Dying Basil - need help (pics inside)

bart1(6/7 Northern VA)July 7, 2006

I plant a lot of basil every year, and every year a bunch of my plants die. The lower leaves droop and fall off and this continues up the plant until all the leaves are gone.

I have healthy plants right next to dead ones and it seems to be a random problem. The pictures below show what happens.

The bitter end:

Dying plant in the foreground with healthy ones behind it:

Does anyone have any ideas what's happening here?



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Bug damage.... take a closeup pic of the underside of the leaf and maybe I can identify it.... but you can use several 'organic' remedies... if you need a brand, there's Safer's Soap and pyrethrin, or you can use some dish soap in water... but it'd be nice to know what buggy is doing it's work.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2006 at 11:46AM
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bart1(6/7 Northern VA)

I checked a few of the semi-live plants and found no bugs anywhere on the leaves. The leaves all look intact, just droopy and wilted.

I'm thinking it's not a bug problem but something else. What, I have no idea!

    Bookmark   July 7, 2006 at 5:40PM
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Amino_X(z7b AR)

You have several photos showing litter on the underside of the leaf. Look for webbing and an almost microscopic red bug called a Spider Mite. They LOVE Basil and the litter on the underside (even if no webbing is present) is a tell-tale sign of mites.

Granted, litter on the lowest leaf could just be slash-back from watering, but since it's also shown on leaves higher up the stalk your looking for mites.

Some of those look beyond help. Just pull them out. Check the healthy plants for litter on the undersides of the leaves and treat the healthy ones to prevent the mites from migrating to them.

My recipe for dealing with mites is:

1 Tbl. Scope (the plain green stuff works best in my experiments)
1 Tbl. Canola Oil
1 tsp. Liquid Dish Soap (WARNING: Do not use Anti-Bacterial soap)
1 Gallon Water.

Optional - 1/2 cup 3% Hydrogen Peroxide.

This is a contact killer since it leaves no residue so you'll have to apply this daily for about 3 days to 1 week.

Best Wishes

    Bookmark   July 7, 2006 at 5:52PM
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Hey, that's a nice recipe... I usually only get spidermites on my plants that crave humidity, since it's so dry here... always seems strange when high humidity places get them. I have them on an erythrina now... starting to upset me.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2006 at 6:25PM
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I'm no expert with basil, but the elaves on the blackened plant still show green, but the petioles are black. If it were mites, IMHO, the plants would be defoliated FIRST. Looks like a bacterial or fungal issue. Ensure good drainage, and air movement around plants, let 'em get on the drierr side before watering and perhaps the next time you water them, drench with a good fungicide, root zone only, not the leaves as you intend to eat them. Keep us posted. Ray.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2006 at 10:52AM
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a good fungicide that you CAN eat is cool chamomile tea... I can't say this enough, I use it to fight damp-off and it's a great anti-fungal....

    Bookmark   July 8, 2006 at 11:50AM
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Dirt catching in webbing is only one sign of a possible spidermite infestation. The other most obvious sign of SM is chlorotic stippling/spotting on the upper surface of the leaves.


    Bookmark   July 8, 2006 at 3:09PM
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If you need a picture of this chlorotic stippling, I will take a picture of my spidermite infestation of my erythrina.... they took over the whole plant almost overnight, I hope I saved it.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2006 at 4:22PM
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bart1(6/7 Northern VA)

I checked out a couple of the fallen leaves and only found 1 leafhopper. Nothing else. None of the leaves (the wilted ones on the plant or the fallen ones on the ground) showed any bug damage. They looked like normal leaves, just a little wilted.

Also if a bug is the culprit, wouldn't all of the plants have some damage or be inflicted? I have dead plants right next to perfectly healthy plants.

