So I foolishly tried to help my basil plant grow by composting in the pot it was growing in. Needless to say this made the plant sick and yellowish and the leaves that have turned yellow have a bad smell to them. I have since removed the plant from the pot and it is now sitting in a pot of water with the remaining non-contaminated soil around it's roots.

Other than letting it sit in the clean pot (which doesn't have very much soil in it and has quite a bit of water) for a week or so and then replanting it in clean soil, is there anything I can do to get the plant back to looking and smelling normal?

Here are pictures of the plant and some of the yellowed leaves that have fallen off (click to enlarge):

Basil plant Basil leaves

In case it isn't clear that leaves should be closer to the color of the grass in the background (as that is what color they were before).


1 Answer 1


First off, your basil has bolted, which means that it has sent out a long stalk with flowers on it and the plant is on its way to dying. This is part of the plant's life cycle and there's nothing you can really do about it. In future, remember that you can prolong a basil's life by pinching the flowers as soon as they appear. As to why this works, I gave an explanation in another answer

Remember that a plant's "mission" is to reproduce before it dies, to ensure the survival of its species (producing flowers is the first step). If you let the flowers stay till they drop off on their own, the plant, satisfied that it has successfully produced a flower, might decide to stop producing them (end of the flowering season).

However, when you remove the dead flowers you're sort of "tricking" the plant into thinking that its previous mission has failed (i.e., it hasn't produced a flower to ensure its survival).

"Tricking" the plant encourages it to produce more growth (and flowers too, which you should keep pinching/deheading).

Now coming to the yellowing part, that could be due to many reasons. The simplest explanation, given the advanced stage of bolting, is that the plant is in its last days. The other equally simple explanation is that you have over-watered the plant. Both these produce yellow leaves exactly like in your picture (the fact that the leaves are yellower closer to the base makes me think it is due to over-watering). Other not so simple explanations are fungal diseases or nutrient deficiencies, which are rather hard to diagnose for basil, because the reaction is the same (yellow leaves).

My suggestion would be to let this one run its course and be more careful with a new plant and don't let it bolt.

  • Thanks, two quick questions. 1) I had read that answer about pinching the flowers but I'm not sure I understand what it means to "pinch". Do you literally mean squeeze the flower from the base like I'm popping a zit? 2) Assuming the plant is in its last days, how long do I have to collect the remaining good leaves?
    – daneil
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 1:43
  • 1
    "pinching" is just a gardening terminology. It just means to cut the flower at the base of the stalk. For soft flowers like basil, you don't need any special equipment and you can literally pinch them and pull them off. When you do the same to roses or other thick stalked flowers, pinching won't work and you'll need to use scissors/pruners. As for 2), it's hard to say but I'd guess from 2 weeks to a month max? If I were you, I'd get rid of that flower right away. Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 1:46

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