So, you need to get rid of bugs on basil herbs. Naturally!
In this comprehensive pest control guide, you’ll learn:
- How to naturally kill pests on your basil plants
- How to keep bugs away and repel them from your herbs
- DIY methods to get rid of specific pests
- Ways to get rid of aphids, whiteflies, caterpillars, mealybugs, and tiny black/white bugs
By the end of this tutorial, you should have everything you need to ensure a fresh, bountiful harvest.
Many of the methods here are natural or organic, so that’s nice!
Feel free to bookmark this page for easy reference on your journey to go bug-free.
Sound good? Let’s protect your basil!
Last updated: 12/30/19.
What bug is eating my basil?
The easiest way to tell would be to see the pest for yourself.
Basil herbs are a delicious and healthy herb, and also happens to attract a bunch of bugs.
If you wake up in the morning and notice that your basil plant was eaten but see no trace of the culprit, you may have to do some additional work to find out.
This means waking up early morning or overnight to check your plant and see what pest is on it.
And don’t say that you can’t see any pests- there is a pest, or else why would there be holes all over your leaves?
Assuming it’s not a nutrient deficiency, then it must be a pest!
The most common bugs on basil plants are:
- Spider mites
- Japanese beetles
- Leaf miners
This guide will teach you how to get rid of the majority of them naturally, with some sections focused specifically on a few of these pests.
Are you able to see the pest?
The most common pests are easily seen on the actual plant. You’ll see them crawling around during various times of the day.
Japanese beetles come out during the early morning. Spider mites are out during the day and night. Aphids are out during the daytime. And earwigs are out during the night. Caterpillars are out during both.
There are plenty of pests that eat basil plants.
So it’s up to you to find out which bug is eating it.
- If you can see it, then it’s easy.
- If you can’t, then you’ll to “catch” the bug in the act.
Without knowing what bug it is, you may be doing more harm than good.
You could be spraying the plant with dish soap when you should be using essential oils. Or maybe you’re burning the basil when all you need is some DIY aphid spray.
Identify the pest
Do you see what I’m trying to say? You need to know the bug that’s eating your basil so you can use the right approach.
So that’s the first step. If you have no idea, check out some forums and post something there.
The users may be able to find out what bug you have, then you can come back here and read some methods to get rid of them.
Here are some helpful forums about basil plants.
Other users may have more experience in regards to these pests:
How do I keep bugs from eating my basil?
That’s why you’re here, right? In this guide, we’ll cover a bunch of methods you can use to stop bugs from eating your basil plants.
We’ll go over a few methods you can use to stop bugs from eating your basil naturally (and some organically). Then we’ll cover ways you can stop them.
What eats holes in basil leaves?
A lot of things.
You have the common pests like aphids and whiteflies.
But then you also have weirder pests like earwigs, four-winged flies, and even spider mites. There are many bugs that will eat basil leaves and leave plenty of holes in them.
But again, that’s probably why you’re here, right? You’re trying to get rid of those bugs that are eating up your precious herbs!
Well, read on to find out how you can control and prevent bugs from eating your basil naturally.
There are plenty of DIY home remedies to be found here, so let’s continue.
How to get rid of bugs on basil naturally
This is the meat of the guide.
Here you can learn some methods you can do at home to control pests on your basil plants.
The trick is to try a few of them out and see which one works best for you.
Do more of what seems to be working and do less of what doesn’t.
DIY dish soap spray
Dish soap. The ultimate DIY insecticidal soap.
For some reason, dish soap seems to just work wonders for everything bug-related. Basil bugs are no exception. You can use dish soap in a variety of different ways.
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We’ll cover two of the most popular ways:
- DIY dish soap spray
- Sponge and soap cleansing
Note that many online tutorials suggest using Dawn dish soap.
You don’t have to use Dawn. It just seems like it’s the DIYs choice, but you don’t have to specifically use that brand. I have nothing against Dawn and have had nice results plenty of times.
But for those on a budget, you’re fine with using store-brand dish detergent.
DIY spray for bugs on basil plants
You can make this easily at home and use it on any type of bug you see on your basil herb.
All you need is just soap and water to make this powerful bug killer.
You can use this in your house for basil plants also.
Here’s how to make it.
What you’ll need:
- Dish soap
- Small spray bottle
- How to make it:
- Fill the spray bottle up with water.
- Add 8 drops of dish detergent.
- Swirl gently.
