Basil Cloning for Late Bloomers

Here in Zichron Yaakov the days are cooler and we have had a little overnight rain. It is still mostly sunny with a pleasant breeze – this is what passes for fall in Israel’s Carmel Coastal Plain – warm days and cool evenings. My basil plants are a bit “leggy,” presaging the end of fresh basil season. This has been my experience over the years and I had no idea that there was any alternative.

Imagine my surprise to learn that it is possible to rejuvenate basil plants through cloning on my kitchen counter.

With no prior experience, I came upon cloning by accident: A few weeks ago when I collected some fresh basil for cooking, I found that I had several nice sprigs leftover. I stuck the extra basil in a glass with water and promptly forgot about them. Over the course of the next week, I used an occasional leaf. Then the next time that I checked, I was surprised to see the start of a new root system and additional leaf growth. After a few more weeks I planted the expanded sprigs with root systems, and they have taken off.

For those who care about the details, cloning is asexual reproduction, creating a clone or copy of the earlier plant from which a sprig is taken, without use of seeds. They would look even better if I were to cut off the top to help them branch out, however you can really see the difference between the new clones and the donor plants.

Two basil clones
My “Leggy” Basil

Cloning duplicates plants; in my experience my cloned basil plants appear stronger, with larger and more attractive leaves than those of the “donor” plant. Above is an example of an existing basil plant at the end of the summer – leggy, with small leaves.

This is the time of year where basil also tends to flower and go to seed. For effective cloning, it is important to select a small sprig that is not flowering, like the one below.

Leggy basil with a nice blossoming sprig suitable for cloning.

Unlike growing basil from seeds / seedlings, apparently you can grow basil from clones at any time of year.

(Over the years I have found growing basil from seed a bit onerous – it takes a long time and can be disappointing. My usual routine is to start with seeds in the spring, and usually end up also planting seedlings over a period of weeks or months. Actually I find that when I finally go out and get the seedlings, then the seeds I planted seem to do a bit better and I end up with both.)

After my first experience, I decided to do it again. Above are photos of my second cloning experiment – two additional sprigs taken from the old basil plants that have grown well and now also are in their own pot.

With cloning, you don’t have to be an avid gardener to enjoy fresh basil at any time of the year. Even if you don’t have space for a container garden, it should be possible to grow your own basil plant from a sprig taken from store-bought basil.

Later I found a wealth of online resources relating to cloning plants – obviously I am late to the party. Here is a link for those who want more on the science of plant cloning.

It has been a lot of fun for me to learn a little bit about cloning. So here I am in 2nd Middle Age with decades of gardening experience and also still a novice. How great is that?

I am sharing this for other “late bloomers” like me who may find the information helpful. Wherever you are reading this – whether the weather may be cold and damp, or warm and sunny – I hope that you also may enjoy a small pot of basil on your windowsill, balcony, patio.

Literally all you need is a few sunny spot (a few square inches) that is not too cold, a glass of water and a sprig of basil. And for anyone with children at home, it is a fun small science experiment – a great way to show how plants can reproduce without seeds / seedlings. Please let me know If you try this at home.

I would love to post photos of your basil clones!

All of my basil clones – so far!

Published by skfinston

Born February 21, 1961 in Detroit, Michigan; enjoying 2nd Middle Age in Zichron Yaakov, Israel. After a misspent youth in the US Foreign Service (postings in London, Tel Aviv and Manila), I moved to the Semi-private Sector, working for a leading trade association in Washington DC before launching my own company Finston Consulting in 2005. Over the last 15+ years I have worked with innovative companies ranging from Fortune-100 to start up, as well as NGOs, and governments, including service as a cleared advisor (Secret level) to the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade Representative (IPR, Tariff/Trade Facilitation). As a graduate of the University of Michigan, my degrees include a Bachelors of Science (Philosophy, High Honors), Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Policy. After law school I clerked at the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit before joining the U.S. Foreign Service (TSI-CodeWord Clearance). I am a member of the Illinois and US Supreme Court Bar.

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