Woody Basil Plants: What To Do About A Basil With Woody Stems

Woody Basil Plants: What To Do About A Basil With Woody Stems

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Basil is a wonderfully versatile annual herb that is native to southern Asia and the islands of the South Pacific. As with other herbs, basil is easy to grow and with ideal conditions quite prolific. Even so, basil plants can have a number of issues; among these are basil plants with woody stems. If you have basil stems turning into wood, read on to learn about troubleshooting woody stems in basil.

How to Avoid Basil with Woody Stems

Basil, Ocimum basilicum, is a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family. Basil is grown primarily for its tender, young leaves which are used either fresh or dried in Asian and European foods. Proper planting and ongoing care of basil give it the best chance to flourish and avoid disease and pests.

Basil, like most herbs, likes lot of sunshine, at least six to eight hours per day. Propagation by seed is simple. You can direct sow into the garden after all danger of frost has passed or start seeds early indoors (six to eight weeks prior to planting outside). Sow the seeds evenly and cover them with ¼-inch (.6 cm.) of well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0-7.5. Within five to seven days, you’ll see the seedlings begin to emerge.

Keep the seedlings moist but not drenched or they may develop a fungal disease called damping-off. When the seedlings have two or three pairs of leaves, thin them or transplant them 6-12 inches apart. Mulch around the plants with grass clippings, straw, compost or ground leaves to help retain moisture and retard weeds.

Water the basil every seven to 10 days, depending upon rainfall. If the plants are in containers, they may need additional water.

Lightly fertilize basil with a 5-10-5 food once or twice at the rate of 3 ounces for every 10 feet (3 m.) of planting space. Use liquid fertilizer at half the recommended strength every four to six weeks for indoor basil and every three to four weeks for basil that is grown outside in containers.

Follow all of the above and you should have an abundance of lovely, aromatic basil leaves to harvest. But what happens if you start getting woody basil plants?

Troubleshooting Woody Stems in Basil

Basil, unlike some plants, actually loves to have a little taken off the top. You can harvest as soon as the plant is a few inches tall. Snip young leaves or, if you are harvesting an entire stem, cut above a pair of leaves. This encourages new growth at the cut which should be visible within a week. Keep trimming the basil throughout the growing season to encourage growth.

If you can’t use the basil immediately, hang stems to dry or freeze the basil in ice cube trays for later use. Puree the basil with either a little water or olive oil, put the puree in the tray, freeze, and then pop them out and store the cubes in the freezer in an airtight container for later use.

The important thing is to keep pruning your basil. If you don’t, the plant will flower and form seed which, in turn, causes the stems to become woody. The leaves will turn bitter as well. If you’re growing the basil as an ornamental for its attractive foliage and flowers, then you probably don’t care if the basil stems are turning into wood. If, however, you love those succulent young leaves, keep snipping. Old stems that have not been cut back also turn woody just as a plant that has been allowed to flower.

Do keep in mind that basil is an annual. You can extend its life a bit by bringing the plant inside when the weather begins to get cold, but it will eventually die. Woody basil plants simply mean that the plant is protecting itself from the dipping temps. If you bring it inside, give it plenty of light. Production will slow in the winter, but you should still be able to harvest some delectable fresh basil leaves to enliven your winter meals.

Why are my basil's stalks turning brown and dying?

I googled and it seems that basil does turn woody after some time but the leaves on these browned stalks look really unhealthy, like I haven't been watering them. Also, the stalks got thinner after they've woodened.

I sprayed them with garlic because I thought it might be a fungus but it doesn't seem to help. What's going on?

Picture of stems at the base:

Picture of individual stems with wilted leaves:

Cutting Basil to Grow

Basil stems can be cut from existing plants to increase your supply. You can also grow basil from store-bought packages of precut stems. Snip the basil stem just below a leaf node. A leaf node on a basil plant can be found by locating the junction that comes off the main stem and two side branchlets, which are called the “node.”

The basil cutting should be a good 4 to 6 inches in length. Remove the lower sets of leaves so that you have at least 2 inches of bare stem. A good cutting that is well-tended will begin to sprout within two weeks but can take up to four weeks. When using cuttings from a grocery store package, snip the bottom of the stem. Snipping off the dry end of the store-bought cutting will ensure that it can drink well.

Why are my basil stems turning black?

See full answer to your question here. Also to know is, why is the stem of my basil plant turning brown?

Basil stems brown at the bottom of the plant is a sure sign that the herb has been infected. Fusarium enters basil plants through their roots, penetrating the nutrient- and water-transporting xylem tissues. Eventually, the basil plant is turning brown at the stem or base from the ground up.

Subsequently, question is, can you eat basil that has turned black? It's not recommend consuming basil that has turned brown/black, especially if it is "slimy" to the touch. Even though a few brown spots are probably safe, it will be bitter and slimy.

Likewise, people ask, why is my basil plant turning black?