How to use it:
- Spray the mixture directly onto visible bugs you see on the basil plants (tiny white bugs, black bugs, caterpillars, aphids, etc.)
- Spray the mixture under leaves, stems, branches, or anywhere else where bugs may be hiding.
- Remove the dead bugs.
- Rinse the basil plant with fresh, running water.
- Repeat every other day.
Things to know:
- Test the spray on a small part of the basil plant and watch out for damage or burning.
- If you notice plant damage, either add more water or use fewer drops of dish soap.
- If the plant is OK, you can apply it to the entire plant safely.
- Be sure to wash the basil afterward or else the soap may damage the plant.
Soap and sponge
This method works similar to the DIY soap home remedy, except this one is a little “cleaner” and better for smaller basil plants.
This works for houseplants also, so if your basil is indoors, you’ll be OK.
What you’ll need:
- Dish soap
- 1 cup of water
- Small spray bottle
- Cotton balls
How to make it:
- Add the water to the spray bottle and add 8 drops of dish soap.
How to apply:
- Spray the soap directly onto the plant to kill any visible bugs.
- Then spray it where you don’t see any bugs or where they could be hiding (check under leaves and other areas).
- Spray some of the mixtures onto a cotton ball.
- Use a cotton ball and “clean” the basil plant by wiping the leaves.
- Use another cotton ball (don’t spray this one) and wipe off the soap mixture.
- So you’re basically first spraying down the basil plant.
- Then you’re wiping it up with a cotton ball soaked with the dish soap solution.
- And lastly, you’re cleaning up the basil with clean cotton balls.
This eliminates the need to wash down your plant, which can help with overwatering if you’re afraid of putting too much water in.
Or if you have your basil potted, this can also be handy. If you’re growing basil indoors, this will prevent you from having to take it outdoors to rinse it down using the previous method.
So both methods have their pros and cons. Choose the one that you think works best for you!
Many pests are deterred by cayenne pepper because of its strong and powerful scent.
You can mix cayenne pepper powder and water (3 tablespoons per cup) and swirl gently.
Then you can put the mixture into a large spray bottle and spray it on the basil. This seems to work decently against aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, and Japanese beetles.
Don’t use too much or else it’ll harm the basil. And don’t use too little or else it’ll be useless. You’ll have to find the perfect amount by testing it a few times.
Cayenne pepper spray can be used to protect your basil plants indoors. There is a scent, but if you don’t mind the smell, then you’re OK. This stuff is strong enough to repel moles!
Oak leaf spray
Oak leaves seem to be a nice home remedy for killing basil bugs.
All you need to do is harvest a few oak leaves from your yard (assuming you have oak trees). If not, you can buy a bunch online for cheap.
After you get the oak leaves, just soak them in a bowl of water for 3 days. During this time, the leaves will leech some tannins into the water. This will turn the water into a darker solution.
You can then use this solution by pouring it into a spray bottle and then applying directly onto your basil plant. The oak is safe for the basil a won’t harm it.
However, note that oak may be toxic to other livestock, such as goats, sheep, cows, and horses. So if you have livestock in the area, you should avoid oak sprays.
Just like the other methods on the list that involve sprays, you should always test on an inconspicuous portion of the plant first. This will ensure the plant reacts OK to spray before applying to the entire basil.
Will vinegar kill basil?
Vinegar can also be used on basil plants safely when diluted. You can make vinegar spray at home easily.
Note that too much vinegar that’s too strong may kill basil herbs, so you don’t want to ever spray it directly onto the plant. Always dilute the vinegar first. Here’s how to make it.
What you’ll need:
- ¼ cup vinegar (pure vinegar, organic preferred)
- ¾ cup distilled water (distilled preferred, but not necessary)
- Spray bottle
How to make it:
- Combine pure vinegar and distilled water together into a spray bottle.
- Gently swirl the solution.
How to apply it:
- Spray the basil plant directly with the solution.
- Cover all the elves and stems.
- Be sure to spray the top and bottom of the leaves.
- Also, be sure to spray any areas that are hard-to-reach where bugs may be eating your basil.
- Rinse the plant after you’re done the spraying.
- Repeat daily.
- Note that you should always test this on a single leaf and see how it reacts. Use less vinegar or more distilled water if needed (plant burn).
- Avoid spraying the plant when the sun’s out to avoid plant damage. Use it after sunset.
- Be sure to rinse the plant leaves well after you spray.
- Don’t ignore the plant after spraying- the mixture can harm the plant if unwashed.
