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How to Prevent and Control Basil Plant Pests

Single lady bug sitting on a healthy basil leaf plant

Basil Pests

The more you learn about basil care, the more that you start to understand just how high maintenance of an herb basil is. That being said, the flavor and aroma of basil plants makes all of the effort completely worth it.

There is something that loves the taste of basil foliage more than humans do, and those are insect species. There is a long laundry list of various bugs that simply love to nibble on basil leaves.

Luckily, there are ways to remove and prevent these pesky pests from being too liberal with your plant leaves. This article is all about identifying what pests are pestering your beloved basil plants and how to prevent further infestations.

Are you curious about growing basil indoors? Click here!

Are you curious about when is the best time to harvest basil? Click here!

Can’t figure out why your basil plant is dying? Click here!

Here are 3 ways to prevent your basil plant from bolting! 

What are some Bugs and Pests that Damage Basil Plants?

Tiny whiteflies infesting a fresh basil plant

There are tons of different insect species that have the taste buds for ocimum basilicum (sweet basil). There are so many different species that it can be difficult to try and identify which ones could be bothering your plants. We’ve listed a few insects and what their track marks may look like to help you out:

Aphids – an aphid is a sap-sucking insect. It will attach itself to the vein of a plant and start to suck away the water and nutrients that the plant naturally brings up to its leaves through those veins.

An aphid is quite small – about the size of a grain of rice – and will be either light green, orange, or black in color. They will be either on the topside or underside of a leaf.

Whiteflies – a whitefly is a very tiny winged insect that looks like a tiny white moth. Whiteflies will feed on basil leaves by creating tiny little holes all over the underside surface of a leaf.

A white fly infestation becomes dangerous to your plant because of their sheer numbers. Whitefly mothers will lay a ton of eggs on the underside of the leaves, which will then hatch and continue to feed.

Japanese Beetles – the Japanese beetle is a rather large beetle and it will be easy to spot. It is a shiny green color with an iridescent exoskeleton.

The Japanese beetle will also leave behind a rather obvious trail and it completely decimates leaves, leaving behind only a lacy sheet of a leaf.

Slugs – you know a slug when you see one. These smiley bugs are rather large, are not intimidating, and won’t be tricky to remove from a basil leaf (unless you’re particularly squeamish).

Slugs leave pretty large and obvious chomp holes and they are easy to remove. But beware! Slugs are attracted to moisture and even if you pick them all away, you may wake up the next morning to find them all over your plant once more.

Grasshoppers – grasshoppers are pretty serious eaters. You’ve seen a grasshopper before, and though they are rather large and easy to spot, they can be a little bit tricky to catch with those hops!

Grasshoppers will leave behind complete wreckage. They will completely eat a leaf, barely leaving anything behind.

Flea Beetles – flea beetles are a little bit more tricky to spot and to deal with. A flea beetle is very small and dark black. It will leave behind a tiny burrowing hole where it has fed.

A flea beetle infestation can be a little harder to deal with because they’re so small and they’re rather good at jumping. Preventative measures are usually implemented by gardeners to deal with these.

Big Japanese beetle sitting and munching on basil leaves

Cabbage Moths – the cabbage moth is particularly problematic because of the cabbage caterpillar that comes before it. The cabbage caterpillar will lay eggs which will then feed on the basil leaf, as will the cabbage moth.

Cabbage moth larvae will usually hang around underneath a leaf and you can see the caterpillars as light green with a white stripe down their back. They will leave behind a more skeleton-like trail on the leaves.

Fungus Gnat – fungus gnats are a particular problem because of the way that they spread. A fungus gnat is a very small fly (similar to a fruit fly) that doesn’t bite or sting, but it is detrimental to plants.

Fungus gnats will lay their eggs within the top layer of the soil of a plant and once the larvae hatches, they will feed on the thin roots of your houseplants. Once they mature, they will rise through the soil and repeat the process.

Tomato Hornworms – the tomato hornworm is a less common pest, though it can be surprisingly hard to remove considering how large they are!

A tomato hornworm is great at camouflage as it is a light green color. It will completely decimate leaves, lay eggs, and they will take their turn doing the same thing.

Spider Mites – spider mites are one of the hardest little insect pests to identify. They are particularly small and hard to see. They’re brown and about the size of a fruit fly.

You can tell you have spider mites because the place where the leaf meets the stem of the plant will start browning, and you’ll see tiny little wispy webs around the base of the plant. You will also be able to tell by yellowing leaves.

How do you Prevent Basil Pests?

