Basil is an interesting herb but even more interesting to grow as a bonsai plant. So, is it even possible to grow basil as a bonsai? Yes, it is possible to grow basil as a bonsai. You just need to know how to grow a basil bonsai using the conditions a basil plant likes.
Here are the conditions in which a basil bonsai will thrive most:
- Sunny outdoors and turning pot to ensure equal sunlight
- Fertile soil amended with organic matter
- Regular watering to ensure moist soil
- Temperatures of 54℉ (12℃) at night and 61℉ (16℃) during the day
- Slow release fertilizer
- Constant hard pruning to shape the bonsai
Interested in growing a Flame Tree Bonsai? Read this: Flame Tree Bonsai | How To Care?
What Is Basil?
Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a culinary herb that belongs in the same family as mint. It is a permanent fixture around the world, but more so in the Mediterranean areas such as Italy.
It finds a place on pizza, pasta, salads, and pesto as well as to season and adds taste to other dishes too.
Did you know that tulsi is another type of basil that is widely used in India primarily for ceremonial rituals and cuisine?
There are many different types of basil around the world, without a doubt, sweet basil is the most popular. There are other variations you might want to try your hand at. Have you ever considered making a basil bonsai?
Let us have a look at different basil varieties.
– Genovese Basil
This plant has large green leaves that are flatter than the sweet basil. The leaves also have a pointed shape. Sometimes it can be passed off as sweet basil but Genovese is more aromatic and has a stronger taste.
– Thai Sweet Basil
This basil variety has small dark leaves that are pointed, and the purple flowers and stems stand out against the dark green leaves. It has a licorice flavor that some people find spicy.
– Lemon Basil
Lemon basil has light green leaves and if you crush a leaf between your fingers, you will get the wonderful scent of lemon. You can use lemon basil to flavor your roast chicken, make tea, or even in sweet dishes.
– Cinnamon Basil
The first thing you will note about this basil is that it is fragrant, spicy basil. When mature it bears pink flowers and the stems are purplish red in color. It has a mild taste and does well in Asian cooking, where it is used for noodle salads and stir frys.
This plant is a perennial but is grown as an annual.
– African Blue Basil
This basil grows up to 4 feet tall, and as long as it has warm weather it can be grown as a perennial. The African blue basil has the scent of other herbs, such as camphor, peppers, cloves, and mint. Use it to flavor your meat and vegetables.
– Green Ruffles Basil
As you might gather from the name this basil has leaves that are ruffled. The taste is mild and not overpowering, and the leaves can be used in salads. It can be harvested within 70 days, making it great, fast-growing basil.
– Opal Basil
Also known as dark opal basil or just purple basil. This basil is a suitable candidate for bonsai. As it has small purple-maroon leaves, the foliage is bushy and it would look quite attractive in its miniaturized form!
Can A Basil Be Made Into A bonsai?
Yes, though it will be difficult and your basil bonsai will not last as long as other traditional bonsai. That’s because basil is a herb and less like a tree that lives for decades. Some real bonsai trees can last for generations!
To make a bonsai certain criteria have to be met This includes the following:
- The plant parts must be in proportion
- Small leaves, or leaves that will become smaller as it is trimmed
- The small distance between leaf nodes
- Good branches that can be trained into attractive forms
- Attractive bark or roots
A basil bonsai can be made to have equal proportions as well as small leaves through regular trimming. Also, the basil tree has a woody trunk when grown for a long time and is looked after well.
How to Grow Basil Bonsai From Seed?
Growing your own basil bonsai from seed is not that difficult, in fact, it is ridiculously easy. Here we will provide you with an easy step to step guide to make it even easier.
- Select a small pot where you would like to sow your basil seeds. Your basil seeds should be placed where they will receive 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Soils should be well-draining and rich.
- Sow your seeds in the center and cover them with a quarter of an inch of soil
- Ensure that the soil is kept moist. Uproot and discard any weeds.
- The seeds should germinate in a week. As the second or third pair of leaves appear you might want to let them grow out until you re-pot or attempt to prune.
- Once large enough, start clipping back large leaves to promote the growth of smaller leaves.
- Continue pruning and providing a larger pot. Eventually, you will have to stop at a certain size and vigorously prune to desired shape and size.
There is another method of developing your bonsai tree from cuttings.
How To Grow Basil Bonsai From Cuttings?
You can use this option if you intend on buying a basil plant or just taking cuttings from a friend or neighbor.
- Start by taking cuttings from your basil bush
- Remove the bottommost leaves
- Soak the cuttings in a rooting medium for 6 to 12 hours before potting them in a shallow pot
- The potting soil should consist of the following. 1 part vermiculite, 1 part perlite, and 4 parts coarse builders sand
- You should then water it generously and leave it in a spot where it will get a lot of sunlight
How To Grow Basil Bonsai From Live Plants?