- Use distilled water and pure organic vinegar if you’re growing organic basil.
How to get rid of caterpillars on basil
Caterpillars can be a nuisance and will happily eat up your plants if you don’t do anything.
Thankfully, they’re pretty easy to control. Here are some popular ways to keep the caterpillars away.
As obvious as it is, birds would be the best natural control method to get rid of caterpillars.
This means you should set up whatever you need to attract birds to your basil plant:
- Set up birdhouses
- Use birdfeeders
- Attract other pests that attract birds
Birds will eat the caterpillars cleanly from your herbs and do the dirty deed for you.
Make your own pesticide for caterpillars
You can make your own caterpillar spray at home. The best part about this is that you’ll know what’es exactly what you put in the spray.
Here’s a simple recipe:
Add 2 tablespoons of dish soap to 1 cup of water. Swirl until the soap is no longer visible.
You can then use a spray bottle and add the mixture to it. Then use it and spray down those pesty caterpillars!
After you spray them, they’ll be confused. You then remove then by hand and dispose of them safely. Or feed them to the birds.
Caterpillars are relatively easy to control once you have a good system in place. The hard part is just setting it up.
Attract other bugs that eat caterpillars
You can also utilize parasitic wasps, flies, and other predatory bugs that eat caterpillars.
Here are a few common predators of caterpillars:
Bacillus thuringiensis (Btk)
This is a microbial insecticide that you can buy from specialist shops. It eats and kills only caterpillars and won’t harm your plant.
You can use it as directed on your basil or other plants.
Btk hasn’t been reported to kill anything else but caterpillars, so it’s a concentrated solution that’s very effective against them.
Easy to use and relatively cheap. Use Btk if none of the other solutions exterminate the pests.
How to get rid of mealybugs on basil
If you have mealybugs on your basil plants, there are several things you can do to get rid of them.
Use essential oils
Just like most pests, mealybugs absolutely hate strong-scented essential oils.
The ones that seem to work best against them are the following:
- Neem oil
- Peppermint oil
- Citrus oils
Any of these can be applied the same way as above- add a few drops of the oil to a spray bottle with water.
Then spray the mixture onto the mealybugs and basil. Test it on a single leaf first before applying it to the whole plant. Some essential oils are way too powerful and will burn the plant.
Use isopropyl alcohol
You can use any rubbing alcohol to burn mealybugs and kill them instantly.
All you need to do is pour some into a small container and then use a cotton swab to swab the basil.
As you swab the plant, the alcohol will burn and kill the pests. This is a quick and effective way to control and manage their population.
Washing the basil
Regular washing of the plant will also help control mealybugs. While this may seem too simple, it’s the truth.
Keeping your basil clean and regularly washed will help get rid of mealybugs and other pests.
Be sure not to overwater a plant when you rinse it. You’ll have to drain the excess water if it’s a potted basil. You can also use a natural or organic leaf shine to help keep the plant clean.
I also wrote a complete guide on getting rid of mealybugs that you can check out. This should supplement the methods above in case you’re only dealing with mealybugs on your basil plant.
What are those little white bugs on basil plants?
Believe it or not, the tiny white bugs you see on your basil plant are nothing but aphids.
At first, they’ll probably just look like small bits of white fluff. Over time, they’ll start showing their true aphid form and that’s when you’ll start to recognize them.
So now at least you know what to search for. Those white bugs are aphid nymphs, which will later develop into full aphids. There are a ton of tutorials online on how to control aphids.
To get rid of them, you can just take the normal approach that you’d do for aphids. I wrote a comprehensive guide on DIY aphid control, so you can check out that resource for the whole shebang.
If you just want a list of a few proven and effective methods, here they are.
Dish soap is the hero for DIY pest control.
All you need is some dish soap and water. Just a few drops of soap will do the trick. Add it to the water and combine them into a spray bottle. Then just use this spray the white bugs on your basil plant.
The aphids will get killed from the dish soap and drown. You may have to reapply constantly until the bugs are gone.
This may take you a few weeks depending on how many aphids you have. Cold water seems to work better than warm or room temperature water.
Dish soap always happens to be one of the best ways to get rid of bugs on your basil.
This is the all-natural approach to get rid of aphids on your basil plant.
Also, don’t forget to test this on a small part of the basil plant rather than the whole thing!
Attract bugs that eat aphids
If you have your basil outdoors, you can place it where native predators will come and feed on the aphids.
