One of the most popular plants among gardeners everywhere, basil is a favorite herb for gardening, cooking, and housekeeping purposes.
Originating in India, basil is a beloved centerpiece of Italian cuisine, a minty aromatic plant that can be used for cooking as well as adding a lovely fresh aroma to your home. Basil is easy to grow, popular to look at, loves sunlight and can grow in a variety of conditions, and is a great plant for just about any home or garden.
That’s what makes a drooping basil plant such a sad sight – why might that happen?
There are many reasons why that might happen, so let’s take a closer look at an herb we think we all know and discover what makes it grow best, what makes it go wrong, and what you can do about it.
A few key facts about basil to keep in mind:
- Different variants can be either a perennial or annual herb
- Can grow to a mature size of between 18 and 24 in.
- Does best with full exposure to the sun
- Soil pH should be between 5.1 and 8.5
- Does best in hardiness zones of 2 to 11
Among the most popular varieties are:
- Cinnamon, aka “Mexican Spice,” which gives off a cinnamon-y scent and blooms with beautiful green foliage and purple flowers
- Finissimo Verde a Palla, which grows fast
- Genovese, which has larger leaves than sweeter varieties of basil
- Lemon, which is often used in pesto thanks to its lemony-fresh tang, but has smaller leaves that can make it harder to harvest than other varieties
- Red Rubin, which remains purple throughout the growing season, is very flavorful, and goes great with vinegar
Basil tends to do best in soil that is at least somewhat rich and blooms best in June to the coming of frostier temperatures. As indicated with its Indian origins, despite the fact it’s used across the West for culinary and décor purposes, the plant’s actual origin lies in Southeast Asia and Central Africa.
Basil is typically ready for harvesting about 60 to 90 days after you have first planted it.
Potential Causes for Basil Wilting
So what causes such a great herb to go bad?
There are several potential causes of basil wilting, not the least of which being the plant isn’t getting enough light or warmth. Again, basil isn’t an herb that shies away from the sun – it loves light and heat, and while you don’t want to fry it, you still want to make sure it’s getting plenty of both.
As a result, excessively cold or shady conditions can cause basil to start to wilt. This is especially true if these conditions persist over a protracted period of time.
One potential sign of this occurring is old leaves falling off. If you start to see old leaves yellowing and falling off, chances are you have a problem.
Watering is tricky with basil. Some plants tend to require a lot of water, and some require very little.
Basil, on the other hand, is a more moderate plant that requires a moderate amount of water – too little or too much can drown it or leave it in a drought. Either situation can cause your basil to droop.
Fusarium wilt is another key concern, which is a specific fungal disease that can cause the leaves to become yellow and droopy while stunting the growth of the plant overall. If left unchecked, the leaves can drop off altogether.
Root rot is a common cause of drooping for garden plants, and basil is no exception. This typically occurs when the soil is poorly drained, thus allowing it to sit too long and drown the roots, causing them to become soggy and oversaturated.
Leaf spot is characterized by water-soaked brown spots breaking out on the leaves.
If you move your basil from one place to another, transplant shock can also cause wilting.
Finally, allowing basil to flower for too long without pruning can cause it to droop.
General Basil Caretaking Tips
So how can you resolve your basil plant wilting?
As mentioned, one of the major causes of basil wilting is a lack of heat and sunlight, so if that’s indeed the culprit, you’ll want to do whatever you can to try and remedy the problem, including using growing lights of your own.
Basil can tolerate grow lights for up to 12 hours a day. These lights are most effective when they are located close to the plant.
Then there’s what you can do about the water situation.
At first you’ll want to make sure that the plant has plenty of water, and then wait for the soil to dry out, and repeat the process. However, if at any time the plant starts to wilt again, don’t wait, but water it well immediately.
A basil plant has tricky roots that need room, so you might want to put it in a larger pot from the beginning rather than waiting until it has grown as you might with other plants.
Keep a watering schedule so you know how much water your basil has gotten and when so as to stagger out watering and make sure you’re giving your herb the right amount at the right time.
Make sure that you let the soil dry a bit between watering, but don’t let it become sandy and absolutely dried out, either. If you are keeping your basil in a pot, you’ll need to make sure that it drains properly.
In terms of combatting fusarium wilt, you may need to take a cutting of part of the healthy plant or simply start anew because once basil has this fungus it’s very hard to cure it. Prevention is essential, therefore, and you’ll thus want to look for disease-resistant variants and to check seed packets to make sure they are “fusarium tested.”
Nip leaf spots in the bud – literally, if possible – and remove affected leaves at first sight. Preventative watering may help, and in mild cases, fungal spray could be effective.
Don’t forget heat and humidity. Basil likes a lot of both (remember, it originates in warm weather regions) so make sure that it gets at least 70 degrees-plus Fahrenheit during the day and more than 50 degrees during the night.
If you have pets, you’ll want to look to a pesticide, and there are plenty of organic and soap spray options. That said, you should never spray your plant when the sun is directly exposed to the sun, or when the temperature is hotter than 90 degrees.
Finally, if overabundant flowering and a lack of pruning is the culprit, you’ll want to make sure that you keep up with that and prune the plant when it starts to grow to six to eight inches tall, at which point you should cut them to half this height.
Basil is a wonderful herb to have around the house as long as you are prepared to take care of it.
There are many ways it can start to droop or wilt, but with these strategies, you can keep it healthy and reap its benefits for several seasons to come.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.