HOW TO TAKE BASIL CUTTINGS IN THE UK
By David Marks
Taking basil cuttings and establishing them in water is very easy and rewarding. Not only do you get to see the roots form but the whole plant grows much quicker compared to growing from seed letting you harvest leaves earlier in the season.We have taken our basil herb cuttings from a “living herb” plant we bought at Aldi for a total cost of 89p. If you have your own plant you can of course use that. All the pictures below can be enlarged by clicking on them allowing you to see the process in much more detail. Aside from a basil plant you will also need a couple of glass pots and some sharp scissors.
PREPARE TO TAKE YOUR CUTTINGS
Basil cuttings can be taken any time of the year if you can provide them with warmth and light. The best time is around to mid April to mid May. Taking cuttings at that time of year will give the plant enough time to produce a decent crop of leaves a couple of month later and onwards.
To prepare your plant before taking cuttings, water it from below with lukewarm water and let it stand for an hour or so. This will hydrate the plant to its maximum and give the cuttings the best chance of success. To do this place the pot in a shallow container with about 2cm /1in of lukewarm water in it. Don’t water from above, basil plants can easily rot when they are young if the have water on the leaves.
Find two or three glass pots and fill them almost to the top with lukewarm water. Now take a minute or so to study the plant and locate two or three strong stems which have a healthy set of top leaves and a set of small leaves lower down.
The stem for the cutting should be 10 to 13cm long. When you take the cutting work as quickly as you can to avoid the stem dehydrating.
TAKING AND TRIMMING THE BASIL STEM CUTTING
Having identified a suitable stem snip it off at just above soil level. Now snip off the lower part of the stem at just below a leaf node, the stem should now be about 10cm to 13cm long (4in to 5in) as shown in the picture below.
Now trim off the lower set of leaves. Also trim off some of the upper leaves to leave one of the larger leaves and all of the smaller leaves. This will be sufficient to allow the plant to harvest sunlight and produce roots. Leaving too many leaves at the top allows moulds to form and is not necessary for good root production.
The cutting is now ready to be placed in the jar of water as shown in the picture below. Ideally the leaves should rest on the rim of the jar to support the stem. If the rim is too wide, cut out a piece of paper or card, make a small hole in the middle and place it over the rim. The stem can be inserted through the card which will support it and stop it sinking into the water.
Cuttings taken in this way take about 10 days for the roots to start forming and during this time we change the water (replacing it with clean lukewarm water) every two or three days. This helps stop moulds and bacteria forming in the water which will damage the cutting. The stems should be kept in a light and airy position but definitely not in direct sunlight which will only burn the leaves at this stage of the plant’s growth. Keep the temperature as even as possible, about 70°F / 21°C is ideal, the same temperature as a centrally heated house. Don’t expose the cuttings to draughts.
When the roots form on a cutting grown in water they tend to be more brittle compared to roots grown directly in compost. For this reason only let the roots grow at most to 2cm / 1in long before transferring the rooted cutting into compost. This helps the roots stay attached to the stem.
PLANTING THE BASIL CUTTINGS
Prepare to plant the basil cuttings by filling an 8cm / 3in wide pot with multi-purpose potting compost. Place the pot in a shallow tray of lukewarm water and allow the compost to absorb the water for an hour or so. Make a hole in the compost slightly wider than the spread of the roots and then place stem gently into the hole. The roots should be about 5cm / 2in below the top level of the compost. Carefully fill in the compost around the the roots and stem without breaking any of the roots.
Initially the plant will still be very tender and you need to treat it with care for a couple of weeks. Place it in a light, airy, draught-free position (not in direct sunlight) and try and maintain an even temperature of approximately 70°F / 21°C.
The plant will now have established itself and you can continue to grow it on as described in our main basil plant page which can be found by clicking here.
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