Starting Basil from Cuttings…Seeds Take too Long!
There is no culinary herb that I enjoy more than basil. Dried basil is the secret ingredient that keeps the compliments coming for my baked potato fries, and it is a great addition to my homemade cracker dough. I love stuffing whole, fresh basil leaves into sandwiches at lunchtime, and I would never want to imagine a future for myself that does not include pesto. I think that basil is perhaps the one seasoning I could eat every day and never tire. In the garden, few moments provide as much aromatic delight as the accidental brush up against this deliciously fragrant plant. I feel so fortunate to have a sunny outdoor space for growing basil. Fortunately, basil fares just as well in containers as it does in the earth, so anyone who has a sunny patio, or even a fire escape, has the right conditions to grow this favored herb.
Last autumn when I started to plant up my backyard garden, my husband went shopping on his own one evening, and returned with a present of plants. My husband cooks almost all our dinners, so it was not surprising that he came home with herbs he would want for use in the kitchen. Although I have started all my vegetables from seeds, I find that it is usually not worth the time to begin growing herbs this way, and so I was thrilled with his gift for my kitchen garden. Among the plants my husband brought me were two varieties of basil. The sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum, would have been expected, but he also took a chance on a variety that neither of us had previously heard of Ocimum basilicum ‘African Blue’. What a great choice this was! While the common sweet basil succumbed to cold in early December, the African Blue made it right through our coastal Southern California winter. I suspect that if covered on extremely cold nights, it might overwinter all the way up the coast, right into the Pacific Northwest.
African Blue is a bit more pungent than sweet basil, and is also wonderfully spicy with a slight undertone of licorice (this basil does not remind me in the least of Thai basil, which has quite a strong licorice flavor). The leaves are considerably smaller and slightly thicker than regular basil leaves. They are smooth and shiny and have a wonderful texture both raw and cooked. My husband and I adore this variety of basil…and so does are our son. A disproportionate amount of the greens in my son’s diet are a result of his daily foraging in our herb garden. It is wonderful that this basil plant is so vigorous that I do not need to worry about damage caused by inexperienced hands picking and pulling at leaves. I am all for one less rule for my little boy to follow in the garden!
My husband and I plan to pick up a common sweet basil plant soon, but if somehow we fail to do so, it will be okay and I won’t really miss it. I love the African blue as much as the common variety and since I have started several new plants from the original we purchased last autumn, we will not be short on basil. Growing basil from seeds is a slow process that takes too long and is not particularly worth the time or energy. Starting basil from cuttings, however, is so simple and so quick. Especially during the growing season when basil is ready to take off. Anyone can pull this off!
Starting Basil from Cuttings
Cut a basil stem from your existing plant that is around 5 or 6 inches long.
Remove all of the leaves except for the top two sets. If the top leaves are quite small and immature, then leave three sets of leaves.
Place your stem in a narrow-mouthed jar of water and place in a bright windowsill. Keep an eye on the jar and continue to top up the water until the basil stem has grown many roots and is ready to transplant into soil.
When a good root system has developed, transplant your basil into a 4-inch nursery pot (with holes in the bottom) filled with potting soil. Do not use garden soil or landscape soil because they are too heavy and the basil will become waterlogged. Water immediately after planting and move outside if you plan to grow your basil out of doors. Initially, place the pot in the shade. Over three or four days, gradually allow your basil plant to receive more and more sunshine until on the fifth day it is in a very sunny spot. At this time the basil should receive at least 6 hours of sun a day, most of it afternoon sunshine.
Water your basil plant when the pot begins to feel light when you lift it. You do not want to let the basil dry out but you also do not want your plant to die because you have been over watering. Many years ago I had two co-workers who strongly disagreed about whether it was better to kill a plant from under or over watering. This was a very serious disagreement and, on this point only, they would often grumble about each other behind their backs. Personally, I would rather let my plant dry out. (Of course I would prefer not to kill a plant at all!)
Once your basil plant fills out its 4-inch pot, transplant it into its permanent home in the garden or larger container in full sun. Again, if you will be growing your basil in a pot, make sure to use potting soil and a container with drainage holes.
It is that simple! Enjoy your harvest of fresh basil!
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