Oh yeah, the black spots on the leaves are from dirt splashing up, not some but or fungus.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2006 at 10:06AM
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Okay Bart... you won... it's not bug damage... it's just a mystery!
I will try one more time... bugs don't stay on a plant after it's dead....2, bugs mostly attack unhappy plants... and they aren't able to count to to see they've missed ones.
After you have gardened a few years, you will be able to see the signs of bug damage... because it's what happens. For instance, my erythrina and the plants surrounding it, I had a spidermite attack... how did I know? by the damage they caused... I can't see them, at least till I sprayed, then I could see them! :D You learn to tell. You learn tell the holes that caterpillars cause versus the damage that slugs cause or aphids cause. So... we are offering you our learned experience... but you know best... could be they just want to die. You can lead a gardener to a bug, you can't make him spray it.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2006 at 11:13AM
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bart1(6/7 Northern VA)

heathen1 -
Thanks for your help but I could barely hear you from way up there on your high horse. Geeze, lighten up your majesty.

I've been gardening for a while now and when I think of "bug damage", I think of two things: bugs and damage. I found neither on any of the leaves. I found wilted leaves on the plants and on the ground with no damage other than being wilted.

You may well be right on this, but I'm just not sure. I still don't understand why "bugs" will ignore the 10 plants around the dead one. I've had this problem before and certain plants die and the ones next to them don't.

Anyhow, I'll try to take a picture of the underside of the leaves and see if there's anything there. Believe me, I hope you're right and it's a bug issue. It would make things much easier over here.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2006 at 4:02PM
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I am not on a high horse... It's that 3 people gave you ideas, and you rejected all 3... it gets so that when you ask a question, and don't want to hear the answer... well... don't ask! You are not the only newbie to be this way... mostly I see people having plant troubles and DESPERATELY wanting to throw fertilizer at it.... much easier to do that than to figure out what the real problem is. If you were the first, I probably wouldn't have been so short.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2006 at 6:15PM
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Some of your plants do not look too bad to me.

To get a better diagnosis it would be best if you gave planting details of what you have done. Were these plants from a nursery or did you sow them in situ etc.

I would say that the browning off is definately some kind of disease (fungal or bacterial) This can be encouraged by an overly humid atmosphere. Always water in the middle of the day so that the roots do not stay wet overnight.

I do not think it is a pest that has caused it to die thus, but pests will attack weak plants also. Mite damage will make the plant go yellow first.

Perhaps your watering has been a bit irratic: too much
followed by too little. Overwatering is an easy way to kill basil. I suggest you pull up the really stunted one and look at its roots. If it is easy to do, it shows the plant has not rooted out into your soil, and has not got established. If the roots are dark (or mushy) and can be pulled off easily I would hazard a guess that it is a root disease caused by poor watering.

Aim not to get the plants wet especially around the base of the stem.

Basil loves highly fertile ground; lots of organic matter and good drainage, and protection from wind. Enrich your soil with compost/ organic matter, before planting to improve the texture. Feed your plants regularly. Get them off to a good start as best you can.

You will only get really good growth if you have rich soil, sunny position and sufficient protection; in a greenhouse if necessary.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2006 at 6:18AM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

Hmmm. Well, basil gets a Fusarium wilt and crown rot.

If that's what's happening, your next year's crop of basil needs to be planted in a new area where the soil is "clean."

    Bookmark   July 31, 2006 at 1:51AM
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Hi bart1,

I have the same problem in Sydney Australia. My basil plants seem to grow fine until they reach a height of about 20cm or so, then some plants start wilting. Then healthy looking leaves just start falling off and the plant slowly withers and dies, exactly like your pictures.

I am sure this is not caused by insects. There are no visible signs of either insect infestation or insect damage on the plants. After some research I have come to the conclusion that it is mostly likely Fusarium wilt caused by the fungal organism "Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. basilicum".

This site http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/chatham/ag/SustAg/fusariumbasil.html has some pictures of plants infected with Fusarium wilt - these look exactly like my plants and your pictures. My plants also show blackening of the stems and vascular tissue.

Knowing what do about it, is another matter. There doesn't seem to be any easy solution, other than trying to find resistant stock, however local nurseries in my area don't seem to know about these yet.



