Wilting Basil: What Causes It and What to Do About It?


If your basil plant is drooping it may quickly be approaching the end of its life. What to do if it is wilting?
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Basil is a fantastic herb to have around the house. If you have a plant, you will always have a supply of aromatic leaves for your recipes.

My most frequent problem when I initially started growing basil was wilting leaves. What causes that, and what can you do about it?

5 Most Common Reasons

If you have a basil plant drooping in its pot or garden, it is usually caused by one the 5 reasons below:

  1. Your plant is not receiving enough water.
  2. Your plant is being overwatered.
  3. Your plant is growing in a pot that is too small.
  4. Your plant needs to be pruned more frequently.
  5. Your plant underwent a drastic change in temperature. 

In this article, I will go over each of these issues and explain how to avoid it.

A very healthy and fresh basil plant

1. Not Enough Water

Dry soil is the most common cause of basil plant drooping. When an established basil plant lacks moisture, the massive leaves shrink and the plant wilts.

The simplest way to get appropriate moisture levels is to prepare the soil with enough organic ingredients, like compost, before planting, water frequently, and inspect the soil on days when it isn’t being watered.

With careful care, basil plants that wilt due to a lack of water can generally be resurrected in 2 or 3 days.

Take a good look at your basil plant. If the dirt has ripped away from the pot’s edge, it’s too dry. If you stick your finger into the dirt and it feels dry, immediately water your basil plant.

If you’re watering a basil plant in a container, water it until the water runs out of the drainage holes. Move the plant so that it is in the shade during the hottest part of the day. Once it has recovered or temperatures go down, you can return your basil to its original location.

If you are growing basil in your garden, water it once the soil is dry to about 1 inch below the surface.

In hot weather, you might need to water your plant every day or every other day, especially if it is growing in a small pot. You should also water your plants first thing in the morning before the sun comes up.

fresh and misted basil leaves

2. Inadequate Drainage or Too Much Water

Basil prefers continually moist soil, but it’s also important that the soil drains well so that the roots don’t sit in water all day.

Avoid planting basil in slow-draining soil (like clay) or a pot without drainage holes. Both may result in moist soil with insufficient oxygen for the roots.

For best results when growing basil in a pot, use multi-purpose compost from the garden store since it holds water, has adequate nutrients, allows for maximum oxygenation, and is devoid of soil pathogens that may be present in gardening soil.

Be cautious when using drip trays indoors. While they may keep your floor from getting wet, they may cause the soil to become soggy. Look for drip trays with slots so that any excess water can drain into them. Alternatively, after watering, make sure to drain any excess water from the drip tray.

3. Planter That Is Too Small

Basil frequently wilts when grown in a container that is too small, made of plastic, and lacking adequate soil.

When you buy established basil plants from a garden store or supermarket, they usually come in small, thin plastic plant pots.

While they are a low-cost option for the garden center, they are not suitable for nurturing a developing basil plant over time.

For starters, they’re far too little. Small pots have a low soil capacity, which means a low moisture capacity. The limited soil available absorbs water quickly, but it also dries quickly. Your basil will struggle to thrive.

Additionally, plastic pots quickly heat up, especially in the full sun that basil prefers. This will dry out the soil even more quickly. 

It’s better to use a pot made of a natural material that stays cool in the sun, such as terracotta, ceramic, clay, or stone. A suitable size is at least 12 inches in diameter and at least 4 inches deep.

basil plants in a small tin buckets

4. Inadequate Pruning

Basil may produce blossoms or bolt if it is not pruned on a regular basis. After flowering, the plant will go to seed and stop producing new leaves. After coming to seed, basil typically wilts, and the leaves aren’t as good for cooking at this point.

Pruning the basil plant from the top allows more light to reach the bottom leaves, resulting in a bushier, more productive basil plant that lasts far longer. Pruning regularly will result in an overall much healthier plant.

5. Temperature Shock

If your basil plant begins to wilt quickly after you’ve brought it home from the garden center and re-potted it, transplant shock could be to fault.

Transplant shock, produced by a sudden change in the plant’s environment, is a common cause of wilted basil.

If you bought a plant that was grown indoors and placed it outside when you got home, bring your basil inside for a few days to recover before moving it back outside. You should notice a slight improvement after a few days and have an entirely recovered plant within a week or two.

Similarly, if your plant is used to being outside and you bring it inside to recover from a pest infestation or a bacterial or fungal sickness that causes brown spots or blackening of the leaf, it may wilt as a result of the temperature and light change.

Gradually adapt your basil plant to being indoors or outdoors, and then provide the best growing environment possible for it to create a strong root system.

a basil planted in the garden
Alaine Connolly
Alaine has been working way too hard in horticulture since 1992, beautifying golf courses, resorts, and hotels. She is a part time landscape designer who works full time caring for a 28,000 square foot public garden. At home, she maintains her own 400 square feet plot. Alaine lives in northern Illinois - zone 5b.
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