Or if you’re growing your herbs indoors, take them out and put them where other bugs can come feed on the aphids. There are many predators that eat these tiny white bugs, namely ladybugs.
Ladybugs are present all over the US, so you should be able to attract them quite easily. Simply placing the basil outdoors near other plants where you see ladybugs will be enough to get their attention.
If you don’t have ladybugs in your area, consider attracting the multitude of other aphid predators:
- Midge bugs
- Soldier beetles
- Damsel bugs
- Blister beetles
- Assassin bugs
- Big-Eyed bugs
- Predatory wasps
Make DIY rubbing alcohol spray
You can use rubbing alcohol (70%) and spray it directly onto the aphids.
After you’re done, rinse off the plant to get rid of the dead bugs. If your basil plant gets burned, you can try using cotton buds and dipping them into the rubbing alcohol and applying the solution manually.
You can also dilute the mixture by adding water.
This approach is natural and clean. The rubbing alcohol will kill the aphid nymphs upon contact and will evaporate quickly afterward.
You just need to clean up the remains because it may attract other bugs to your basil. Isopropyl alcohol seems to be a proven home remedy to kill aphids instantly.
Remove them by hand
This is the last method. Because basil plants are that big, you can put on a pair of gloves and start picking them off by hand.
This isn’t practical for heavy populations of aphids but works for smaller infestations on your basil plants. If you remove them consistently, the population dwindled until you have no more- or at least very few.
Use a greenhouse
You can buy a mini greenhouse if you can’t afford or have space for a real one.
Set up the greenhouse and place your basil plant inside it. Then you can buy some ladybug eggs, parasitic wasp eggs, or any other predatory bug that’ll eat aphids.
The eggs will hatch and they’ll stay confined to the greenhouse to eat up the aphids all day long.
When the aphids are exterminated, then you can remove the plant from the greenhouse entrapment! Freedom!
How to get rid of black bugs on basil plants
What are those tiny black bugs?
The tiny black bugs you see on your basil plant are spider mites (in the majority of cases). These mites are dangerous to plants because they pierce the basil leaves and suck out the water and nutrients.
Unmanaged, this can lead to permanent damage to your plant and eventually will kill your basil. You need to act quickly to control spider mites as they’re prevalent and multiple quickly.
Here are some of the most effective ways to keep the black bugs off your basil.
Spray with a hose
You can use a hose with a strong nozzle that pressurizes the stream. Just buy any cheap nozzle or just thumb the hose to create a focused stream.
Then spray directly onto the basil.
The stream of water will knock off any spider mites on your plants. Spray all around the plant and be sure to hit beneath the leaves also.
Repeat this process over and over daily until there are no more mites.
Use neem oil for tiny black bugs
Neem oil proves to be effective against spider mites and we’ve already covered how to use this essential oil.
Check out the following section “neem oil” under the “Japanese beetle” section for directions.
Attract spider mite predators
There are quite a few natural predators that’ll eat spider mites.
You can either buy eggs of any of the following agents or attract them to your herb if you already have these predators native to your area.
- Lady beetles
The process is easy also. Just set up a miniature greenhouse and place your basil plant inside it. Then hatch the predators and they’ll eat the spider mites until there are none left.
Need more tips about controlling these pests? Check out this article on getting rid of spider mites.
How do I keep Japanese beetles off my basil?
Japanese beetles are cousins of the June bug. Both are pests that’ll readily feed on basil plants from my experience.
It’s important to distinguish between the two so you know what pest you’re dealing with:
- Japanese beetles tend to feed during the day and are smaller
- June bugs tend to feed during the night and are larger
Regardless, the method you’d use to get rid of Japanese beetles doesn’t really matter compared to June bugs. It’s mostly the same.
Here are some ways you can keep the Japanese beetles away from your basil plants.
Use a dropcloth
You can use a drop cloth cut to size for the basil plants during the early morning. Usually, they’ll swarm during the day and this is when they’ll be out and about.
You can cover up your basil any other crops they’re eating during this period. Then when they’re gone, you can remove the dropcloth. This will allow your basil to be protected from them.
Neem oil is another powerful essential oil that you can use on adult beetles. This will kill their larvae before they even develop to adults.
The neem has a unique chemical that will kill future Japanese beetles.
So if you happen to have a beetle problem in your area, you can consider using neem oil to stop them for good.
Pick them off
If you’re not squeamish, grab a pair of garden gloves and remove them yourself.
