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Thursday, July 27, 2023

Caring for a Hydroponic Grocery Store Basil Plant Once Home

one-month old produce department basil plant 

My daughter grew impatient waiting for my home-grown from seed basil this summer, and in late June she bought one of those basil plants sold in the produce department of the grocery store. She paid about $3.00 for a pot of about a dozen basil stems grown hydroponically in a tiny container. The container looked to be about 4 ounces in capacity. All of these plants were without soil and kept in a flat of water at the store and over-wrapped in florist cellophane to hold in moisture and prevent damage to the leaves.

Once home, the label said to remove the protective cellophane and place the little pot in a deep saucer with about an inch of water, then place the whole plant in indirect light indoors. I suspected basil plants cared for in this way were designed to last a couple of weeks, max, with no soil to provide nutrients and even out the moisture.

a soil level view of the dozen or so plants all together in a single pot

Since my daughter really wanted her basil to last all summer, I gave her some instructions for lengthening the lifespan of her plants. The roots had grown very long and were tangled, coming through the holes in the tiny cup. I knew the roots couldn't be pulled back through the holes to remove the plants from the cup. So I told her to use the clippers to snip down the sides of the cup in several places, breaking off the cup sides as she could without injuring the plants. Then I gave her a 1-gallon pot to fill with fresh potting soil. After filling, she carefully sank the basil plants still in the now broken-open cup into the larger pot of soil. Our thinking was the roots would continue to grow and would escape the tiny cup and find growing space in the larger pot. 

For the first few days the plants looked a bit wilty. My daughter gave it water daily and placed it outdoors in a filtered-sun spot during the days only. The plant had spent its entire life inside a temperature-controlled greenhouse. So I assumed that it would not be hardy enough to live outdoors all of the time, nor could it handle a lot of direct sun.

It's been a month now and her plant looks beautiful. It's bushy and thriving under her care. I've shown her how to pinch back the tops of stems, instead of plucking off individual leaves, when she wants basil with her lunches or wants to make a small amount of pesto. By pinching back stems to harvest, the flowering stage of a basil plant's life is delayed by many weeks. I do think she'll be able to keep her basil going for the rest of summer as she'd hoped.

My daughter has given her basil plant the British man's name Basil (pronounced with a short -a- in the first syllable). Basil the basil. A little humor goes a long way in making days bright.


  1. The basil looks very happy in its new pot. Will she take it indoors in the winter?

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      My daughter and I talked about that the other day. If Basil is still thriving, she'll stop putting him out for the day when daytime temps drop below the low 60s F and instead either keep him in a window or under our indoor lights. Despite caring as well for the plant as we can, it will eventually have lived out its lifespan. I expect that to happen in mid to late fall.

  2. Cute name, and great job making it last!

  3. I buy one of these every year in March, keep it alive to plant in May. I do grow some from seed, but I never regret buying one because I can usually get 6 plants from it.

    1. Hi Amy,
      That's awesome! Plus, depending on your growing zone, you're able to pick basil long before it would be ready in the garden if you'd only started from seeds. I think that's what prompted my daughter to buy a plant. It does take a while for basil to grow large from seeds. Enjoy all of your basil, Amy!


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