Basil is a well-loved herb all over the world. Although it is very easy to plant and grow, it is a sensitive herb that easily develops droopy, wilted leaves.
The most common reason for basil plant wilting is over-watering or under-watering.
Basil needs just the right amount of water. Learn more about how to water the basil right way here.
Here are common causes of Basil plant wilting and how you can resolve them.
Reason 1 – Watering
Overwatering basil is a common mistake, especially among new gardeners.
Basil requires plenty of water and well-drained soil, however, it cannot live with wet feet. It is easy to cross the line as basil has very specific water requirements.
Too much water can cause the leaves to start wilting. This, along with the bad quality of soil and poor drainage can be dangerous for your plant.
Solution: Put potted basil in a container with good drainage. Check the soil before watering it.
Sometimes, the soil on the top can feel dry, but the soil 1 to 2 inches below can still be moist. Only water the basil when this inner soil is dry.
If the plant has already wilted, you can still save if more than half of the roots are ok. Start to water the plant normally when the iner soil is dry and the container has holes for proper drainage.
Basil is a sensitive herb that requires moist and well-drained soil to grow.
If it dries out even for some time, it will show by the wilting of the leaves. The leaves are proportionally large compared to the thin stems.
Solution: If the soil feels dry to the touch at 1 to 2 inches below, water the basil generously as soon as possible. If you have potted basil, water until you can see water leaking from the drainage holes at the base of the pot.
If the sun is very harsh, put the basil in the shade to let it come back from its wilted state and recover. After it has perked up again, you can keep it back in the sun while ensuring that the soil is moist.
You can add a mulch of leaf compost or manure around the base of the plant to preserve the moisture inside while providing nutrients. This would prevent the basil from wilting.
Generally, basil recovers from wilting due to under-watering within 2 days of providing well-drained moist soil and the correct conditions for growing basil.
Reason 2 – Lack of Pruning
Basil is an annual plant. Once it starts flowering, it spends less energy on the other parts of the plant, like the leaves and stems. As a result, the leaves start wilting and eventually fall off.
Solution: The life of the basil can be extended by constantly pruning off the flower buds before they have a chance to bloom. This also results in bushier foliage and more leaves for harvest.
Reason 3 – Soil
The basil needs a moist yet well-drained soil.
Clay soil can be too boggy and will result in waterlogging. Basil cannot tolerate wet feet and will not survive for long in this soil. A constantly damp soil like clay can cause root rot.
If the roots of the plant do not have air to breathe, the plant will not be able to get the nutrients necessary for it to grow, which will result in wilting leaves.
Rich, loamy soil is important for basil to grow. Make sure there are plenty of drainage holes for water to get out.
No matter where you plant your basil, make sure to add a layer of gravel at the top of the soil.
It will help drain water inside and also concentrate on reflecting heat to the center of the plant. The heat will keep the inner layers of the plant dry and moisture-free.
Reason 4 – Container
If you are growing potted basil, then the container can also be a reason for wilting leaves. Below are two issues that can cause basil plant wilting.
1. Small container size
One of the common reasons for the basil leaves wilting is the small container size. Most of the time, store-bought potted basil comes in containers that are way too small for the plant to grow well.
Basil needs plenty of water to grow. Pots that are usually too small and dry out very easily when the sun is strong.
The capacity of smaller containers for holding soil is much less. Therefore, they retain less moisture and as a result, tend to dry out faster.
Solution: You need to plant basil in a container that is at least 12 inches wide.
It is possible to grow basil in small pots, but you need to continuously monitor soil moisture and water very carefully, and even then, it will be susceptible to drying out.
2. Wrong container material/No drainage
Metal and plastic containers are good conductors of heat. They absorb heat which leads to a quicker rate of evaporation, thus causing the basil leaves to wilt.
Solution: Use terracotta, clay, or ceramic pots for growing basil. These materials do not absorb heat like metal or plastic, thus retaining a lot of the moisture and preventing the wilting of the leaves.
Basil cannot survive in cloggy soil where there is no air circulation. One cause of this can be that the container does not have any drainage outlet.
A lot of times, pots do not have drainage holes at the base to let the extra water get out. This can result in a waterlogged soil which can cause the leaves to wilt.
Often, containers that have drainage holes are kept over a drip tray or a saucer to catch the excess soil and water so as not to dirty the area around. This also is harmful, as the excess water has nowhere to go and stays stagnant in the dish.
Not only does the plant sit in waterlogged soil, but the excess water in the dish also becomes a breeding ground for pests like mosquitoes.
Solution: Use large containers that have drainage holes at the base to grow your basil so that the extra water can leak out and the soil can maintain balanced moisture for the plant to grow.
