 and are pretty handy to have around for tiny gardening tasks)

Step 2: Prep Your Cuttings

If using the grocery store package of cuttings, soak them in cold water for 15-30 to revive them, because who knows how long they've been languishing on the shelves, bless their hearts...

Choose healthy-looking stems and use your knife to make a clean cut halfway between growing nodes. Ideally there should be 2 or 3 nodes above the cut.

Remove excess stems and leaves, leaving only the top ones. Seems like leaving big leaves on causes the cuttings to take longer to root, and they always seem to be struggling, too. My theory is that they take too much of the cutting's energy to maintain, so there's less available to make roots with. Sounds plausible, right?

The cuttings I took there are from the "spicy globe basil" plant. It is exactly like regular basil, but on a much smaller scale. It was a bit of a challenge to prep such itty-bitty cuttings!

Step 3: Stick It in the Dirt, and TA-DA!

Just kidding, there's more:

Step 4: But Not THAT Much More...

Roots will form at the cut, AND at the nodes, so you want to make sure the bottom of the growing nodes are snuggled firmly into the dirt, in addition to one that's IN the soil. This will give your cuttings more opportunities/spots at which to root, and thus increasing their chances of making it.

And the potting medium should be pre-moistened before the cuttings goes in. But not too wet or they will rot.

Step 5: Using Rooting Hormone

If you wanted to use rooting hormone on the ornamental plants, tap out a bit onto colored construction paper in the disposable bowl. This is just to make the white powder easier to see. Prep your cutting, and dip the end into the powder. Tap off the excess, and use the brush to apply a light dusting to the node area. Stick it in the dirt.

Here, I am using this method with a salvia plant, which has the same branching system as basil, with pairs of leaves at each node. I was only able to take 3 cuttings from it, and actually made 2 more while prepping.

Step 6: Put Them in a Home

Put your cups of cuttings into their new home and loosely cover with lid or plastic wrap to keep a high humidity environment, (in a pinch, you could even use plastic zip bags). But this part is Crucial, because the high humidity is what makes this method work!

Place somewhere with bright, indirect light.

Check the moisture every few days and add a few spoons of water if needed.

*If you soaked your grocery store cuttings, allow to air dry a bit, or mold might set in.

**Also, I made these cuttings solely to share them with neighbors. If making a new pot of basil for yourself, you can skip the starter cups and root directly in the pot, to save yourself transplanting mean later! Cover with plastic wrap and continue.

Step 7: Kids Are Ready to Move Out

After about 2 or 3 weeks, ideally, you should be able to see new growth: either new leaves, or increased size of the old leaves. If you're not sure, you can wait a few more days, or if you're impatient like me, grab a leaf and give it a gentle tug: if there's resistance, there's roots. But there's a chance that the whole thing will come flying out, newly formed roots and all...

And they are ready to be moved outdoors!

Here are some coleus and Persian shield cuttings that have been rooting for about 3 weeks. The reason they're so tiny is because they are just leftover scraps from when I took actual cuttings (no pic of those). I was experimenting to see how tiny a cutting can be and still make it. Apparently pretty tiny!

Step 8: Acclimating Your Cuttings

Do NOT stick newly developed cuttings out in bright sun light, even if they are sun-lovers, because they will get horribly sunburned like this poor succulent there. You will need to slowly acclimate them to increasing amounts of sunlight, called "hardening off".

The traditional method is to take your plant outside each day, and leaving it out for an hour longer each time... But you can probably guess I am wayy too lazy for that, so I will put my tray in a spot that is shady all day. Then in 2 or 3 days, move it to a spot that gets shady after 10 AM. Then to a spot that gets shady after noon, and so on, until the cuttings are fully acclimated.

Meanwhile, because of the small cups and small roots, your new cuttings are very prone to drying out, so be sure to keep them watered. I just fill the tray with an inch of water, and let them soak up as needed. I refill it every 2 or 3 days, just when it goes dry, so that the cuttings are not just sitting in water all the time.

Finally, your cuttings are ready to be potted in their permanent home, or shared with friends and neighbors.

This method should work for a number of plants with a similar upright-y growing pattern. For sprawling, long-stemmed plants like thyme, sedum, and some houseplants, I have a slightly different method of setting them up:

Hope this was clear and helpful! Happy growing!

Step 9: Bonus Tip:

Here is my secret ingredient for making the bestest pesto: Better than Bouillon Chicken Flavor

Use this instead of salt in your recipe. It will give you a much richer flavor than just salty. And when someone tells you your pesto is amazing, smile modestly and tell them "It must be the home-grown basil!"

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10 Discussions


9 days ago

I’ve developed a bit of a thing for basil and your approach to cuttings is just absolutely amazing. Just got another bunch of them started a week ago and could already pull the foil off today.

This approach saves at least 2 weeks!


Question 1 year ago on Introduction

I'm a bit late to the party but this sounds incredibly easy, thank you so much for figuring it out and posting it! I have one question though, well two questions:

You say that when you use this method for yourself, you simply pot the fresh cuttings directly in their new home (aka the big pot) and then cover the whole thing up to up the moisture. Does that mean I can't plant the cuttings in the same pot the plant I cut them from is?
Or should I first plant them in a smaller planting pot (in which case, I have a few disposable cups I can use) and then repot them in the bigger pot?


Answer 6 months ago

I would suggest a second pot so you don't risk crowding the plants as they grow. If the pot is really big, you could put a plastic cup or baggie over the cutting if you do it in the same pot.

I know it's a year later, but just in case you never got an answer. :)


Question 2 years ago on Step 4

Thank you for the article - it is very interesting - and I can't wait to try your method. I do have a question. When you say:

Roots will form at the cut, AND at the nodes, so you want to make sure the bottom of the growing nodes are snuggled firmly into the dirt, in addition to one that's IN the soil.

What do you mean by "in addition to the one that's in the soil?" Are you saying that I should have at least one node deep in the soil and the nodes above the one in the soil in the dirt? Thank you!


3 years ago

This is a great tip. Everything else I found rooted them in water, which I don't like. I'm lazy too. ;) I am going to try rooting them in Jiffy pellets. I will remove the mesh when I transplant.

thank you for taking the time to make this wonderful ible. I know you keep saying that your lazy, but alas, you are most certainly not. I love my gardening but frequently take short cuts myself, sometimes, to my own dismay. lol thanks again for this and you've got me wanting to jump out the door and start my new crops.


5 years ago on Introduction

"The traditional method of propagating basil cuttings is to root them in a glass of water, and then transfer to potting medium. But this has never worked out for me... The water gets nasty pretty fast, and if I don't change it often enough (daily!), the cuttings will rot."

I haven't tried rooting Basil, but I suspect your water was too clean to work. If you tap water has very low levels of macro (N,P,K) and micro (iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium) nutrients (soft wataer). the basil would not have enough minerals to grow and that would eventually rot. I was using RO water in my aquarium and my plants frequently died. Once I started adding just micro nutrients I got very health growth.


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Hmm, that never occurred to me, about having soft water. Thanks for pointing that out, I'll keep that in mind for the future :) Actually was planning on getting some aquatic plants soon, so good timing!