Making the most of supermarket herbs
“I know nothing about gardening, but I do love cooking. I wish I could grow my own herbs, but every time I buy a plant from the supermarket it dies.” I hear that a lot; at the school gates, at dinner parties, wherever the subject of ‘What do you do?’ comes up.
Herbs are like the entry level drug to 1grow your own1 gardening. Even if you don’t think you like gardening, the chances are you’ll thrill to the scent of fresh mint by the back door. You’ll get excited by rosemary snipped straight from the bush to throw in with your lamb, and thyme to smash up with garlic and lemon for a killer marinade. Herbs can be slow to get going, if you start them off from seed. It’s no wonder so many of us are seduced by the fresh green irresistible-smelling, affordably priced plants on the supermarket shelves. We buy them, take them home and plonk them on the windowsill. Then watch them slowly die.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Follow the simple steps below, taken from my latest book ‘Gardening on a Shoestring’ (Kyle Books), and you can guarantee not one, but two, or event five thriving supermarket basils for the price of one. You can do the same with parsley, coriander and chives.
How to make 5 plants from 1 supermarket basil
We've all bought a lush looking supermarket basil, popped it on the kitchen windowsill then looked on in dismay as, a week or so later as the plant dies. The reason is that supermarket herbs are actually many plants all squashed together in one pot. This makes them look lovely and healthy in the shop, but means they run out of food and space after a couple of weeks, so they flop over and die. Because the plants are so tightly packed, each one tries to grow up to the light, meaning leggy plants without many side shoots. All of this means that they will droop sooner or later and give up the ghost.
That is unless you cut them back and divide them to give them the space, light and food they need to thrive. Growing basil from seed can be slow and fiddly. One supermarket herb will cost you less than a packet of seeds, and you can end up with five healthy plants in minutes. This can be done all year round so you will always have fresh basil on your windowsill.
You will need
1 basil plant from a supermarket
5 small plastic pots (about 9cm diameter)
Multipurpose organic peat-free growing medium
Secateurs, scissors or a sharp knife
When to do it
All year round
How to do it
Fill your small plastic pots with compost. Take the basil plant and cut off any leggy shoots back to a strong pair of growing buds. You can eat the basil you chopped off.
Next, take the basil plant out of the pot and gently, without touching the stems or leaves of the plant, divide the rootball into five more or less equal sized pieces. Each will probably have about three or four plants in it. Plant each section in a pot pressing down gently and filling it in with more compost so it is at the same level it was in the original pot.
Basil is susceptible to rotting if the leaves and stems are damp, so it is best to water young plants, particularly those with vulnerable cut stems such as these, from below. Place the pot in a lid, tray or other container and fill with a few centimetres of water. In time the shorn plants will recover and send out new growing shoots you can harvest. Once roots start to come out of the bottom of the pot, replant them in slightly larger pots.
Unless you are doing this in the height of summer, these plants will be happiest kept inside on a sunny windowsill.
Photography Sarah Cuttle