How to repot basil (for more to harvest)

Learning to repot seedlings and young basil plants successfully is a skill that will help you create a successful herb garden for less. 

Mastering to repot or transplant takes some practice, even when you already know the do’s and don’ts. 

And yes, you can repot both seed-started and store-bought basil plants.

TL:DR: repot store-bought basil as soon as you get home, and repot seedlings started from seeds when you see at least one set of true leaves.

Repot supermarket basil plant for more basil

Basil is one of the easier herbs to repot and propagate from store-bought plants.

But before we look at the method, you need to understand 3 facts about supermarket herbs and basil.

3 facts about store-bought basil plants

Fact 1: Store-bought herbs are grown densely in small starter pots to look impressive. The idea is to harvest the aromatic leaves and dispose of the plant. 

Fact 2: The small starter pots are not meant to hold enough nutrients for the young basil plant to grow and thrive. The basil plant will be consumed within a few days to a week.

Fact 3: The plants have been driven hard in an optimal growing environment that is nearly impossible to replicate for non-commercial gardeners. 

Given the above, you now know that you need to offer the following:

  • A larger pot than the original as the container is too small
  • Fertile quality potting soil to help plants grow
  • A growing environment that will help the plant adapt and survive

Step 1: Basil stem cuttings to grow multiple plants

Basil bought at the supermarket is often called common or sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum). It is a wonderfully aromatic herb, and it will grow quickly. If this is the only type of basil you want, you can start your herb garden from a store-bought basil plant. 

Please read our article on growing basil indoors. When propagating basil from a stem cutting, you want a 7-10 centimeter (3-4 inches) long sprig. 

  1. Cut the stem just above the third pair of leaves 
  2. Trim off all leaves but the top 2 – 4 
  3. Insert the cutting into a glass of water/pot with soil
  4. Replace the water every day / keep the soil moist

Your plant will start setting new roots in 1-2 weeks.

Stem cuttings with new roots
New white roots on stems

If you like the sound of Thai basil, cinnamon basil, opal basil, etc., you may have to buy seeds or plants from your local garden center. It will be much more economical to start your basil from seeds at home.

Step 2: Repotting basil plants

After harvesting and planting the stems from your store-bought basil, you are left with one or several basil plants. Next, we will look at repotting this basil plant.

To give your plant the best possible chance of survival, prepare your new pot first.

  1. Place store-bought basil plant in water
  2. Fill your new pot to ⅔ with fresh potting mix 
  3. Water the pot
  4. Remove the store-bought plant 
  5. Use your fingers to open up the root system gently
  6. Place the plant in the new pot and fill it with more potting soil
  7. Water and let excess drain from drainage holes

Do keep the root system wet throughout the entire repotting process.

Store-bought basil is not too difficult to repot. Still, expecting a success rate closer to 50 than 100 percent is reasonable.

Repotting basil seedlings grown from seed

Is it difficult to grow basil plants from seeds? No, basil is one of the easier herbs to grow and germinate from seeds.

You have a couple of advantages when you grow a basil plant from seed. You are no longer dealing with overcrowded seedlings driven (too) hard and planted in a small starter pot. 

First leaves of opal basil
First leaves of opal basil (10 days old). Read our article on growing basil from seeds.

And as long as you do not forget to water the basil plant seedlings, you will often achieve a 90-100% success rate when repotting basil seedlings. 

  1. Water pot with basil plant seedlings
  2. Fill new pots with ⅔ of potting mix 
  3. Water pots
  4. Gently remove one seedling, taking care not to disturb the root system
  5. Make a hole in the mix and insert the seedling
  6. Press potting soil gently around the seedling
  7. Water thoroughly to remove any pockets of air

7 lessons repotting basil plant seedlings

Repotting basil plant cuttings and seedlings is an economical way to multiply the number of plants in your herb garden.

Transplant shock is a term that summarizes stresses and adverse reactions when plants are moved, transplanted, or repotted.

Here are 7 tried and tested experience-based rules that will help you when repotting basil into larger pots. 

1. Avoid disturbing roots

Be gentle and careful when you are in contact with the root system. Roots are delicate, and seedling’s young roots are still under development. 

2. Keep root system moist

Do not let the root system dry out. Water the young plants before repotting to help the potting mix stick to the roots to increase the moisture level.

3. Stay with the same medium when possible

Repotting a plant introduces the risk of transplant shock. You will significantly reduce the risk of shock if you use the same type of medium in your new pot or container. Basil cuttings in water are, for example, ideally suited for growing hydroponically.

Plants need light to grow and thrive. And this is also true when repotting basil in pots or outdoors. A windowsill may give enough light during spring and summer. But come winter you need to use grow lights for herbs and other potted plants to grow and thrive.

4. Bring as much of the root ball as possible

When repotting the plant, take great care to bring as much of the root system as possible. Watering beforehand helps support the root system as the soil adheres to the roots.

5. Water thoroughly to help roots grow

When repotted, you need to water thoroughly to help new roots grow in their new environment. And thoroughly means slow and several times. Well-draining soil will let the water run off before the soil has had time to absorb enough moisture. Watering slowly will allow the soil to absorb all the moisture it needs.

6. Preparation of new pots or site comes first

Prepare the new pots, containers, or sites with a good quality medium. If transplanting into the soil, you can never go wrong with well-drained quality soil. Make sure to keep the soil moist and work fast without being careless. An example would be to move one seedling at a time to avoid roots being exposed to air when waiting to be transplanted.

7. Do not over-fertilize

You want your indoor plants to grow and thrive, but do not assume that you always need to add fertilizer. Most quality potting soils and mixes come with enough fertilizer and nutrition to sustain the seedlings’ first stages of development.

Remember that you can always add fertilizer, but it is tough to remove when added.

When it is time to add fertilizer, select one plant, add half the recommended dosage, and observe before administering it to all your plants.

If you are repotting or transplanting more established plants, trim back the plant to help it focus energy on growing strong roots over new growth.

Summary and conclusion:

You now know how to use stem cuttings to grow new basil plants. You understand why store-bought herbs offer some unique challenges compared to basil plant seedlings grown from seeds at home.

Regardless of how you decide to grow basil, you will find that all varieties of basil require well-drained soil and pots with drainage holes. Basil plants do not do well if water pools at the bottom of the container. 

Mattias Magnusson: Hello, I'm Mattias, a passionate and experienced gardening enthusiast. I am the creator of, your guide to year-round herb and veggie growing. Let's simplify green living, no matter your space or location.