How to Grow Basil in Water – Step by Step Guide

Basil (Ocimum basilicum), popularly known as sweet basil, is an annual herb from the mint family (Lamiaceae). It’s a popular kitchen herb that’s believed to have originated in India and is known for its aromatic leaves and medicinal uses.

With its delightfully sweet smell and peppery flavour, basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow indoors.

In this article, we’ll show you how to grow your own basil plants at home in water which will save you money and give you an endless supply of fresh, delicious herbs to use in your kitchen.

What is Basil?

basil in a pot

Basil plants have shiny, oval leaves with smooth or slightly serrated edges and many delicate veins. They’re frost-sensitive and thrive in warm environments. Usually green in color, basil is an herb that grows year after year and is popularly used in Italian cooking, as well as Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese cuisines. It’s most renowned for being the main ingredient in traditional pesto, but it’s also a popular spice in tomato-based pasta sauces.

Basil has long been considered an important part of holistic medicines such as Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine. Used for over hundreds of years, this herb has many health benefits which increased its popularity.  

Basil is often used to treat various physical ailments such as stomach spasms, indigestion, fluid retention, colds and worm infections. It’s believed that this herb can also aid blood circulation and increase breast milk flow. Basil is rich in essential oils and scientists around the world are conducting studies to discover how these oils can be beneficial for our health.

Why Grow Basil in Water

Basil can be grown in both soil and water but growing it in water is comparatively easier since it requires little maintenance and attracts fewer pests. It’s also the easiest and most effective way to propagate basil since you can get multiple saplings from a single plant.

Growing basil in your own home will not only save you money on packaged herbs but it will also give you fresh, organic basil. If you leave the plant to mature and don’t pick the leaves until they’re ready to be used, you will be getting more nutrients from it and improving your health as well.

How to Grow Basil in Water

Here are the simple steps to grow this popular herb in water without spending a fortune and with little care.

1. Find Basil Cuttings

The first step is to take the basil cuttings and the best time for this is between mid-April and mid-May. Taking cuttings during these months will allow the plant to produce a healthy crop of leaves. However, you can also take cuttings at any other time of the year as long as you can provide them with enough light and warmth.

Purchase a healthy plant to take cuttings from. Water it with some lukewarm water and leave it for about an hour before taking the cuttings. Remember to water it from below and not from above since young basil leaves can rot if they have water on them.

Use clean scissors or herb snips and clip the plant stems just below the leaf nodes (the spot on the stem from where the leaves grow out).  Cut the stem at an angle since this increases its surface area, allowing for increased water uptake. Remove leaves on the bottom of the stem, if there are any. Keep in mind that young basil plants are soft and can easily break, so you’ll need to handle it with care.

2. Choose the Right Glass Containers

Take some clean glass jars (make sure the plants will have enough room to grow) and place your basil cuttings inside them. Fill them up with water (make sure to use water that’s non-chlorinated since chlorine can kill the plants. Only two thirds of the stems should be submerged in water. Basil stems need to be spaced apart in order to develop a strong root system, especially when they’re being grown in water.

3. Maintain the Water

Change the water in the jars once every 2 or 3 days and monitor the growth of the roots. The water should be at a comfortable temperature for the plants to grow well, not too warm and not too cold. In about 2-3 weeks, tiny basil roots will begin to appear.

4. Fertilize

As the roots continue to grow, add a gram of fertilizer to 1 litre of water and mix well before adding it to the jars.

5. Choose the Proper Placement

Place your basil plants somewhere in your house where they can receive at least 4-6 hours of direct sunlight. Basil, like all herbs, needs water and sunlight to thrive so they need to be placed in a sunny area of your house. Window shells are ideal for basil plants because they receive both indirect sunlight and direct morning sunshine.

6. Harvest Your Basil Leaves

As soon as roots begin to sprout, you can start picking the leaves and using them for garnishing.

7. Maintain Your Basil

As your basil plants grow, pinch them back (remove the growing point of the stem) along with the terminal shoots at least once every two weeks before they flower since flowering can inhibit leaf growth and oil content in leaves.

Pinching the plant makes it more compact and removes the flower bud. As a result, the pinched shoot develops into two separate branches.

Maintaining Your Basil Plants

Knowing how to care for your basil plants and maintain them will ensure that they remain healthy and it can also speed up their growth. Here are some important factors to consider:

  • Temperature and Humidity

Basil thrives in humidity levels between 40-60%. If the humidity level in your home is low, you can increase it by misting the plant regularly or placing it next to a humidifier. A pebble tray will also work well since water will evaporate from it, increasing the humidity just above the water.

The ideal temperature for basil is between 50oF – 80oF (10oC – 26oC). This herb is highly sensitive to frost, so we recommend harvesting beforehand since the plant will not survive in cold temperatures. Never place it near doors, areas that receive drafts, or air conditioning vents where it will be exposed to cold air.

  • Water

Monitor the growth of your basil plant regularly and change the water in the jar at least once every 3 days. If you’re growing several plants in one large jar, changing the water once or twice a month should be enough. The water should never be slimy or discoloured since this could affect the roots and the health of your plants.

  • Fertilizing

Feed the plants once a fortnight with a weak liquid fertilizer or compost tea. All-purpose fertilizer would work perfectly.

Basil does not need a lot of fertilizer but adding some every now and then will make the plant grow faster and you will notice new leaves growing continuously.  

Be careful with fertilizer since over-fertilizing could result in fertilizer burn which is the burning of plant foliage. This causes the foliage to turn brown or yellow and the roots of the plant to become damaged.

  • Sunlight

Ideally, basil plants love sun and prefer up to 8 hours of sunlight, but 6 hours will also be sufficient for it to grow big and healthy.

If you’re growing the plant indoors and don’t get much light, you might want to consider investing in a grow lamp, an electric lamp that serves as an artificial source of light, stimulating the growth of plants.

There are many types of grow lamps available on the market today, so do some research first to ensure that you’re making the right purchase. Your plants will need up to 10 hours of artificial light every day for optimal growth.

If the leaves are becoming discoloured, it’s a clear sign that the plant isn’t getting enough light. In this case, change its location as soon as possible.

  • Pests and Other Issues

Basil plants tend to attract insects such as whiteflies, cutworms, mites and aphids. If your plant is being affected by these pests, you can spray them off with water, but they would most likely return after some time.

Soaps and horticultural oils will help keep the pests at bay and you can also cover the plant with a garden fabric during the day to protect it. Remember to inspect the roots regularly for cutworm infestations.

The Bottom Line

Growing your own basil indoors is convenient and you’ll always have an unlimited, fresh supply of basil ready to use. It’s an ideal houseplant for beginner gardeners looking for an easy plant to grow with minimal care and maintenance. What’s more, it looks beautiful as well and can be a conversation starter.

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