DIY Herb Gardens are cheaper- even with 2 Black Thumbs

I was out at the supermarket last week and thinking of making some pesto.  The only problem- my little basil plant hasn’t quite reached the size where I’d feel comfortable taking a ton of leaves from him all at once.

So I did something totally unusual for me- I wandered over to the fresh herbs section of the store.  This is where the supermarket puts fresh versions of things like basil, thyme, cilantro, and parsley.  Usually it’s right next to the salad stuff, or else with organics.

There was a moment of serious sticker shock- I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  Having bought my little basil plants just 2 weeks back, I still had the prices of basil plants in my head.

Smallest: about $1, sold in those little sets of 4

Medium plants: $2.50 – $3  (about 3in tall)

Large plants: $4-$5 (well established, ready for plucking)

I usually go with a smaller plant, because I am a master pruner and like to shape them my own way rather than whatever Home Depot’s default is.  The pruning on the larger plants is often sloppy, with top-heavy tall ones being sold in the stores.


So anyway, what I noticed is this.  It’s actually more expensive to buy “fresh” packaged dead/dying basil leaves than to buy an entire living plant.  The fresh herbs were going for $3.99!!!  I couldn’t believe it.  Who is actually buying this?

thanks to wikimedia commons

thanks to wikimedia commons

If it were winter, your plants were dead, and you needed pesto ASAP I could understand.  But it’s May people!

It is cheaper to buy a basil plant and immediately chop all leaves off and kill it, than to buy the same amount of basil at a supermarket.  Not rocket science here.


But, assuming you want your basil to live past the first collection, here’s how to eek some more leaves out of it.


Basil 101

 Choosing a plant:

  • don’t mess with seeds, they require much more skill
  • choose a wide plant, not a tall one
  • look for a plant that has little tiny leaves just starting at the tips. That means it’s growing, not dying

Planting a basil plant:

  • basil isn’t picky.  You can plant it nearly anywhere with good sun
  • sandy soil is OK, don’t worry about buying special potting stuff
  • potting is fine, just make sure it drains well (again- sand is good)

Collecting and Pruning:

  • try to only take about 1/3rd of the total leaves at any time
  • take well-established leaves from the tips, pinch the stem just above the next set of leaves (this encourages another set of leaves to grow there)
  • when the plant is small, encourage a bush shape, not a tree shape.  Do this by pruning even when it is small.  Often new growth will shoot sideways if you take a tip- this is GOOD.
Thanks to Michael Cannon on Flickr

Thanks to Michael Cannon on Flickr

This Post Has 5 Comments

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  4. Trellum says:

    Thanks for the useful tips! I’m actually interested in organic gardening and I love the idea of alwas having fresh herbs at hand, but sadly I’ve never been good with basils. I’ve tried to propagate basils before, but the resulting plant rarely grows up and it usually dies after a while. I think I need to start working on my pruning skills; your tips will come in handy :)

  5. rzashida says:

    Keep in mind that you can also take those cutting that you get in the pack from the grocery store, place them in water until they root and have you will have your own basil plant. It takes a little while to have a full healthy plant, but it is possible. I love fresh basil the smell is one of the most special on earth. *Beautiful Basil

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