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Can Basil Grow Forever – How Long Does It Last?

Basil is a very popular herb that is found in most herb gardens. It can be grown outside in a garden, in pots on the patio, or inside. The most common variety, sweet basil, is annual, so it will die with the first frost when planted outside. Are there ways to extend its life beyond the end of the growing season? Can basil grow forever?

No basil plant will live forever, but harvesting, pruning, cutting off flowers, and rooting cuttings will extend the life of your plants. Most basil plants are annuals and will live for only a growing season, but some varieties can live longer.

Now that you know basil plants can’t live forever, you may have other questions. Let’s dive in to learn more about pruning your plants, keeping them from flowering, propagating them, etc.

How Long Does a Basil Plant Live?

Basil is a tropical plant from Southeast Asia. The most common variety of basil is sweet basil. This and most varieties of basil are annuals. The plant will die when temperatures go below 32 degrees when grown outside. But they only tolerate temperatures as low as 50 degrees and will suffer when it’s colder than that.

When planted outside in the spring, a basil plant will live about 4-5 months. If you plant it in a pot outside, you can bring the pot inside before frost kills the plant. However, basil plants require at least a few hours of direct sunlight per day when inside.

If it’s planted inside and meets its growing requirements, it will live for about six months.

Whether outside or inside, after a time, the plants will eventually start to flower and then dry out and die after their season is complete.

Purple basil, Thai basil, and Greek basil are examples of perennials in their native habitat. If you live in a warm climate without frost, you can plant these varieties outside, and they will last for at least 2 to 3 seasons.

How Do I Make my Basil Last Longer?

There are ways to extend your basil plant’s life:

  • Provide optimal growing conditions: Basil plants prefer six hours of sunlight, and moist, not saturated, well-drained soil.
  • Remove flower buds before they bloom: Cut a bit of the stem with the bud to make the plant bushier.
  • Harvest at least once a week: Even if you don’t need the basil, frequent harvesting will encourage growth. You can either dry the excess leaves to use later or freeze them. That way, you can enjoy your home-grown basil all winter long.

Pruning Basil to Keep It Growing

An important way to make your basil plant branch out with lots of new growth and prevent flowering is to prune it regularly every 2-3 weeks.

Start pruning once the plant is more than 6-8 inches tall. Cut the plant back to about 6-8 inches tall to prune. But don’t cut more than 1/3 of the plant at one time.

Cut the stem between two nodes. A node is where a pair of leaves grow out of the stem. The plant will produce two stems at the node below where you cut. The more you trim the plant, the more it will grow. A basil plant can grow to three feet tall.

What Causes Basil Plants to Die?

Basil plants start to dry up when they mature and produce flowers. The plant is then putting all its energy into growing flowers and seeds. If you remove the flower buds as soon as they appear before they bloom, you can extend the life of your plant.

Two varieties will flower later than sweet basil and others. They are Everleaf and Emerald Towers. There are also sterile varieties that produce no flowers, such as Pesto Perpetuo.

What to Do with Basil Plants in the Fall?

Basil plants love warm weather and will develop black spots when temperatures dip below 50 degrees. If you’ve been regularly harvesting and pruning your plants, they will still be growing. This is when you can bring your outdoor basil plants inside.

An alternative to bringing the whole potted plant inside is taking cuttings and rooting them. If you start this at least a few weeks before it’s too cold for outdoor plants, you will have new plants growing indoors when the outdoor plants have completed their cycle.

If your plants are flowering and starting to get dry, the basil will become bitter. You can let it continue to flower. The flowers will attract bees, and you’ll be able to collect the seeds produced once they are dry for future planting.

How Do You Propagate Basil?

To grow new basil plants from cuttings:

  • Cut from stems that have not flowered.
  • Cut the stems just under a pair of leaves.
  • Remove the bottom leaves, so there are leaves on the top.
  • Then put them in water or soil.

Root the Cuttings in Water

  • Place the stems in a glass or jar of water. Clear glass allows you to see when roots develop.
  • Change out the water every few days and keep the water level consistent.
  • Place in a warm spot that receives sunlight.
  • After about 10-14 days, you’ll have roots growing.
  • When roots are two inches long, transfer each plant to a pot of soil.
  • Don’t wait too long before planting. When put into the soil, the roots can adapt to living in water and get transplant shock.

Plant the Cuttings Directly in Soil

Stick the stems into rich soil that’s already moist. Be sure to keep them moist, especially as they are developing roots.

Note: There’s no need to use rooting hormone on basil cuttings since they root so readily. Some feel that it’s not entirely safe for edible plants you will eat soon after planting, such as herbs.

The Needs of Indoor Basil Plants

Some people don’t have enough direct sunlight for indoor basil plants. You can use grow lights, fluorescent lamps, or compact fluorescent lamps to give your plants the light they need to grow. You can have the lights on for 14 hours a day. Using a timer makes this easy.

The plants need to be kept moist, but be careful not to overwater. Apply half-strength fertilizer every 4-6 weeks.

Final Thoughts

Now you know that although a basil plant won’t live forever, you can extend the growing season by regularly harvesting, pruning, and removing flower buds.

And you can grow new plants either by propagating basil from cuttings or by drying and harvesting seeds from plants you’ve let flower.

Basil plants are very prolific, and it’s not unusual to have extra from your pruning. Don’t let those fragrant leaves go to waste. You can dry or freeze them for later.