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8 Reasons Behind a Dead Basil Plant

Sad wilted leaves of a dead basil plant in a pot

Do you Have a Sad Basil Plant?

Gardeners are often surprised by how finicky basil plants can be. Though it is a very common herb to grow in your indoor herb garden or outdoors in your herb patch, there are so many issues that they are rather sensitive to.

Luckily, at the same time they’re very resilient plants and can bounce back rather quickly if you can catch the issue and identify it early on. It’s easy to mistake one issue for another if you don’t know the nuances for each.

That’s why we’ve written an in depth article on all of the possible reasons why your basil plant could be dying. So grab a pencil and paper and pay attention! We’ve gotta save all of those unnecessary basil deaths around the world!

8 Reasons For Basil Dying

The first thing that you should know is that more often than not, the issue with your basil plant will probably be from watering. It can be rather tricky to maintain the proper watering schedule for these particular plants and they are rather sensitive to both over watering and under watering.

If you don’t recognize the symptoms of both of these issues, the problem is probably deeper, literally underneath the soil. These can be trickier problems to solve because the issue isn’t very obvious and can sometimes go unnoticed until it’s too late to save the plant.

Yellowing basil leaves in a garden

1. What are the Symptoms of Over Watering?

The symptoms of an over watered basil plant are probably the most obvious, but this issue is also one of the harder ones to resolve. This is because an over watered plant can become irrevocably damaged rather quickly.

Overwatered basil will start to make itself known by getting pale yellow leaves. They will gradually start to turning yellow in color which is the first sign of overwatering. This is the earliest stage, and the easiest one to come back from.

If the problem goes unnoticed, the leaves will soon start to wilt. After wilt you may start to notice that the soil is smelly. This is usually the point of no return for your overwatered basil plant, unfortunately.

Once the soil starts to smell, this means that your plant has developed root rot. If you unearth the roots to find that they are brown or black and all mushy, the chances of your basil being revived are quite low.

2. What are the Symptoms of Under Watering?

Underwatered basil plants are a much easier issue to fix. Underwatered basil plants will make themselves known by looking very wilted and sad and droopy. Basil wilting is a very obvious thing to spot, but it’s an easy fix: just water basil!

If you catch the issue at this stage, all you really need to do is thoroughly water your plant again and it will sprout back up to its normal stature in a few hours. Just remember that thorough watering is far more important than frequent watering.

If you notice that the leaves are starting to get a little bit crispy and with brown spots, you’ll need to prune away the damaged leaves. This is because wilted basil leaves are still demanding energy from the plant even though they will never be able to recover completely.

Simply snip away the severely damaged leaves to make way for new and healthy leaves. Basil plants will usually sprout back rather quickly, so don’t be too discouraged! You’ll have a perky fresh basil plant in no time.

If you find that your basil plant is drying out oddly quickly and you have to water it every day, chances are that it’s planted in poor quality soil or it is placed too close to a warm window.

Sad wilting basil plant sitting in a pot in a blue room

3. What are the Symptoms of Insufficient Sun Exposure?

Understanding the correct amount of sun exposure for a basil plant can also be tricky, because it will often change at different times of year depending on the temperature. Basically, summer heat is usually too much and the plant may need to be moved out of its regular spot.

Most of the time basil prefers to receive direct sunlight or bright indirect light. It will depend on the type of window that you have or which season it is, but symptoms will vary depending on if it’s receiving too much or too little light.

Too much sunlight will result in a plant that has scorched leaves or crispy leaves. You can fix this issue by moving the plant farther away from the window or to an area that has less intense sunlight.

Too little sunlight is a little bit harder to identify. This is because the plant will actually start to produce more chlorophyll in the leaves and they will turn bright green. This can mislead you into thinking that your plant is healthy.

Another way to notice if your plant is sun deprived is because it may start to develop a leggy growth habit in search of the light. Leaves tend to also grow in small and stunted.

4. What are the Symptoms of Temperature Damage?

If it’s starting to sound like potted basil is surprisingly high maintenance, you are correct. More than anything, they can be the most sensitive to drastic changes in temperature.

Basil does not like intense heat and it also doesn’t like intense cold. Too much heat will have the same symptoms as too much sunlight, but too much cold (temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit) will result in wilting.

Luckily, a potted basil plant exposed to too much cold indoors – this is mostly due to a plant being placed too close to a drafty window – can easily be remedied by being placed in an area that is warm enough.

However, a basil plant that is exposed to cold outdoors may be a little bit more tricky to remedy. Basil seedlings or basil seeds that are planted outdoors before the last expected frost date have little chance of coming back.

