Why is Your Basil Plant Dying? Learn All About It Here

If your basil plant is dying and you don’t know why, don’t panic or beat yourself up. It’s a shared experience that almost all herb gardeners go through.

Basil is a plant that can grow anywhere, especially at home. But it can be a bit sensitive to unfavorable growing conditions. It can also break down, under stress, without warning.

Nonetheless, this herb is good at showing signs of discomfort if you know what to look for.

Basil doesn’t leave things until the last moment; it asks for immediate help when stressed. You may have already noticed stress on your plant’s appearance.

Several causes can trigger the distress your basil is passing through. I’m going to discuss these causes at length in this article.

Don’t worry; you will be able to save your basil (if it isn’t too late). Moreover, you will be much more prepared to grow and care for basil.

Why is Your Basil Plant Dying?

Overwatering

The number one cause of stress and death in basil plants is overwatering. It’s the most common and the most innocent mistake beginners make.

Watering basil can be a very delicate activity. This is especially true when we’re talking about indoor gardening.

Outdoors, water evaporates faster. The evaporation prevents it from accumulating in the soil for long periods. This keeps outdoor potted basil plants thirstier than indoor ones.

People who are newer to indoor herb cultivation underestimate the importance of moderate watering. They tend to water their basil plant every day, or every other day. 

Overwatering can be problematic. This is notable when we’re talking about an indoor environment. In indoor environments, the temperature is balanced. That means it’s not warm enough to pull the trapped water out of the pot.

  • Symptoms:

Overwatered basil will show signs of wilting. You might also observe leaves turning yellow or dark brown, which could be dangerous.

If you suspect you’re overwatering your basil, the first thing to do is inspect the roots of your plant.

You will know it’s too late to save your basil if a huge part of its root is brown and softened—that means it has rotted.

  • What should you do?

If the damage to the root is minimal, you can still save your basil. Transfer it to a new pot containing dry, well-drained potting soil. Foxfarm Potting Soil is famous for its quality.

Remember to only water your potted basil every day when you’re growing it outdoors and the days are getting hot.

Indoors, plan your watering schedule according to how fast the potting soil dries.

Don’t be afraid to use your fingers to feel the soil daily. When it develops a dry touch, it’s time to water your basil.

Underwatering

It’s crucial not to leave the soil until it dries too much, or else you would be underwatering your basil.

Sometimes, people neglect their potted basil for days. They only water it when they “feel” like it or remember.

The plant can tolerate it when the pot isn’t losing a lot of water during the day. But if the plant is growing on a windowsill or in a hot room, underwatering can be fatal.

  • Symptoms:

Underwatered basil plants show signs of wilting. In most cases, their leaves turn yellow (usually starting from the bottom). They also appear to be shrinking.

  • What should you do?

You can save underwatered basil plants with immediate watering. This is only works if the cells are only damaged at a low level.

Sometimes, it’s impossible to save your damaged basil if its system is experiencing a severe lack of water.

This happens when you neglect the plant for several days.

A proper watering schedule is the only way to prevent underwatered basil. Don’t skip watering days, and don’t wait for the soil to get too dry.

When the temperature gets hotter, remember to increase the times you water your basil.

Too Little Light

Basil grows in partial or full sun, which means it needs at least four hours of direct sunlight every day.

Some home gardeners can’t find a sunny location inside that provides the right amount of light. The result is a plant that can’t synthesize its own food.

  • Symptoms:

Basil plants that are not getting the amount of light they need have long stems and a reduced number of leaves. They are sometimes discolored (usually yellow).

  • What should you do?

Saving your basil, in this case, also depends on how fast you are. You need to provide your plant with heavy amounts of light.

You can search for a sunny location inside. It might beneficial to buy grow lights that can complete your basil’s quest for light.

Grow lights are widely available in the market. The manufacturers often optimize the grow lights; for all the light they supply, the give off little amounts of heat that could harm the plant.

Nutrient Deficiency 

Many gardeners overlook nutrient deficiency. Malnutrition in basil is serious and can happen easily.

Basil is a fast-growing plant, so it’s obvious that it needs a lot of nutrients to support its rapid growth.

When the soil isn’t rich with food, basil declares an emergency and reduces its growth.

Your basil plant will die if it goes without enough food for a prolonged period of time.

  • Symptoms:

Malnourished basil has yellow or discolored leaves and very slow growth. If your basil is getting enough water and light but it is still growing at a glacial pace, it’s likely due to malnutrition.

  • What should you do?

You can treat nutrient deficiency by adding fertilizers to the soil. It’s essential to enrich the soil. We recommend using compost, vermicompost, shellfish, or any other soil amendment; the plants need nitrogen and essential minerals, and they can’t get them elsewhere.

Also, remember to repot your basil every few months. As you know, when the soil is left in the pot for a long time, it becomes devoid of nutrients.

Rootbound

As basil grows tall and spreads its branches all over the place, it also becomes huge below the soil. Its root system expands to aid its development.

When you choose to pot your basil, its roots can keep on growing until they bump into the walls of the container. At that point, your plant becomes crippled.