Unhealthy growing basil plant covered in basil mildew

That laundry list of pests was probably overwhelming to you and you may be thinking “why does anybody bother growing plants with all those monsters skittering around?!” Luckily, there are super easy and non-violent ways to deal with each of these annoyances.

1. Garden Netting – a great way to try and prevent larger pests from entering your herb garden or vegetable garden would be to cover your vulnerable plants with a tight garden netting.

Make sure to pick netting that has a weave that is wide enough that rain and sunlight can still get through, but not so wide that larger pests can get through.

2. Insecticidal Soap – though this isn’t my favorite option, it is still worth mentioning. Insecticidal soap can sometimes be harmful to plants, animals, and even to yourself, so make sure to fully read the instructions.

3. Neem Oil – neem oil is a wonderful alternative to using insecticide as it is a natural herbicide that is derived from the neem tree. This is a great environmentally friendly was to protect your plants, just by spraying a solution all over the leaves of your vulnerable plants.

4. Companion planting – my favorite method of pest prevention comes through companion planting. There are certain plants you can pair with more vulnerable plants that will completely deter a lot of the worst types of pests!

Most of the time, herbs with very fragrant leaves are going to be your best friends when it comes to deterring unwanted insects, but they will attract beneficial insects at the same time! Plant marigolds, lavender, mint, citronella, thyme, or parsley!

How do you Remove Basil Pests?

Creepy little bugs festering on a basil leaf

1. Water – a lot of the pests you usually deal with aren’t too tricky to get rid of, and you can simply spray your plants on the gentlest setting with your garden hose. 

Many pests tend to linger on the underside of plants, so don’t forget to get the underside of the leaves as well as the topside of the leaves.

Another hot tip: try this method on a hot day. If you wet the leaves of your basil on a cloudy day, there’s a chance the water won’t evaporate quickly enough and it can put your plants at risk of a fungal disease like fusarium wilt or basil downy mildew.

2. Soap & Water – a simple solution of regular dish detergent and water is a super effective way to remove pests. My personal favorite type of soap is Dr. Bronners, as it is powerful but all natural!

Spray both the top and under side of all of the basil leaves of your plant. The soap will usually get all of the pests to fly the coop, but if some linger, you can then wipe away the solution with clean water the following day.

3. Egg Shells – crushing up some egg shells and putting it in the top soil of your basil plants is a great way to deal with larger pests, though it’s a little bit more aggressive of a method.

Crushed up egg shells work in the same way that diatomaceous earth does. Diatomaceous earth is comprised of fossilized remains of aquatic organisms called diatoms.

Basically, these organisms – or egg shells – are sharp, and bugs crawling along the surface of the soil will get a bunch of micro-cuts. They will eventually become dehydrated and perish.

4. Indoor Planting – one of the most effective ways to prevent basil pests is by simply growing more vulnerable plants indoors. This way many of those pests in that laundry list just won’t have access to them.

If your plants were already living outdoors, make sure to slowly acclimate them slowly to living indoors. Since they are sensitive to drastic changes in temperature, so bring them in a little bit longer each day for a week until transferring them indoors full time.

Make sure to check the plants you intend to bring indoors for pests before doing so. You don’t want to risk infecting all of your other house plants due to a sneaky infected plant.

Beetles munching on a healthy basil plant in the garden

FAQs

What is the best way to grow basil?

O basilicum, better known as sweet basil, is one of the most popular varieties to grow. Planting basil is best done straight from basil seed as they tend to last the longest.

What are the most common basil diseases?

The most common basil diseases to worry about are fusarium wilt and basil downy mildew. Fusarium wilt is an issue that starts in the soil, whereas downy mildew is an issue that effects the plant leaves.

Basil will also experience many issues if you water the plant improperly. Watering too much or planting basil in a container that doesn’t have proper drainage holes can quickly lead to root rot.

How is basil used?

Fresh basil is commonly used across all sorts of different cultures. Fresh basil leaves are great as a garnish for both savory and sweet dishes alike. Fresh leaves have a lovely flavor and aroma to them, whereas dried leaves have a more subdued flavor.

Where is the best place to plant basil?

If you’re intent to grow basil, there are a few things to know before picking the perfect location. It will depend on the temperature of the summer in the place that you live. They should live in full sunlight if you live in a place that is more mild, but they should live in partial shade if you live in a place that is very hot. It is also best to pick a spot that has been amended with compost for nutrients and proper drainage.

Is growing basil indoors or growing basil outdoors a better option?

Some may say that growing basil outdoors is a better option because they do best in natural elements, but others say that since basil is so sensitive to so many things, it would be far easier to control their growing conditions if they’re kept indoors in a container.