Does Basil Like To Be Root-Bound? (Causes, Solutions & How To Prevent)

Basil (Ocimum Basilicum), or sweet basil, is adored for the value it brings to the garden, dinner table, and medicine cabinet. 

Basil doesn’t like to be root-bound; in fact, no plant grows well under such conditions. Root-bound (pot-bound) plants have roots that grow into a dense, tangled mess, limiting space for further growth and airflow

Does Basil Like To Be Root-Bound?

NO, basil does not like to be root-bound. Basil can’t absorb enough nutrients and water when it becomes root-bound, leading to a lack of nutrients, inability to absorb water, and ultimately the plant’s death. Avoid root-bound basil by providing your plants with large enough pots, 8-10 inches wide and about 2 gallons in volume.

Is It Harmful To Basil To Be Root-Bound?

It’s harmful to any plant that becomes root-bound. Once your basil plant’s roots run out of room to grow, it will become stunted or stop growing.

The limited space also inhibits basil’s ability to obtain water, and absorb nutrients from the soil, slowing the plant’s growth, and can eventually result in the plant’s death; if action isn’t taken.

If you catch a root-bound basil plant early enough, the problem can be resolved in less than 15 minutes, depending on the circumstance. However, when a plant’s roots are exposed to air, they can begin to die within 24 hours.

What Are Signs of Basil Root-Bound?

Root-bound basil can be difficult to spot without pulling the plant out of the container. That’s because a root-bound plant shows similar signs or symptoms to an underwatered plant.

The signs include:

  • Yellowing or Browning Leaves (especially near the base)
  • Sudden Wilting
  • Misshapen or Cracked Containers (this won’t be obvious in clay or ceramic containers)
  • Stunted Growth
  • Water Passes Through The Pot Too Quickly (root ball stays dry)

Suppose you notice any of the above-listed symptoms. In that case, I highly recommend checking the soil to see if the basil plant needs water and looking over the roots to ensure they’re not starting to become bound.

How To Deal With Root-Bound Basil Plants?

There are two effective ways to deal with root-bound basil plants:

  1. Prune the plant’s roots (root pruning)
  2. Repot the basil into a larger pot

I feel as though the best way to fix your root-bound plants is to transplant them. But, if you don’t have a larger pot on-hand or prefer to keep it in the same one, root pruning is an option.

How To Re-pot Your Basil Plant (including root pruning)

I know ‘root pruning’ may sound like an intimidating task, but it’s easy. While it’s possible to re-pot your herb without any equipment, there are a few basic things you might want to have ready.

Materials & Tools

  • Larger Pot
  • Small Bag of Potting Soil
  • Sharp Knife or Pruning Shears
  • Fork or Stick


Before starting the repotting process, I recommend looking over the planter to ensure none of the roots have broken through the sides or are growing out of the drainage holes. If the basil’s roots are exposed, you’ll want to trim them before removing the plant from the pot.

  1. Carefully remove the plant from its pot. You may need to run a knife around the edge of the pot to separate the soil and roots from the pot.
  2. If your basil plant needs to be pruned, use scissors or pruning shears to trim around and under the basil’s rootball. Pruning can allow healthy growth.
  3. Use your fingers to gently tease or massage the rootball apart (a stick or fork works well for seriously entangled roots). Loosening the plant’s rootball encourages the roots to stretch into the soil around the ball instead of growing in circles strangling the plant.
  4. Prepare your plant’s new pot by adding potting mix to the bottom of the planter *You can prepare your new pot ahead of time* The crown of the basil plant, where the plant’s stem meets the roots, should be at the soil level.
  5. Gently place your basil into the pot and add some soil to cover the plant’s rootball; I like to use some of the dirt from the previous pot if it wasn’t compromised. Once your plant’s snug and safe, give it a generous drink.

Once the basil’s repotted, it’s vital that you keep your plant well-hydrated for the next couple of weeks.

How Can We Prevent Root-Bound Basil?

There are two main ways we can prevent our basil from becoming root-bound: use breathable pots and monitor the plant’s root activity.

Use Fabric Pots or Air Pots

While plastic, ceramic, and clay planter pots are standard, but some plants prefer and need breathable fabric. Breathable pots allow oxygen to enter the ‘root zone,’ which air prunes the roots.

Monitoring Root Growth To Prevent Root-Bound Basil

The best way to prevent root-bound basil plants is to monitor root activity and growth.

Monitoring your basil’s root growth involves gently removing the plant from its pot. The smaller the pot is, the easier it will be to tip over and handle.

Make it a habit to check your plant’s root activity at the same time you water them.


Does basil like to be crowded?

Air circulation is vital for plants to grow well. You don’t want your basil plants to be crowded; they don’t like it.

Basil prefers consistently moist soil; if they’re crowded, the soil becomes too dry because the plants struggle to get enough nutrients.

How close or far should basil be planted? 

Basil should be planted between 12 to 18 inches apart. The amount of space between plants leaves room for the roots to thrive.

Basil plants can be grown in the same container as long as there is sufficient space. When the plants start getting too big, repot one of them to its own container.

What happens if I plant basil too close together?

 When basil or any plants are too close together, it can cause them to become crowded and stunt their growth, leading to the plants dying if they don’t get the proper care.

How big of a container does basil need?

Basil needs a 10 to 12-inch pot for optimal growth.

Does basil need deep soil?

Whether you’re growing basil indoors or outdoors, the soil should be 8 to 12 inches deep.

Basil is an herb that likes its space. This herb requires the same bare essentials we do; sufficient air, nutrients, a home, food, and TLC.

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Elaina Garcia

Elaina Garcia began her writing career over six years ago. Her hands-on experience with farming, gardening, maintenance, and DIY projects extends beyond ten years. Elaina’s work spans from growing edible gardens and medicinal plants and how to use them to educational/informational books and dealing with predators on the homestead.

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