Dead and wilted basil plant sitting in a plastic pot

5. What are the Symptoms of Improper Potting?

Improper potting will happen by way of a pot that does not have enough drainage holes or is not porous enough, or in potting soil that isn’t the right consistency or consistently moist soil.

It is important to plant basil in pots that have a ton of drainage holes. Not enough drainage holes will result in water becoming soggy and this will lead to root rot. Even a pot with a single large drainage hole usually isn’t sufficient.

It is also important that your pot is porous so that water has another means of evaporating other than just through the drainage holes. Terracotta pots are the best material to plant basil in because the water will not be trapped, like it would be in plastic.

Additionally, an indoor basil plant will need far more fertilizer in order to grow prosperously during its growing season. People often find that a fish emulsion fertilizer is the best type to provide for your fresh herbs.

6. What are the Symptoms of Root Rot?

We’ve already mentioned a couple of times what can lead to root rot in plants, but it’s actually a little bit more complicated that a build up of standing water.

Root rot is actually a build up of bacteria and fungus that is present in water that is left standing. These types of pathogens will severely weaken the root system of your basil plant.

The only way to fix the issue of root rot is to notice it very early on. You’ll be able to tell because the soil may start to smell, your soil is consistently moist, and if you expose the top portion of the roots they will be browning.

If you were a little bit too late in noticing root rot in your plant, you will simply have to let it go. If you do manage to notice it soon enough, simply repot the plant and shake away all of the old soil and delicately rinse the roots before planting basil again.

7. What are the Symptoms of Plant Pests?

If you’re growing basil indoors you won’t usually need to worry too much about pest infestations unless you’ve used outdoor soil for your indoor plants. However, it is not unheard of and it’s always good to know what to look for.

The two most common plant pests a basil will experience are aphids and spider mites. These are both sap sucking pests that are noticed through the leaf spots that they leave behind on the plant.

Spider mites will leaves tiny wispy webs in between the leaves, and aphids are larger and black and will usually hang around on the undersides of leaves.

The best way to get ride of both of these pests is by regularly decontaminating the leaves. The best way to do this is by using an all natural soap (I prefer Dr. Bronners) and diluting it with water.

Then you should lightly spray this solution all over the leaves of your plant and then wipe it all away with a clean cloth. This should effectively clean the pests away, but if your leaf spot has already started to develop, it may be a little too late and you may have to toss your wilted basil away.

Basil downy mildew with black mold on plants

8. What are the Symptoms of Fungal Disease?

Fungal disease is the most severe issue that your basil plant will face. The two most common fungal infection that your plant will face will be either fusarium wilt or basil downy mildew.

Fusarium wilt is a soil borne disease that damages a plant by blocking its xylem vessels. These vessels are responsible for transporting water and nutrients throughout the plant.

You will be able to tell that your plant has fusarium wilt because it will start to develop basil plant wilting, yellowing leaves, and severely stunted growth, usually around the lower leaf area. Unfortunately, there is no cure even if it is caught early.

The only way forward is to dispose of both the potting soil and the plant in an area where the disease won’t be able to spread. Then make sure to disinfect the pot before using it again.

Basil downy mildew is caused by a water mold fungus. This fungus can be transported by seed, by transplanting plants, or by fresh leaves brushing against an infected plant.

This type of fungus will only thrive and spread in humid and warm conditions, so you only really need to worry about it is the summer months. You’ll be able to tell your plant has developed this mildew because it will have a faint black stains or brown spots on each basil leaf.

If you catch basil downy mildew fast enough, you may be able to pick away the affected leaf before it spreads further. Otherwise, the only way to be rid of this issue is to throw your plant and its potting soil away entirely. Make sure to disinfect the pot thoroughly before you use it again for your new plant.

What Should I Do if My Basil Plant Has Died?

After reading those reasons for basil dying and you haven’t managed to catch the issue soon enough, don’t be discouraged! Once you learn the ideal growing conditions for basil plants, you’ll have far better luck the second time around.

If your basil plant has perished due to any of the aforementioned issues, the best plan of action is to just dispose of your plant in the compost. If the issue was a fungal infection, it’s best to dispose of the plant in an area where it won’t be able to contaminate any other plant, soil, or water source.

Luckily, we have written articles regarding how to grow basil right from scratch! Once you understand what fresh herbs need from you as a gardener, you will have a prosperous indoor or outdoor herb garden thriving in no time!

Click here to learn all about growing basil as an indoor plant!

Click here to learn all about how to grow basil right from seed!

Lovely potted basil plants sitting on a window sill