This works and since basil plants are small, you can easily pick them all off. Get a bucket of water and dish soap and toss them in there after you pick them off. They’ll drown and you can safely dispose of the dead beetles.
Geraniums are an excellent pest control plant. They work to keep bees away and also repel other pests.
Japanese beetles will fly into the flowers and eat them. This will then make them dizzy and not able to fly.
At this point, you can manually remove them and dispose of them. Note that they’re still alive and may recover later.
You can plant geraniums next to your basil plants as a DIY beetle repellent that blends right in!
You can set up a bunch of DIY traps to catch these beetles. The easiest one to make is a sweet one. Literally.
What you’ll need:
- A bottle of fruit cocktail
- A large bowl
How to make it:
- Uncap the cocktail.
- Let the drink sit there for over a week and it’ll start to ferment (in your home, not outdoors).
- Put the bottle in the bowl.
- Fill up the bowl with water until the water level surrounds the can.
- The can should just stick out of the water level.
How to use it:
- Place the trap near your herbs. the beetles will be attracted to the scent of the fruit cocktail.
- They’ll then fall into the water and drown.
- The water acts like a moat surrounding the cocktail.
These tips should get you started on keeping the Japanese beetles away from your basil plants. There are many more methods, but these are natural to keep your basil edible.
Be sure to watch out for neem oil, as you don’t want to eat any of this yourself. So wash your plant or watch where you spray.
How do I get rid of flies on my basil plant?
These flies are probably whiteflies.
They seem to favor basil, tomatoes, and cucumbers. The whitefly common attacks basil and will feed on the plant over time. You may end up with tiny holes on your leaves.
The Greenhouse Whitefly Trialeurodes vaporariorum is the most common type of fly that’ll eat basil plants.
They’re hard to get rid of because they’re tiny and proliferate quickly.
Even if you use biological means to control them, you’re going to have a tough time. Dish soap works, but only for a short tie as whiteflies are darn persistent.
Here are some methods you can try to get rid of whiteflies on your basil.
Use sticky traps
You can make your own sticky traps at home or you can buy sticky traps made just for whiteflies.
These may be harder to find from a nursery, but you can always buy them online.
Take your traps and use them as directed. They should collect many whiteflies over time.
Attract parasitic wasps
One particular wasp called Encarsia formosa seems to work well against whiteflies.
They’re used by commercial crop growers who happen to encounter the same whiteflies on their crops.
This wasp doesn’t sting humans but will hunt down and eat whiteflies.
You can buy their eggs and hatch them into a greenhouse with your basil and other plants. They’ll fly around and eat the whiteflies and many other common pests.
You can buy a mini greenhouse to have them control the whitefly population. This is especially useful when native predators don’t eat the pests off your basil plants.
You can find most of the flies during the early morning when they’re very slow and sluggish.
They’re starved for energy early in the day, so you can pick them off by hand.
You can also use a miniature vacuum to suck them up if you want to do this quickly. Repeat daily until the population of flies on your herbs is gone.
Can you eat basil with holes? Is it safe?
As long as you don’t see any pests on it and you wash it well, then yes. If the basil looks extremely rotten, molded, or sick, don’t eat it.
When it doubt, throw it out!
Otherwise, you can eat the basil even with holes as long as you wash it well. You may want to use some herb or vegetable cleaner before you eat it. This is what people say online.
And it’s probably best to use it with a dish that’ll get cooked so you can kill any bacteria that’s still on the herb.
But if you plan to eat it raw, just wash it well. Use common sense. Do your due diligence.
There’s no right answer for this. It completely depends on the situation, plant, and what kind of pests you’re dealing with specifically!
But for the most part, you should be OK eating basil even with holes as long as you wash it correctly. And verify that there are no pests.
Basil can also be used as a pest repellent!
Did you know the basil itself can be used as a pest repellent against other pests? It’s true.
Basil works as an effective DIY home remedy for pests like:
So you can use basil to actually get rid of other pests in case you never knew. You already have it. So if you have any of those other pests, consider using your own basil to get rid of them!
Did you get rid of the bugs on your basil?
Well, that’s all I have for you.
By now, you know how to get rid of those pests using a variety of DIY home remedies. You have the knowledge you need to start your journey of bug-less basil plants.
With patience and persistence, you’ll be able to manage the bugs over time. If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll check it out.
Or if you found this pest control tutorial to be helpful, let me know by leaving a reply.
Feel free to share this with a friend who also may be dealing with pests on their herbs!
Thanks for reading!
Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.
I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).
Fight nature with nature.