Basil plants that are very old and well looked after have a woody stem. However, when looking to grow a basil bonsai, you may not have access to an old, established plant. Thus, you may have to think of another solution.
Grafting is one way to grow a healthy basil bonsai from a young basil plant. The process of grafting requires two things:
Scion – top stem portion which will give rise to leaves and
Rootstock – a bottom root portion on which the scion is attached
To grow basil bonsai from a live plant you can use a scion and rootstock from closely related plants, that is any of the basil varieties.
Ideal Growing Conditions for Basil Bonsai
Factors such as the placement of your plant, soil, water, light, humidity, and temperature play an important role in the development and health of your basil bonsai. Scroll down to find out what conditions will best suit your basil bonsai.
A basil bonsai needs to be placed well in an area that will favor growth and health. Ensure it is in a spot that receives a more than generous amount of sunlight. It also needs to be kept away from air currents, and hot air vents which accelerate transpiration and drying of the soil.
Most gardeners place their basil bonsai outdoors as this is where it can receive the prescribed amount of sunlight and tolerable air currents.
Your basil bonsai will thrive when you provide it with moist, well-draining soil that is fertile. Additionally, the soil should have a pH of between 6 and 7.
The excellent drainage element of the soil cannot be stressed enough and though these plants like some moisture they cannot stand waterlogging!
On the same note, you must ensure the soil does not become bone dry either. Your bonsai is in a pot and there is a restriction as to how much moisture the ground can bear.
Coming to the soil’s nutrient profile, again the soil has limited resources to support your basil bonsai. You will have to diligently provide fertile organic matter or fertilizer regularly. The options for organic matter are compost, poultry waste, blood meal, or cottonseed meal.
NOTE- Natural organic gets preference. But, if you can’t get your hands on that, use an all-purpose fertilizer.
Basil likes water as it is a herb and requires soil that is always just moist enough. The same applies to a basil bonsai. So you should avoid waiting for it to dry out completely before watering again, instead try to keep the damp enough to not be called wet.
You should water your basil bonsai whenever the top inch feels more dry than wet. Avoid overwatering and the remainder of the water on the top is an indication of this!
Note that when you grow basil bonsai in a pot, it will dry out faster than ground-grown basil.
When temperatures rise, or your bonsai is near areas with constant air currents, you need to compensate by watering more often. Also, the type of soil matters. Organic matter mixed into the soil helps to provide nutrients as well as seal in moisture.
Traditionally, basil bonsai are purposely grown outdoors as opposed to solely indoors. The reason being these plants get their full share of light when they are outdoors.
You will probably have to bring your bonsai indoors during winter anyway as these herbs are not cold-hardy! During this time you will have to provide them with artificial light as well.
If you get sunlight during winter, placing your bonsai on a windowsill will suffice in providing enough sunlight for survival if not for growth.
If sun exposure is poor during winter, you will have to look into getting an artificial grow light.
Basil does not like dry soil or dry environments for that matter. So, it will do very well with a generous amount of humidity.
You can mist your plants or provide a humidity tray to keep these plants moist enough to survive and grow into healthy trees.
This misting is especially crucial during droughts and heat waves when the air may scorch your basil bonsai. Also, vulnerable plants like diseased plants or newly grafted bonsai coils do with the extra bit of moisture between watering sessions.
Basil is not cold hardy and you will need to bring it in during winter, if not you are looking at cold damage and possibly death! Even if temperatures drop below the minimum threshold, you will have to bring your bonsai in at night.
The minimal growing temperatures for basil bonsai are 54℉ (12℃) at night and 61℉ (16℃) during the day. That said, states in the USA that suffer from negative temperatures may not be suitable for outdoor basil bonsai.
You can bring them indoors if the outdoors cannot provide these temperatures. An LED growlight can provide warmth as well as act as the best artificial source of sunlight.
You can get into this habit early as during winter you will probably have to bring them in full-time during winter.
Sometimes even during summer or spring, temperatures may plummet at night and so you will have to bring your basil bonsai indoors.
Whether you are looking to harvest leaves from your basil or just make it look pretty, lush green leaves making the plant look ‘full’ is essential. To ensure your basil is healthy, you need to provide it with a generous amount of fertilizer.
You can choose to use slow-release fertilizers. Alternatively, you can use an all-purpose (mild fertilizer) and apply it monthly. Fertilize your basil bonsai throughout spring and slowly start tapering off as you approach the middle of the growing season.
NOTE- Fish emulsion also acts as a great growing aid to basil bonsai. However, we warn you it does not have a pleasant odor!