Being trapped and unfree to expand creates a dire situation. The roots will go around in circles and suffocate themselves. Basil will stop growing and, in time, it will die.

  • Symptoms:

Yellow leaves, leggy branches, and stunted growth are all signs of rootbound basil.

Nonetheless, the most distinctive feature of this issue is what happens to the roots. They stop growing in a straight manner, and instead they will have a circular shape.

basil plant dying

You can suspect that your basil is rootbound If the container it’s growing in is too small, compared to its size.

  • What should you do?

To free your basil, start by taking it out of the pot. Afterward, cut all the roots that have the shape of the pot they were in (usually, these are circular).

Once you prune the abnormal roots, loosen the other roots so they hang down, loose and free.

Bring in a new, wider, and deeper, pot and transfer your basil into it.

Water the plant a lot and avoid exposing it to too much light for the first few days.

Changes in Temperature

Basil is sensitive to abnormal temperature fluctuations. This sensitivity is particularly true when exposed to cold weather in the process.

During such an extreme variation in temperature, you can lose your herb for good.

  • Symptoms:

There are signs of cold-temperature intolerance. Black and deformed leaves are the most obvious clues. More than that, it will stunt the plant’s growth.

When it’s too hot, the plant will wilt and its leaves will turn yellow.

  • What should you do?

Discover the optimal temperature for your basil plant. Learn all about basil’s temperature tolerance here.

Excessive Transplanting

Basil doesn’t like changing pots too much. Changing pots too often can shock your herb’s stability, which may lead to death.

basil plant
  • Symptoms

 Stunted growth and wilting are the main symptoms. With that, you know you have replanted your basil plant too many times.

  • What should you do?

Don’t put too much stress on a newly transplanted basil. Avoid watering the plant too often or exposing it to direct sunlight for long periods.

The plant might take a few days to adapt to its “new” environment.

Fusarium Wilt:

Fusarium wilt is one of the most common fatal diseases that affect basil. It’s a pretty new disease, and affecting sweet basil the most.

Some species of fungi can cause the wilt. They can invade the water-transporting channels in the stem of your plant.

  • Symptoms:

There are many signs of disease. These include wilting and crumbling of the leaves, darkening of some parts of the stem, asymmetrical growth, and root rot.

  • What should you do?

Unfortunately, there’s still no cure for fusarium wilt.

The only way to deal with this issue is to get rid of the infected plants immediately . This way, they will not infect the surrounding plants.

Pay attention to where you buy your soil, seeds, and plants. And always purchase high-quality products. This is the best way to prevent the disease.

Flowering

Flowering and seeding are the last stages of your basil’s life cycle. At the end of this stage, death is inevitable.

basil flowers
  • Symptoms:

There is one main symptom here. That is the development of flowering buds, then seeds, followed by yellowing of the leaves.

  • What should you do?

If It isn’t too late, you need to pinch off the flowering buds at the top of each branch. We call this activity dead-heading.

Dead-heading your basil isn’t only important for its health but also for its flavor.

Supermarket Basil

In all honesty, buying your basil from the supermarket isn’t the best idea ever.

Plants that grow in the supermarket are usually fragile and sensitive.

This is because the plant cannot learn. The environment inside the store doesn’t teach the plant how to adapt to and resist harsh conditions.

  • Symptoms:

Many supermarket basil plants will start wilting for no apparent reason. Their leaves will fall, their stems will turn brown in time, and the plant will die.

  • What should you do?

Supermarket basil plants aren’t hardy enough. To harden off your basil, you need to gradually expose it to harsh conditions.

Place the plant on a balcony for a few hours each day. Most importantly, let it in at night.

The change in lighting and environment will push the plant to develop a more protective mechanism to strengthen it.

With all this information, I hope you will be able to save your basil if you notice some unhealthy characteristics. If it’s late, though, don’t worry; you’re much more prepared now to grow basil successfully next time.

Don’t forget to share your questions and thoughts in the comments below!

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5 thoughts on “Why is Your Basil Plant Dying? Learn All About It Here”

  1. So where do we buy basil plants? Big box stores carry the same brands as potted in grocery stores. Seeds? Ugh.

    • Hello Joyce,
      While propagating basil yourself is the most guaranteed way of growing a healthy plant, you can always search for basil plants in your local plant nurseries. Plants growing in nurseries are healthier and stronger than ones growing in supermarkets.
      Best of luck!

  2. Hi,

    i am in a subtropical region and I plant my basil. The problem I face is that it grows fast, from warm weather all year round I guess, and after a year the plant will start to look like a mini tree with woody branches, and leaves tends to become smaller. I Usually replace it with a new one grown from cuttings. My question is when becoming woody will it survive heavy trimming just like we do with trees and start making new fresh branches to survive another year in a healthy way? Thanks

    • Hello,
      Usually, basil stems turn woody after the plant is allowed to flower. And basil plants flower faster under warm temperatures.
      Here’s the thing, woody basil tends to be more bitter with less aromatic flavor, so what you need to do is to prune your basil plant regularly to keep it from flowering.
      Woody basil is not necessarily more sensitive to pruning. I recommend you cut your basil plant’s older stems and keep the softer ones.

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