    Bookmark   December 24, 2006 at 12:29AM
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I bought a basil plant from Trader Joe's about 2 weeks ago, and I'm having a hard time keeping it healthy (this is my 2nd one). It's getting lots of sun and I'm only watering it when the soil feels dry, which with the 90-100 degree weather here, has been about every 3-4 days. I checked for insects, like you suggested for bart1, didn't see anything.

Any suggestions welcome!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 7:46PM
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amino_x do you spray on or wipe on your mite treatment?

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 8:20PM
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Hi, I have been growing Holy basil indoors. It has been 7 months and plant was growing really well. For the past one month I find these greenish brown buldged structures on the stem and leaf. There is also a glassy coating on the leaves. Plant now looks droopy and in dying state. Please kindly help me. How do I restore it to a healthy condition?

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 9:02PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

That is scale. It looks like a pretty bad infestation. I would toss the plant and the soil it is in, clean the pot and area around it with hot soapy water and buy or start a new plant. Scale is a member of the aphid family that attaches to the plant and grows a waxy shell around it for defense. Under that shell, it is sucking sap from your plant. They reproduce rapidly. Many insecticides can't penetrate the shell to kill it.

You can remove scale it you carefully scrape the waxy shells off. The most effective way to do this is with your fingernails. You could try a soft toothbrush dipped in diluted rubbing alcohol. But they will come back, and your plant is already weakened and pretty old, so it will never be lush again.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 4:30PM
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I've been growing basil indoors, in a grow tent with a florescent fixture here in NJ for some time. I recently had an issue with what I think were fungus gnats, but I believe they are mostly remediated.

Part of my remediation procedure was to get the top inch or so of soil dry. In the process, I think I may have damaged the plants, and hoped someone could help me determine if that's the reason they seem to have switched to flowering now, and not producing as many leaves. Could that happen?

I've attached a few few pictures to get an idea. I only thought to post these pictures just after I removed quite a bit of the flowering and trimming a number of the leaves.

There are also a few yellow leaves, and the plant in general does not look as green and healthy as it should.

Any ideas greatly appreciated.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 12:52PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Basil is an annual that wants to produce flowers, then seeds and then die. You can extend its life some by constantly pinching the early buds, but only for so long. The flavor diminishes once it starts flowering. I would start over with a new young plant or seeds. It grows pretty fast.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 2:32PM
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I was afraid you were going to say that.

Did it happen for any particular reason, or just its internal clock said it was time to flower? This has happened to three or so plants, while others, which were started at the same time, have not started to flower.

Could a lack of water for some time have caused this?

Would you recommend getting one of those plants from the supermarket or nursery to get the process started, or just grow from seed? It will be spring here by April 21st, so I'd be able to plant outside much more easily.

Thanks so much.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 3:26PM
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I have had that happen to my yound seedlings of lemon basil its just simply a bacterial attack. basil are very substitutable to that. only thing you can do is pull them out if its bad or try trimming off the plants black leaves and watering it will 3% mixture of hydrogen peroxide. that can work but might now. i invite you to join my youtube channel ask me questions and watch my vlog and how too's =)

Here is a link that might be useful: TheItalian Garden

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 2:46AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

gossamer: I think stress might cause the plant to flower earlier than it would under better circumstances, but not by much. There just comes a time when the plant is ready to flower and you can't stop it.

If you have a choice, I think a basil plant from a nursery would be healthier and more likely to be planted in a medium that you could grow it in than one from a grocery store. (The ones in the grocery have often been grown hydroponically and are only meant to last a short while by being left in water.) If you have grown basil from seeds inside before, or if you have a very good set up for growing seeds indoors out of season, you could start from seed now. I started some about 10 days ago and they are very tiny. I plan to put them outside about a week after our last frost. When I start them outside after the frost, they grow much more quickly with fewer problems.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 1:43PM
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Yeah, thanks, that has been my (limited) experience as well. I've already started some new plants, so hopefully they'll sprout and get going soon.

The last frost probably won't be until Apr 20th here in northern NJ, so a little less than two months. Let's see how far along I can get them until then!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 8:51PM
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