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Top Problems Growing Basil and How to Fix Them

If you’re having a hard time growing basil at home, don’t despair. Basil plants can be tricky to grow when you’re inexperienced with at-home herbs. There are tons of ways that growing this delicious herb can go wrong. 

There are many problems you can encounter when growing basil. But no matter what the potential issue is, the root cause is usually either a lack of nutritious soil, over/underwatering, too much or too little sunlight, fungal/bacterial/insect infestation, or improper trimming. 

This is a nearly comprehensive list of the issues you might encounter when growing basil at home. Don’t fear, because I’m going to give you the easiest ways to solve each of these problems. Read on for more about how you can make growing basil one of the easiest and most fun plant projects ever. 

Your Basil Plant Is Turning Purple

When you’re looking to cook and bake with fresh Italian or Thai basil varieties, no one wants leaves that look “off.” Part of the appeal of growing basil is its beauty. That’s why it’s so disconcerting when the leaves of your potted herb turn purple. If this is happening to you and your plant, there are two possibilities for what could be happening.

The first possibility in this situation is that your plant may be deficient in phosphorus. Phosphorus is a nutrient in soil that helps the plant grow and bloom. Phosphorus is widely available from animal bones and bone byproducts – it’s the 11th most common element on planet Earth and is essential for human life. Imagine that the basil plant was a person, and the phosphorus is food. Without food, a person can’t grow and be healthy.

Phosphorus depletion happens because the soil used to plant the basil is nutrient-deficient – this often happens when you buy plants from places like a grocery store or other large chains instead of a local gardener or nursery. An easy way to replace missing phosphorus is to supplement your plants with a simple plant food like Jobe’s Organics Bone Meal.

Another reason your basil plant may be turning purple is not because of a nutritional lack, but simply because you’re growing purple basil – surprise! If you were given seedlings or cuttings from a friend but weren’t told what variety of basil they were, don’t fear – purple basil is a naturally-occurring variety of the plant with a rich eggplant color.

Your Basil Plant Has Brown Spots

No one likes gross brown spots on their basil. It’s unattractive to look at and, depending on the cause, can inhibit the plant from being flavorful and nutritious. If your basil plant is starting to display brown spotting, your plant may have an issue with fungus. This is a rather common issue, so there’s no need to worry. It’s possible that the plant already came with the fungus, or that it was transferred from another plant unknowingly.

Fungus is one of the most common plant ailments, so luckily, there are a vast number of options for you to choose from. One option for an antifungal is Bonide’s Liquid Copper Fungicide. This antifungal is made from copper salt, which is thought to be a natural fungus killer. To apply, simply test a small area, then follow the instructions on the bottle. Remove any fully-brown leaves and allow the fungicide to work its magic.

Your Basil Plant Has White Spots

What should you do if your basil plants start taking on white speckles? 

Much like issues with brown spots on basil leaves, white spots on your basil plant may indicate that your plant is experiencing an issue with mildew or fungus. As mentioned in the section about brown spots, fungus is a common issue and doesn’t mean that your plant is beyond the point of saving.

You can use the same copper-based fungicide that was previously mentioned for fighting brown spots. However, if you’re looking for a quick fix and aren’t able to get your hands on a pre-made copper fungicide spray, you could use an old wives’ remedy that’s been proven to work against fungus: cinnamon. Yes, like the cinnamon you probably have in your cupboard right now. 

Sprinkle a little cinnamon on the offending areas and be patient. It only takes a little shake, and your basil will be growing new clear leaves in no time.

Your Basil Plant Is Drooping

It’s a sad sight: your favorite basil plant is wilting and losing its luster. Even though you’ve been caring for it lovingly and watering it as best you could, something’s just gone wrong. 

Lucky for you, the solution for a droopy basil plant is rather simple. The most likely cause of this issue is overwatering.

As with other houseplants, you might be tempted to overwater it so it doesn’t dry out. But this can actually become a problem instead of a solution. When you overwater plants, they are likely to develop what is called “root rot.” This occurs when plants are left in soggy soil for too long. 

