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 common experience that almost all herb gardeners pass through.

Although basil is a plant that can grow anywhere, especially at home, it can be a bit sensitive towards unfavorable growing conditions and can suddenly break down under stress.

Nonetheless, this herb is good at showing signs of discomfort.

Basil doesn’t leave things until the last moment, and it asks for help quickly when stressed. Perhaps you’ve already noticed from your plant’s appearance right now.

The distress your basil is passing through can be triggered by several causes that I’m going to discuss thoroughly 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 properly.

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, especially when we’re talking about indoor gardening.

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

People who are taking their first shot at growing herbs indoors underestimate the importance of moderate watering, and they will water their basil plant each day, or every other day. 

That could be problematic, especially when we’re talking about an environment in which the temperature is balanced and not high 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, and this 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, which means it has rotted.

  • What should you do?

If the damage to the root is minimal, you can still save your basil by transferring it to a new pot containing dry, well-drained potting soil, such as the famous Foxfarm Potting Soil.

Remember to only water your potted basil daily when you’re growing it outdoors, on a balcony for example, 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 every day. When it develops a dry touch, it means it’s time to water your basil.

Underwatering

It’s very important 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 and water it only when they “feel” like it or when they remember to.

That can be slightly tolerated 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 also show signs of wilting. In most cases, their leaves turn yellow (usually starting from the bottom) and they appear to be shrinking considerably.

  • What should you do?

Basil plants that have been underwatered can be saved by immediate watering if the cells are minimally damaged.

Sometimes, it’s impossible to save your basil when its system has been highly impaired due to the lack of water.

This happens when the plant has been neglected 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.

Also, remember to increase the times you water your basil when temperatures around your plant get hotter.

Too Little Light

Basil grows in partial or full sun, which means it needs at least 4 hours of direct sunlight every day.

Some gardeners who grow their herbs at home can’t find a sunny location inside that can provide that amount of light, and the result is a plant that can’t synthesize its own food and is trying helplessly to find the light.

  • Symptoms:

Basil plants that are not getting the amount of light they need have long stems and a reduced number of leaves that 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 either search for a sunny location inside or simply purchase grow lights that can complete your basil’s quest for light.

Grow lights are widely available in the market and most are optimized to provide little amounts of heat that might harm the plant.

Nutrient Deficiency 

Nutrient deficiency is often overlooked by many gardeners. Malnutrition in basil is serious and can happen frequently.

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 situation and reduces its growth.

If basil goes without enough food for a prolonged period of time, it will eventually pass away.

  • Symptoms:

Malnourished basil has yellow or discolored leaves and very slow growth. If your basil is getting enough water and light, but it’s still growing slowly, it’s probably malnutrition.

  • What should you do?

Nutrient deficiency can be treated by adding fertilizers to the soil. You can use compost, vermicompost, shellfish, or any other soil amendment to enrich the soil with nitrogen and essential minerals.

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 overall development.

When your basil is potted, 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, the roots will go around in circles and suffocate themselves. Basil will stop growing, and eventually, 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 in comparison to its size.

  • What should you do?

To free your basil, start by taking your basil 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 to it.

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

Changes in Temperature

Basil is sensitive to abnormal temperature fluctuations, particularly when it’s being exposed to cold weather in the process.

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

  • Symptoms:

Black and deformed leaves are the greatest indication of cold temperature intolerance in basil. In addition to that, the plant growth will be stunted.

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

  • What should you do?

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

Excessive Transplanting

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

basil plant
  • Symptoms

 Stunted growth and wilting are the main symptoms of a basil plant that has been replanted too many times.

  • What should you do?

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

It might take a few days for the plant to adapt to its “new” environment.

Fusarium Wilt:

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

The wilt is caused by some species of fungi that can invade the water-transporting channels in the stem of your plant.

  • Symptoms:

Wilting and crumbling of the leaves, darkening of some parts of the stem, asymmetrical growth, and root rot are all signs of the disease.

  • 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 so as not to infect the surrounding plants.

Pay attention to where you buy your soil, seeds, and plants from 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:

The main symptom here 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. This activity is called dead-heading.

Dead-heading your basil isn’t just 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 very weak and sensitive.

That has to do with the fact that 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 down, their stems will eventually turn brown, and the plant will die.

  • What should you do?

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

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

This will push the plant to develop a more protective mechanism that will strengthen it.

Hopefully, with all this information, you will able to save your basil if you notice some unhealthy characteristics. If it’s late, however, 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!

Blogger, Gardener | + posts

I'm Jad, a biologist, blogger, and experienced indoor gardener. I am knowledgeable in plant biology, particularly in plant cultivation and propagation. I founded HerbsWithin.com in 2019 to share my knowledge in indoor gardening with passionate home growers.

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

    • 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!

      Reply
  1. 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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply

Leave a Comment