‘Essential’ tips to preserve supermarket basil plants so they can ‘thrive for months’

Mark Lane outlines how to plant cucumber and basil seeds

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When you buy a pot of basil for the supermarket, you are not buying one plant, but a tightly sown clump of more than 20 seedlings. This gives the appearance of an extremely healthy, bushy plant in far less time, which looks great on the shelf and comes in at far lower cost. But the reality is that these seedlings soon start to compete with each other for space, causing the plants in the clump to succumb to lack of light, water and nutrients once out of the cosseted confines of an industrial greenhouse.

Express.co.uk spoke exclusively to Jason White, founder and CEO of All About Gardening, who explained that supermarket basil needs to be divided and transplanted in order to live a “longer lifespan”.

He said: “To give your basil plant a longer lifespan, divide its seedlings and transplant them into their own pots. 

“Store-bought basil plants often come overcrowded in small pots, which make the roots vie for a limited supply of nutrients. 

“One small pot of basil from the supermarket easily contains a clump of 20 seedlings that will overcrowd in no time.”

Each of the basil seedlings should be transferred to a pot that’s not smaller than four inches.

Jason added: “If you want to transplant them in a row, keep them at least one foot apart from each other. 

“Ample soil space is essential in supplying your basil plant with enough nutrients for them to grow properly and thrive.”

Making sure your supermarket plants last longer is the dream. But just how long can they last?

Tom Hilton, director of hydroponic specialists, National Greenhouse told Express.co.uk that it can last for “a year” from the purchased date if cared for correctly. 

He explained: “General plant care for the basil plant means understanding it requires moist soil to thrive. 

“Water it frequently, making sure the soil doesn’t dry out. Don’t saturate it though, lightly watering when needed will be fine. 

“You may want to place it in your own pot, or on a saucer. It should sit near the kitchen window so it gets good light daily.”

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Gardeners should also look for signs that their plant is wilting.

Tom said: “What you do need to look out for is the leaves beginning to shrivel and dry out, but if you’re watering it regularly, this shouldn’t happen. 

“Also, as the summer season begins, be mindful of the plant sitting in very hot sun rays for too long – this can cause it to shrivel up and the leaves to droop. 

“What is fortunate about this plant though, is that if you do forget to water it for a few days, it should forgive you quickly and replenish – as long as you catch it early.”

Just don’t make a habit of it, a simple reminder or alarm can stop gardeners forgetting.

With constant attention, sunlight and watering, before long, you should start to see baby basil leaves being born in pairs, forming crosses.

The gardening pro noted when and how to water basil plants for longevity.

He said: “When it comes to watering, you should get into a morning routine so that the plant has a good amount of water stored for the warmer days ahead. 

“Again, don’t go crazy – the soil should just be moist enough for the plant to be fed efficiently throughout the day. 

“If you know the day is going to be extra warm, or a heatwave is due, then add a little more. 

“Keep this routine up, and you will have a taller basil plant in no time with plenty more leaves to keep those pesto dishes coming.”

Chris Bonnett, founder of GardeningExpress.co.uk pointed out to Express.co.uk that these herb plants are not typically designed to stay alive for years.

He said: “Supermarket herb plants are not designed to stay alive for more than a few weeks, so if your basil plant dies, then in most cases it has nothing to do with your gardening skills.

“The herbs in supermarkets are planted into tiny pots where they don’t have enough space and access to nutrients.”

However Chris did agree with Jason, that supermarket basil plants can “thrive for months” if they are decided and transplanted.

He explained: “However, if you separate the strongest plants and pot them individually, they can thrive for months.

“Split the basil by its roots into smaller sections and replant them in multipurpose compost, making sure that the height of the plants remains the same as it was in the original pot.

“Ideally basil needs around 10-12 hours of sunlight per day, so place your newly planted basils on a windowsill and ensure they’re well watered.

“This way you should have fresh basil for the rest of the summer, which is a delicious ingredient to add into seasonal salads and homemade sauces.”

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