To help stave off root rot, clip off any wilted leaves, make sure that your basil plants have sufficient drainage, and place the plant in the sun. 

Your Basil Plant Is Dying/Losing Leaves

We’ve covered what it means when your basil plant is drooping – but what about when it’s drying up? Droopy leaves are no fun to have pop up on your plant, but crunchy leaves might just be worse. Just as droopy leaves are a result of overwatering, dry and crispy leaves are a result of underwatering. Because basil plants enjoy the sunshine, it’s possible that you’ve just let it dry out for too long.

To remedy a dry, dying basil plant, start by giving your plant a big drink of water. Keep an eye on the moisture of the soil. The soil should be damp to the touch – not soggy nor dry – and should generally stay that way. Use this touch-test every day to see how your plant is doing.

While it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to revive the already-dried leaves, you can still bring the whole plant back to a state of health. It’s simply a matter of minding how much water the plant needs. Depending on the size and location of the plant, basil likes to be watered anywhere from once a week to multiple times a day. There is no magic number.

Your Basil Plant Is Turning Black

As mentioned before, changes in color are one of the biggest indicators of health issues in plants. Your basil plant should be bright green and slightly shiny, so when your plant starts to turn black, there’s definitely something wrong.

The most likely culprit for black spots on your basil is called downy mildew. Downy mildew is a kind of fungus that can be easily treated with the remedies mentioned above, including copper-based fungicide spray and cinnamon powder.

You may be struggling to keep a routine for your watering schedule, but it’s important that your plant can rely on you for hydration. If you water it too infrequently, your plant will dry up. If you water it too often, it will get droopy or rot. Take the time to learn about your plant’s needs and figure out how often it likes to be watered.

Your Basil Plant Is Turning Yellow/Light Green/White

Basil plants are so beautiful because of their vibrant green (or purple) hue, so keep an eye out for leaves turning yellow – no one wants sick, yellowed basil in their homemade marinara sauce. Just like when your basil is drooping, yellow leaves are an indicator of root rot.

To combat root rot and leaf yellowing, spread out your watering schedule. Increase the amount of time between each time you water your plants and avoid watering the leaves, aiming instead for the root structure of your plant.

Another way to prevent root rot is to maintain adequate drainage for the plant. Though you may be tempted to use that cute painted pot you make or got for a gift, the likelihood is that it doesn’t have holes in the bottom for water to drop out of.

If your planter doesn’t have holes in the bottom, all the water you pour in will puddle at the bottom. This buried standing water causes bacteria and fungus to grow – and we don’t want that. Remember to only use pots that have sufficient space and aeration, like these ZOUTOG 6-Inch Plastic Planters. These ones include trays that go underneath each pot, so you don’t get spillage on your plant space. 

Your Basil Plant Has Little Black Bugs

Imagine this – you go to pick a few leaves of basil for a nice Caprese salad. You have so much basil that you can smell the peppery aroma already. As you’re clipping the leaves off the plant for your meal, you discover that little black bugs have made a home out of your basil. Not the most appealing ingredient for a summery lunch. These creepy little bugs are most likely spider mites – yuck!

Though they might sound scary or gross, spider mites are actually quite easy to remove and repel from your basil plant. The methods are also eco-friendly, so you don’t have to use any harsh chemicals on your herbs – this is important if you will be eating your basil. Make sure to check that the products you use are safe for vegetables and are organic.

The natural plant experts at BugWiz suggest giving your basil plant a powerful rinse with water to get the mites off. Really, it’s that simple! Make sure to get the stem, leaves, and undersides of the plant when you use the water method. If you have an outdoor plant, you can use a hose, and if you have an indoor plant, you can use the spray attachment on your kitchen sink.

Another suggested way of treating spider mites is by spraying the plants with diluted neem oil. Neem is an aromatic plant native to India that has a fresh fragrance and has powerful antiseptic properties. It is used as both a skin healer and as a natural insecticide worldwide. It is biodegradable, which means that it dissolves back into the earth and doesn’t hurt the environment. 

