There’s few things as satisfying in the urban gardening space than propagating a favorite plant. After seeing a deal at Whole Foods for monster sized basil plants that I couldn’t resist, I became the proud new plant parent to a plant with at least 50 basil leaves already ready for harvesting. Unfortunately, as half the plant began to die, it became apparent that my monster plant was actually two medium sized ones, and that one was dying of a root fungus and spider mites. With all tragedies marred in opportunity, I took to work on propagating the basil plant.

What is propagation?

Propagation is the act of cutting off portions of the parent plant in the hopes of those cuttings turning into new plants of their own with their own root structures. For a basil plant (or most stemmed plants) you should ideally cut a few centimeters below a leaf node. I cut four different stems off and laid the parent plant to eternal rest in the trash chute (RIP).

Tips for propagation:

  • Research the correct way to propagate your specific plant. Basil, for example, can be propagated extremely easily, which is why I’m documenting it here. All you have to do is cut off a piece of the stem- any stem- and in a couple of days it will be a new plant. A snake plant, however, can take up to two months to build a root system, and if you didn’t know that then you could very well end up throwing away a perfectly good plant (…like I did…).
  • Keep out of direct sun. Remember that until the roots grow in, you basically have a dying plant. Direct sunlight can scorch leaves and cause damage.
  • If you are propagating because a plant has mites or a disease, don’t let your stems share a single space unless you are 100% sure that these stems are not contaminated. When cuttings are this small, there is no way to further break down the plant without killing it.
  • Remove most leaves from the plant. Maintaining leaves takes a lot of energy and water, which the plant will not have. It is best to remove most leaves from the plant, keeping only a couple at the top, so that the plant can focus on creating its root system.

Results

Single cutting 5 days after being propagated.

Five days after cutting, the four basil plants are thriving. They each are developing their own root systems and will likely be planted back amongst each other in the next week or so. You can see in the image above that there are about half a dozen roots coming off of the stem. To give additional context, these roots didn’t appear until about two days after separating from the parent plant, and so the development speed has been really fast.

Root system 2 weeks after cutting