Along with fertilizing, you must carry out adequate pruning to ensure leaves do not grow excessively large. The whole appeal of a bonsai is its tiny flowers and woody stem giving the appearance of a miniature tree.
Basil can be a vigorously growing bonsai seeing as it is actually a herb! So, pruning will also have to be at a fast pace and more regular to keep up with the excessive growth.
Pruning your bonsai will help in maintaining shape, encourage smaller leaves as well as ensure the bonsai remains healthy.
Prune off flower spikes before they fully develop to ensure that seeds are not dispersed.
If you choose to harvest leaves for use, do so in a way that doesn’t interfere with the shape. This means harvesting from the bottom, helping to create a dome-like shape that still looks appealing.
During rapid growth, you must prune down to the main stems and wait for sprouting.
Apart from pruning the upper extremities of the basil bonsai plant, you will also have to prune the roots. This may seem odd to novel bonsai growers, however, it is important. It restricts growth and spreading ability.
But, if you are already using a deep bonsai pot, pruning roots may be unnecessary.
A basil bonsai will suffer from a few diseases that usually affect herbs and the traditional basil plant. You can’t take anything for granted and diseases are a constant problem to look out for.
Take a look at what disease problems you may come in contact with when growing your basil bonsai.
Root rot is another problem that every bonsai plant grower has to be aware of. Overwatering or using the wrong soil can be the reason behind root rot.
Amend the soil and reduce watering to fix root rot. Mind you, you will have to remove the plant from the pot and prune off the rotten parts that are beyond help.
After this, make sure to monitor watering habits carefully, and use the right soil type. Perhaps a change of pot is also necessary.
This disease includes fuzzy cottony growth on the basil leaves, usually occurring on the underside of the leaves. Constantly wet or moist conditions are what stimulate the growth of this disease. This applies to the soil and the air around your basil bonsai.
Thus, you have to reduce watering and ensure that there is excellent drainage and no accumulation of water. Although this disease is relatively new, you should still be on the lookout for this particular disease.
Providing enough sunlight and space around your basil bonsai also helps to prevent instances of the downy mildew disease affecting your basil bonsai.
Herbs usually repel insects but some may still find the basil bonsai plant an undeniably tasty source of food or a safe refuge. Take a look at what pests you may have to deal with when growing a basil bonsai indoors or outdoors.
If you notice irregular-shaped holes in leaves or flowers and shiny slime trails, you should know you have a slug/snail infestation!
You can scatter wood ash or egg shells around your bonsai to limit movement. You can also use shallow dishes with beer inside! However, if your bonsai is indoors you can decrease slug/snail population by hand picking them off your basil bonsai at night when they are most active!
Thrips are very small insects that attach to your basil and suck sap from the leaves. In high populations, they can affect growth and even pass on diseases such as spotted wilt disease and necrotic spot virus!
Unlike aphids, thrips are capable of flying and leaping when you disturb them.
Control populations by disposing of plant debris and eliminating breeding areas on live plants even if it means severe pruning. Use pesticides and even smother leaves with organically made insecticidal soaps.
This pest needs no introduction! Aphids are usually present on the underside of leaves and are present in high numbers. They can cause discoloration and distortion of the leaves of your basil bonsai.
They can move from infected outdoor plants to uninfected plants and wreak havoc in short amounts of time! So it’s best to catch them in time and prevent moving to neighboring indoor plants.
You can control aphids with pruning, growing of resistant variants, using high-pressurized water, pesticides, insecticidal soaps, or Neem oil.
A basil plant is the most unlikely plant that you would grow as a bonsai, but it is possible! All you need to know is the specific conditions in which a basil plant will grow best:
To grow a healthy basil bonsai you need moderately moist yet well-draining soil, regular watering, a lot of sunlight, temperature above 54℉ (12℃), slow-release fertilizer, constant pruning, observation for diseases, and elimination of pests.
Now you know what your basil needs, you can grow your basil bonsai without any problems. If you have any, you can refer to this basil bonsai growing guide.
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How long will a basil bonsai live?
Basil bonsai are not as long-living as other bonsai plants that can live for decades! Expect it to live for a maximum of around five years! But, if not looked after well, they will not even make it to this mark.
How do you keep potted basil bonsai alive indoors?
You can keep basil alive and well indoors as long as you provide for a few negotiable requirements of the basil bonsai. The biggest requirements a basil plant has when grown indoors is sunlight, water, and fertilizer. If provided with the above, your basil bonsai should thrive and grow rapidly!
Can you harvest basil from a basil bonsai?
Yes, you can harvest basil leaves from a basil bonsai. The trick is to do it strategically and equally so that you do not affect the shape and growth of the bonsai. Pick basil leaves from the bottommost portion of the bonsai and be sure to pick equally from back to front.