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How to turn store-bought basil into a never-ending supply

Although I haven’t mastered the art of propagating plants in totality, there’s been some lucky success with rooting store-bought basil. One way to step your culinary game up (aside from using salt better) is to always have fresh herbs around. Topping a dish with freshly chopped herbs not only looks and tastes better, but it smells so good.

For the life of me, I have not been able to keep existing basil plants alive. Whether I buy the live herbs at the produce section of the grocery store or a transplant from the nursery, they all shrivel up and die on me. Luckily, I’ve figured out this game changer.

Propagating basil clippings is easy

I accidentally discovered how it easy it was to root basil a year or so ago. In an effort to extend the shelf life of store-bought fresh basil clippings, I placed the bouquet in a cup of water and let it sit there. When I pulled the basil out a week or so later, I noticed some little roots were forming. 

Eureka! My discovery was so exciting. 

Alas, my first attempt at transferring it to soil failed, but I’ve had a few successes since then. I think there are a few more things I need to try that may lead to better results but I’ll share what I know so far.

Pick and prep your basil

I know the title of this article mentions store-bought basil, but really this applies to all basil clippings. You can clip from your own supply and make more plant babes to give as gifts or expand your existing garden. You can do like I did and buy a pack from the produce section at Trader Joe’s. 

Once you have your basil clippings, you’ll need to do minimal work to start rooting them in water.

  1. Wash your herbs. Fill a large bowl or your sink with a dash of white vinegar and a squirt of dish soap. (This is how I’ve always washed my produce, white vinegar on its own should do the trick too) I usually dunk them a few times and shimmy them around in the water a bit, being sure to get all the dirt and bugs off.
  2. Rinse them under running water, be thorough. Set them out to dry.
  3. Get a glass jar and fill it with an inch or two of water. You can use a little liquid fertilizer too. (In fact, I just learned this and need to try it still!)
  4. Once herbs are dry, place them in a glass jar. If you notice any leaves are drooping down into the water, remove the leaves or lower the water level. 
  5. Find a bright windowsill and set the jar down there to soak in the sunshine.

Maintaining your basil clippings as they root

Not all of the clippings will root. If decomposing basil stems and leaves are left in the water too long, it’ll just muck up the water.

The key to maintaining your basil clippings is to frequently give them fresh water. Once you see signs of cloudy water, change it. You can refresh the liquid fertilizer too.

Each time you change the water, be sure to assess which clippings aren’t doing well. You’ll notice they start to shrivel, brown or become slimy. Removing those will keep the water healthy for the other clippings who have a chance. 

In my experience, it takes 2 weeks to see roots form. 

So you got some roots, now what?

After a couple of weeks, you might see an exciting development – roots! As a point of reference, I’d say about 25% of the basil clippings make it to the rooting stage.  I’m not sure if that’s an error on my part or if that’s just how it be sometimes, but I’m still happy with the outcome. 

Before you transfer to soil, you’ll want the new roots to be about an inch or two in length. Find some well-draining soil and a brightly lit spot you want your plant babes to grow. For me, I’ve transferred mine to a few different outdoor locations to test where the basil grows best.

To transfer, I first rinse the roots. Sometimes the tip of the plant will be a little waterlogged so it’s important to wash the decomposition away as best as possible. Then I poke a deep hole in the dirt with my finger and delicately guide the roots into the hole. Finish scooping some dirt around the base of the plant and give it some water.

Encouraging new growth

It’s completely normal for the basil to go through a little bit of transplant shock. Mine sometimes droop and look real sad before they perk up. To be honest, some don’t make it past this stage either, but if you properly prune the ones that do, you’ll be handsomely rewarded.

Pruning is the key to encouraging new or better growth on any plant or tree. Basil is no different. There are a few tricks to pruning, or picking leaves, off of your basil plants.

  • While your plant is small, prune individual leaves. Once your plant is larger, you can remove large sections off the whole stem. Be sure to remove below a node.
  • As tempting as it is, leave some bigger leaves on the bottom of the plant to act an anchor. Remove large leaves from the top to avoid top-heaviness.
  • Pick leaves by applying pressure between two fingernails (my go-to method) or clip with scissors for a clean break. 
  • A basil plant may go to flower. You can leave that for the bees or remove them. They’re edible too.

The great thing about pruning is that for every spot you remove a leaf, two new stems appear. This is how you get your plants to increase in volume and size. Once they get larger, you can root more clippings and keep the circle of basil life going. 

Once you have a good supply going, you can top a tasty lunch pizza with it or my favorite – a plate of burrata and tomatoes drizzled in balsamic glaze. Yum!

Share your basil plant successes (and failures!) with me

Like I said, this was an accidental thing I stumbled into and am enjoying the process of learning along the way. I hear you can do this with most, if not all herbs. I’ve tried mint, but haven’t had as much success. Share your pointers with me if you have some!

And let me know if you try to propagate some basil clippings, I’d love to hear all about it.

1 thought on “How to turn store-bought basil into a never-ending supply”

  1. Pingback: Propagation station using repurposed glass bottles | The Flower Bungalow

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