Do not use a saucer underneath the pot at any cost. If you are afraid of spoiling the furniture or the place, take the pot outside to water, or keep a paper towel under the pot for at least half an hour until the water has stopped leaking out.
Reason 5 – Environmental shock
A sudden change in temperature, changes in light levels, or a shift to a completely different environment can shock the basil and it will shut down temporarily. This will cause the leaves to wilt.
Solution: It is important to acclimatize your basil. Known as the hardening off period, this is usually done once the basil is transplanted. Letting the plant get used to its new environment bit by bit will help it get accustomed better.
Reason 6 – Transplant shock
Transplant shock is another reason for basil leaves to start wilting. When seedlings are replanted, or if you are relocating your herb, it can lead to a transplant shock for the plant.
Repotting, changes in the environment, cutting off roots, stems or any parts of the plant can also result in transplant shock. This happens mainly because the roots get disturbed during the shifting process.
To avoid transplant shock, be careful not to disturb the roots while transplanting. Do not shake the root ball and bring as much of the roots system as you can. Make sure the root ball stays moist after the process.
Read more about How to Grow Basil from Cuttings here
- To rescue a plant from transplant shock, add some sugar to the repotted plant.
- You can also trim off some of the leaves and keep the roots moist.
You can also just wait for the plant to recover by itself. Do not add more fertilizer as it might stress the plant even more.
Reason 7 – Temperature
Basil can wil due to both heat and cold. Let us look at each of them below.
Although basil is a plant that requires a good amount of sunlight, very high temperatures can lead to wilting leaves.
Basil can still tolerate high temperatures as long as the soil is moist. Allowing the soil to become dry in the hot weather will stress the plant and it will wilt easily.
Solution: Ensure that the soil is always moist. Use mulch wherever possible as it will keep the surrounding soil covered and thus the plant remains cool. It also has plenty of nutrients to keep the plant healthy.
Basil does not do well in the cold. The cold season will see the basil wilting away.
It needs at least 6 hours of adequate sunlight to thrive. Basil is so sensitive to temperature changes that even mild temperatures every day with a sudden cold snap can lead to wilted leaves as a sign of stress.
Solution: Prune off any leaves that have wilted, browned, or curled due to the cold.
To avoid the leaves wilting due to cold, bring the basil to a warmer place.
Use a grow light if it is not getting enough sunlight. You can also try to acclimatize it bit by bit to the temperature.
Reason 8 – Pests
Although basil is a good companion plant that keeps most pests away, it is still prone to a few pests itself. Aphids, spider mites, nematodes, and other insects can suck the nutrients from the basil, leading to droopy, wilted, and damaged leaves.
Solution: Most pests can be removed by spraying the leaves with insecticides. However, some pests might require more rigorous treatments.
Reason 9 – Diseases
Here are some common diseases that can lead to wilting of Basil plant.
1. Fusarium wilt
Fusarium wilt is a fungal disease that can affect young plants. It causes droopy, wilting leaves, and stunted growth. The first signs are decreased growth and a droopy appearance with the leaves looking curl.
This disease can survive in the soil for 8 to 12 years and is difficult to get rid of.
Solution: If your plant is indeed infected with this fungal disease, the best thing is to start again with a new plant in a completely different location.
To prevent this disease, buy healthy disease resistant plants in the first place. You also get basil seeds where the package says that they have been fusarium tested.
2. Root Rot
If overwatering isn’t tended to instantly, it can lead to the disease called root rot. It is water-borne and results when there is no proper drainage for the basil plant.
Solution: Let the soil be slightly dry before watering again. Make sure it’s not too moist or too dry. Never let the pot stand in water and ensure that it is always well-drained.
3. Leaf Spot
If you see your leaves wilting and covered in brown water-soaked spots, your basil plant might have fungal leaf spot disease. This fungus grows in a warm, wet environment and can be contagious.
Solution: Remove the affected leaves as soon as you spot this disease. If the disease is only in the first stages, you can use a fungal spray to cure it.
To prevent it altogether, make sure that you always water the plant at the base of the soil and never on the leaves.
Reason 10 – End of life
Basil can survive for several seasons, but it is typically an annual plant. Like the natural life cycle, it grows, bears flowers and seeds, and dies.
Once the basil starts flowering, much of its energy is invested in the flowers and the seeds. That leaves very little for the other parts of the plant like the stem and the leaves.
Eventually, with less nutrients provided, the leaves start drooping and wilting until they finally fall off.
Solution: While there is not much you can do to stop death, you can still prolong the life of the plant by pruning it regularly, especially the flower buds.