Dark, water-soaked spots on your basil plant's leaves may indicate a bacterial leaf spot infection, caused by the bacteria Pseudomonas cichorii. Symptoms may eventually lead to wet stem rot. Bacterial leaf spot can be controlled by removing infected leaves when your basil plant is dry.

How do you keep basil from turning black?

Alternatively, you can simply lay clean, dry basil leaves on a baking sheet, freeze them until frozen (about an hour will do it), and transfer them to resealable plastic bags. Basil frozen this way will turn dark, almost black, but retain plenty of basil flavor.

Jade plant - green to woody stem?

Hi! I have this beautiful jade plant that I got from Home Depot about 2 years ago in a 6-inch pot, and it's been recently repotted into an 8 inch one because it was starting to tip over. It's doing great in my south-facing window at the office. I water it well about every other week and fertilize once a month from March to November.

Right now it has nice green trunks. Will it eventually grow into those woody-trunked ones or did I let lucky and find a variety that stays green? I don't particularly like the woody-stemmed ones because they just don't seem as lush. Maybe it's because of the way they've been taken care of. I've never seen one outside, only as houseplants, probably because they'd never survive a Canadian winter.

Here's a pic of mine before I repotted it.

oops, that's a pic taken after repotting, not before. My bad, didn't look at the pic before I wrote my blurb.

Very pretty Jade! I don't know much about them but I thought most would get the wood trunks as they mature. Look at this photo that Happenstance has in Plant Files: A large jade and I don't see any of the brown wood trunk!

I think it will eventually develop a brown woody trunk.It is a tree.If you want to prevent this keep taking cuttings and rooting new plants.As for the lush growth,it could be that one plant has been grown with more food and water,while the other has been grown hard(watered infrequently,outside in summer,semi-dormant in winter).Lynn

yes, as they get mature, the older, bigger parts of the trunk will be brown. My mother in law has some HUGE jade trees in giant pots in the yard- she must have had them for decades. I always think the new green growth on the thick trunk looks great. Sometimes people prune them back hard when they're young, so they only grow off of one main 'trunk'. it gives them a prettier tree shape down the line but I've never been able to bring myself to hack that much off of a plant.


Basil is a mediteranean herb. It loves bright light but will go very pale if it gets too much sun. It doesn't like my south facing windowsil. It likes a well drained soil but not to dry out completely. If it does dry out, it will flop, but mine has always recovered if given a drink promptly.

It is also tender, so it needs to be brought insidde before the first frost or that will be the end of the plant. I find it is best treated as an annual. If given a good sized pot it can grow enormous.

I have had the most luck when germinating the seeds by placing the top half of a 2L pop bottle (without the lid) on top of the flower pot with the seeds laying on top of the soil. This allows for a nice humid environment but allows enough ventilation to prevent the seeds or seedling rotting. Make sure the soil is only damp not soggy.

I lost all of my first plants due to overwatering

The stems do go brown from the bottom up as the plant matures and the tissue hardens, but it's hard to say if this is all that's happening there. Needs some more compost over those roots on the surface though!

Also, I've found that it's best to have just one plant per pot, or at least have them well spaced out. This is one reason why supermarket-derived pots often fail unless you dissect out the individual plants and repot them.

They do best in a greenhouse but a sunny windowsill is better than outdoors in our climate.


Water is very important to basil because it grows rapidly and requires lots of water to stay healthy and meet its nutritional needs. Over-watering basil may cause the leaves to turn yellow, grey or brown before the plant finally rots and dies due to the excess moisture. Under-watering basil also causes the leaves to turn brown or develop brown spots as it dehydrates and dies. In hot weather, basil should be watered daily. Basil grown in the ground should receive enough water to keep soil moist, never soggy or muddy. Basil in containers should be watered until the water flows from the drainage holes in the container.

  • Water is very important to basil because it grows rapidly and requires lots of water to stay healthy and meet its nutritional needs.
  • Over-watering basil may cause the leaves to turn yellow, grey or brown before the plant finally rots and dies due to the excess moisture.

Pruning Tips

Harvesting herbs can be done anytime during the growing season. But the act of pinching off tender new growth is much different from actually pruning the plant.

Pruning, or cutting back old growth, is best in the early spring once new growth starts to form at the base of the plant. A second pruning can occur just after your herb flowers by removing the deadheads and dry, brittle growth. This type of mid-season pruning increases the plant's vigor, as it diverts its energy into growing fresh leaves and expanding its root system.

Even if your woody herbs don't look like they need trimming in the spring, still cut back the stems to the new growth. But don't remove more than the top third of each stem.

Larger herbs, such as rosemary, sage, and thyme, don’t require much additional pruning during the growing season unless they’ve become leggy or overgrown. If that's the case, shape them by pruning back the plant by up to a third. With proper annual pruning, your plant should display more green growth and flowers and have less of a woody "trunk."

Don’t prune too late in the season.   Encouraging new growth at this time will thwart the plant's effort to transition into winter dormancy. Also, frost can kill tender new leaves, resulting in a stressed and weakened plant.

Watch the video: Maximize Your Basil Harvest - 3 Mistakes to Avoid


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