Check out this Organic Neem Bliss Oil – mix a small amount of the oil with a spray bottle of water and spritz away.

Your Basil Plant Is Turning “Woody”

It’s frustrating when you’re trying to propagate aesthetically pleasing basil plants, and the stems of your plants dry up. If not cared for conscientiously, basil plants can end up looking like tiny dead trees, stiffening up until they look as though they’re made of wood. This “woodiness” is usually a result of a nutritional deficiency in the plant and can be solved rather simply.

To get rid of any woodiness on your basil plant, trim the brown dried stems all the way to the base of the plant. This will keep them from absorbing any nutrients in the soil that could be put to better use in other parts of the plant.

After you prune your plant, you will want to repot your plant in new soil. Look for a nutrient-dense material such as fresh, local compost or an organic vegetable fertilizer blend. If you don’t have a local gardener or farmer, you could get fresh compost from, go to your local hardware store or nursery and ask for an organic vegetable potting mix.

Repotting in nutrient-dense soil allows the basil to absorb more vitamins and minerals, making it stronger and healthier.

Your Basil Plant Is Covered in Aphids

When it comes to pests that plague our plants, aphids are some of the most common. Chances are, you’ve seen an aphid before but haven’t quite known what it was. They look a bit like aliens and can be annoying to remove.

These little bright-green bugs generally stand out, but when it comes to dealing with an aphid infestation on your bold green basil leaves, you may struggle to find them. However, given that most basil plants are relatively small, bug infestations are easy to deal with.

As mentioned above about dealing with spider mites, you can use natural products to easily rid your basil plant of aphids. You can use the same neem oil spray you used for the little black bugs, or you can make an even simpler remedy. All you’ll need is a spray bottle and some isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. Fill the spray bottle with alcohol and spray it directly onto the aphids. Notice where the bugs tend to cluster and aim there.

Rubbing alcohol (the kind you can find at any pharmacy or grocery store) is an effective and inexpensive pesticide that will be sure to knock out aphids ASAP. It’s a great way to rid your houseplants of all kinds of bugs because it is strong enough to kill pests but gentle enough to not harm the plants themselves. 

Your Basil Plant Is Infested With Ants

Especially in the warmer drier months, ants tend to congregate inside your home. This is because ants love to munch on your crumbs and bits of food left around when they come out of their anthills. But did you know that ants also love to eat aphid byproducts?

It might sound weird, but other bugs on your plants (like the aforementioned aphids) leave behind little droplets of honeydew after nibbling on your greenery. Ants find this honeydew delicious, so if you already have a problem with aphids, prepare for issues with ants, too.

Don’t freak out – these are easy problems to solve. Once you’ve gotten rid of the aphids (if they’re present), it’s time to banish the ants, too. The gardeners over at Your Indoor Herbs suggest a 1:1 solution of vinegar (preferably white vinegar) and water. This mixture is thought to dissuade ants from drinking up the tasty honeydew left behind by the aphids. Just like with rubbing alcohol, add this solution to a spray bottle and aim for the places where ants cluster.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve been struggling to grow basil plants in your own home or your garden, don’t worry. There is still hope for you, even if you think you’re the worst gardener in the world. Basil is a relatively easy plant to grow once you’ve learned the right tips and tricks.

If your plant is turning too light or too dark, you’re probably dealing with a fungal plant infection. Luckily there are plenty of natural options for fungicides on the market.

If you’re dealing with overwatering or underwatering, keep yourself on track by developing a watering schedule for when you give your basil plants a drink. If pests are a problem and you can’t seem to fight the mites, aphids, or ants, you can use natural remedies such as rubbing alcohol or vinegar to banish the nasties for good.

Related Articles

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Why is My Basil Plant Not Growing

What to Do if Basil is Flowering

How Do You Repot a Basil Plant

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