Why are my Basil Leaves Small? (Tips to Fix it)

Basil is a very aromatic herb that is used for making a lot of delicacies, such as pesto, salads, bruschetta, etc. It grows plenty of leaves that you can harvest and use for the entire season.

However, sometimes the basil plant grows tiny leaves, which are not sufficient for anything that you want to use it for.

Reasons why the basil grows small leaves and how you can fix it.

1. Sunlight problem

Basil requires plenty of sunlight to grow and thrive.

Lack of sunlight or too much sunlight can be a problem that can lead to small leaves.

Here are a few possible reasons why Sunlight is a problem –

a. Insufficient Sunlight

Basil requires at least 6 hours of adequate sunlight every day. It is one of the major growth requirements, and if it is not exposed to enough sunlight, its growth will be affected.

The basil leaves will start turning yellow and eventually shed off. The plant can also die. If it is getting just enough sunlight to survive, it will grow very tiny leaves.

This is the reason why Basil is found mainly in hot and humid regions.

In colder regions, where there isn’t sufficient sunlight, or in the colder seasons too, the basil does not get the sunlight that it needs.

b. Too Much Sunlight

Basil is a very sensitive plant. Just like insufficient sunlight can cause problems, too much sunlight is also not good for it. Excess sunlight will cause the leaves of the basil to shrink. Harsh sunlight can also burn the leaves.

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2. Watering problem

The amount of water your basil plant needs depends on a lot of factors.

  • The age of the plant is important, as older plants require more water due to their bigger size.
  • The container size also matters, as a smaller container retains less water and will get soggy quickly. Plants will have to be watered in small doses and more frequently.
  • The material of the pot also plays a role in the amount of water required as plastic or metal absorbs more heat and the water dries out quicker.

With these factors, there can be a couple of problems that can arise


Basil is a plant that requires a lot of water, as it loves moist soil.

If you do not provide enough water to the plant, it will not be able to create the nutrients required for its growth.

You can identify an under-watered plant by dry soil and droopy or wilting basil leaves. It will also result in the plant growing smaller leaves.


While basil loves moist soil, too much water is also a problem for the plant. A very soggy soil suffocates the roots and the roots are not able to perform well.

Similarly, if you water the leaves directly, there is a chance that they stay damp, which can lead to other diseases like downy mildew.

All this will lead to poor growth of the plant and thus very small leaves.

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3. Lack of nutrients and improper soil

Basil needs fertile soil with the nutrients that are needed for it to grow well. Lack of nutrients may very well be the reason for small leaves on the plant.

The three nutrients that basil absolutely needs are potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus.

They must be present in the soil in adequate quantities because if the soil has nutrient deficiencies, the plant will never grow well.

4. Small container

The container of your basil plant can be a reason for small basil leaves. Indeed, pots play a huge role in the development of plants.

The starter pot that you find the basil in when you buy it from the supermarket is way too small for the plant.

Basil needs space to grow and its roots grow wide and need space to breathe. A smaller container will force the roots to be squeezed in a tiny amount of space leading to suffocation of the roots in the tiny space.

Also, the soil in the small container will not be enough to provide the adequate nutrients required for the growth of the basil.

All this will result in stunted growth of the basil and smaller leaves.

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5. Types of basil

With over 100 types of basil available all over the world, there are quite a few varieties that have small leaves.

Usually while talking about basil, we refer to the Genovese or the sweet basil. But some varieties are genetically small.

The micro basil, for example, grows only up to a few centimeters and has leaves that are barely any longer than 1 centimeter.

The lettuce basil has leaves that grow up to 15 centimeters in length.

Other instances of basil with comparatively smaller leaves are holy basil, spicy globe basil, fino Verde basil, Cuban basil, etc.

Sometimes, there are situations that can cause your basil leaves to curl up, which can also make them look smaller than they are.

Leaves curling up is mainly a sign of stress in your plant. It can be due to improper lighting, water, or temperature. Many times it happens due to the plant overheating.

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How do you get bigger leaves?

If your basil is growing small leaves, then here are ways you can try to fix the inherent issues.

a. Provide enough light

Make sure your basil is situated near a good source of light, such as the windowsill. Basil needs 6 to 8 hours of sunlight every day to grow well.

If it is not possible to get that amount of sunlight during the colder months, or if you live in a region where the hours of sunlight are very low, you would need a grow light.

It will act as a substitute for the sunlight that basil needs to grow. There are many artificial lights available in the market, especially for plants.

Prefer a fluorescent light over an incandescent light bulb for the following reasons:

  • They produce much less heat. This ensures that your plant doesn’t get damaged by the light. You can also place it closer to the plant, which can save space.
  • The color of the light produced by a fluorescent light stimulates better growth. Plants use different colors for different purposes.
  • While they are on the expensive side, they consume less energy. They also have a longer life span, thus making them very cost-effective and a better option in the long run.

Remember that the artificial light that you provide to your plant should match the light that the plant requires naturally. So be sure to turn off the light at night, and do not provide more than 9 hours of light during the day to keep your plant healthy.

There are plug-in timers also available that automatically turn your light on and off according to your settings.

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b. Water properly

Basil is a plant that has very specific water requirements. While it requires plenty of water, too much water can also cause problems. So it is important to get just the right amount of water.

You can do the finger test to know whether or not your basil requires water.

Stick a finger about 1 to 2 inches inside the soil. If the soil feels dry, then you know it is time to water the plant.

Tip – When you water the plant, as soon as you see the water start to leak out from the drainage holes in the container, it is time to stop watering.

The soil should be moist but not soggy.

c. Feed your basil

Make sure that your basil gets the desired nutrients. While basil is not a very fussy plant and does well even without any outside help, a good fertilizer every now and then will ensure nice, bushy basil.

Basil feeding needs to be just a light help. Too much fertilizer can be harmful to the plant.

You can use rotted animal manure as compost while planting, in the top 6 to 8 inches of the soil.

If the plants are in need of help, you can use a dry fertilizer lightly once or twice during the basil season. A good quality, balanced fertilizer is the best for basil.

You should feed your basil once every 4 to 6 weeks for your indoor plants and every 2 to 3 weeks for outdoor plants.

Instead of using a dry fertilizer, you can also use a water-soluble fertilizer diluted to half its strength.

A fish emulsion or liquid seaweed are good organic fertilizers options.

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d. Get a bigger container

The container in which the basil is growing also plays a key role in the growth of the basil. You should make sure that the container is big enough to hold the plant and give its roots space to grow and breathe.

The container should be a size of 2 gallons. It should be at least 12 inches because the roots of the basil need that much space to grow.

The preferred material for basil plants is clay, terracotta, or ceramics. These materials, unlike plastic or metal, do not absorb as much heat causing the roots to dry out.

Make sure the container has drainage holes to get rid of extra water.

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Can you consume small Basil leaves?

If no other problems are present apart from the size of the leaves, then the leaves are totally fine for consumption.

However, they may not taste as good as the full-grown leaves of basil. They might even be slightly bitter.