How to grow supermarket basil

Supermarket growing pots of herbs are designed to be a one or two-use ingredient so that you keep buying them. They contain very little inside the pot to encourage the plants to mature, but they do enable the seedlings to grow enough leaves to satisfy the buyer. When you give these little plants room to mature and more importantly some nutrient rich compost to support the next stage of their growth, they romp away. Basil is a great one as it’s not that easy to grow from seed until the weather warms up. When you buy a pot of basil from the supermarket, an experienced grower has already done the hard work for you, paid for the electricity needed to warm the seeds for germination and grown them on for you too. What’s more each pot contains lots of seedlings so you get lots of plants and you don’t even have to buy the seeds either. All for around a pound. That is such a great bargain. What you need to do now is give your plants a new lease of life. You can harvest the leafy tips for your Mediterranean menus, or you can leave your plants whole, either way they will really benefit from being pampered and replanted in some lovely fresh compost.

Here’s how to do it

  • Gently remove the pot from the clump of seedlings. Don’t grab the plants tightly, the stems are fragile. Tip the whole clump out gently over your hand. You might find a layer of jelly like stuff at the bottom by the roots, don’t worry, all this is is water retention gel, something added to compost to hold water near the roots. It’s OK and will help you with the next stage.
  • Take a larger flowerpot. Make sure it’s got drainage holes and is at least twice the size of the first pot (i.e. it allows plenty of growing room).
  • Fill the base with good quality multi-purpose compost like Richard’s Premium Multi Purpose Compost.
  • If you are really brave and have a little gardening experience, try and divide the clump of basil plants into two or even four clumps of seedlings and then plant each one into separate pots of rich compost. Be gentle but don’t worry too much about tearing the roots, the roots are more resilient to breaking than the stems.
  • Drop the clump of plants into the new pot so that roots nestle on this compost. Carefully fill the gaps between the roots and the side of the pot with more compost until the pot is full and the compost is just below the very top of the pot.
  • Water gently with very slightly tepid water and place on a windowsill or if you have one, in the greenhouse. You’ve just saved a few weeks in time, a few quid in heating and extended the life of your pot of basil by loads and ensured a long and prosperous harvest of basil.
  • When the plants start to really grow, just cut off the top of the plants leaving a couple of leaves. The plants will resprout from the leaf axils (that’s the bit where the leaf stem joins the main stem), and then you get two shoots that will grow more tasty basil leaves.
  • Your plants can still be grown on a kitchen windowsill, but if you have a sunny terrace or a south-facing plot, they will thrive in terracotta pots placed somewhere warm and sunny. Don’t put them outside until the last frost has passed and bring them indoors if it is very wet or gets cooler.

There are a couple of things to remember about basil in particular, and actually this applies to all sorts of plants:

  1. Basil hails from hot Mediterranean climes, which means it loves the sun and needs plenty of warmth. If you are growing from seed, it’s better to wait until the weather warms up in late May and June when the surrounding temperature as well as the compost/soil is warmer. The seeds don’t like sitting in cold compost.
  2. Also as it is a sun lover it’s not used to having wet roots, so don’t over-water, better to let the compost dry right out and then water. Never leave pots of basil sitting in water overnight.

If you would like to know more about the fascinating basil plant have a read of this feature by Vicki Cooke; Does all basil taste the same?

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