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How To Keep Supermarket Herbs Alive Longer

We have all followed a recipe and needed to buy a fresh herb from the supermarket, out of the blue, but how do we make that otherwise quite expensive ingredient last? Fresh living herbs from the supermarket aren’t always that alive!

You have two categories of supermarket herbs; living plants and fresh cut. To get the most from your living plants you will need to divide them into new pots to ensure they are healthy plants. Watering and positioning then become important. With fresh herbs you will need to put them into water, often in your fridge, changing the water frequently.

So let’s look at those two options in more detail and make sure that you aren’t wasting money and killing plants! We realise that not everyone is semi-professional gardener so we have kept this light and really easy to follow. Even if this means you will have a very full windowsill!

herbs straight from the supermarket.
Herbs straight from the supermarket this morning.

Repotting Supermarket Herbs

Lots of people will think that the quality of their herb plants are less when bought in a supermarket as compared to growing their own from seed. That is not necessarily the case. What we are about to look at can be a great way to give your own herb garden a real boost.

You see supermarkets are buying herbs that look full and attractive to the average customer. This means that they are potted too closely together. So one pot can be full of 20 seedlings that will happily be repotted to make 4-5 planters. The more you pinch them out the more they will grow as well!

This practice is not going to be as cheap and affordable as growing from seed, however if you do not have the time and an impromptu dinner party has jumped out at you then buying fresh herbs can really work.

However each of the plants I bought today the 22nd April had best before dates on them.

Lots of wasted single use plastic for a 1 day best before

The idea that I can buy live plants that will go out of date is sadly true. By using these techniques you should be able to have fresh herbs all year round! Meaning that the £5 I have spent on these four plants will be well spent.

So think about making these up in early Spring and having them ready as little gifts for friends and family, a sort of advanced version of a seed swap.

Step One – Divide the herb plant

You will see that there are multiple herbs within this one pot. You should be rubbing your hands together with glee here as you have a ready made herb garden from one quick purchase!

store bought herbs
So many viable Parsley plants crammed into one pot.

When you buy the pots you will be able to feel that it is loose. That is because the plant is not thoroughly watered. So we give them a good soak and get ready to divide them. It sort of makes the roots more pliable and less likely to snap when you tease them apart.

supermarket herbs need a little help
By leaving the plants to soak in the water there is an easier way to separate the roots.

This parsley plant came apart a little too easily, almost as if they had popped two plants into one pot. You can see that these roots are very tightly packed and possibly the plants would have lived up until their best before date as stated on the packet. However they will now go on to feed you for a few years.

dividing supermarket bought parsley
These parsley plants came apart really easily and then were further divided.

You can then divide them into clumps of around 4-6 plants. Then you are ready to plant out. This works well for those soft herbs like, basil, chives and parsley. For the harder types like thyme and rosemary you can actually divide them in to individual plants.

Mint can be a good exception to this ‘rule’ as it will grow to fill any pot, so we split it into smaller clumps.

We put our thyme into one container to grow and then will divide again later on – it is a big container though! Thyme produces really good ground cover for larger areas and will really fill any raised bed if you want it to.

Step Two – Prepare the new pot

We used pots with stones in the bottom to give better drainage and then filled with normal peat-free potting compost.

Place your herbs into the centre of the pot then cover the roots with the compost. Make sure to keep the plant upright and keep moving around to get it as central as possible.

repot store bought herbs to get the best out of them
Nice and gentle with firming the soil around the herbs.

You can also plant into the ground and will need to make a little hole, the right size for the root ball. tuck it all in, making sure to look after the roots.

use a trowel to make a hole for the clump of herbs

Parsley does well being transplanted more than once. So when these take hold I may well thin out further.

Now you are ready to show those herbs some love!

Step Three – Make your herbs feel loved

In order to get the most from your herbs you will need to give them the chance thrive. You will need to cut back the older growth. This looks painful but you can see the new growth is coming through already. This is particularly important for soft herbs, but I would pinch out a few leaves from basil rather than go as extreme as I would for Parsley, Coriander or chervil.

new growth on potted out herbs
It looks like a very harsh haircut, but it is to encourage all of the energy to the new growth

Keep them warm and in sunlight. If the last frost has not passed you will need to bring them in for the night time.

If you do plan on planting them outside eventually make sure that you acclimatise them to the cold by using a cloche or covering with straw. Once the risk of frost has passed you can leave them out full time with no additional cover required.

How Much Water Do Herbs Need In Pots?

I have put together a handy guide for you below. The way to help your herbs thrive to to think like a herb and get to know it. Which sounds odd, but think about where these herbs grow wild.

What sort of climate would they have where they originate?

HerbAmount Of Watering NeededSunlight Levels
RosemaryWater sparingly and only when the soil is dry to the touch.plenty of sunshine all season – rosemary will benefit from being outside
BasilWhen the top of the soil is dry. Water sparingly – keep the roots out of waterAs much as possible, the sunniest windowsill is not always in the kitchen
ChivesDon’t drown it or allow it to dry out.Not full sunshine, but plenty of light.
ThymeIf in well drained soil water when the top is dry.Full sunlight, avoid windowsills that catch a chill and preferably move outside once fear of frost is over.
MintKeep watering to a minimum and make sure that the pot is not sitting in waterSunshine and warm, avoid chills overnight, but mint is indestructible
ParsleyYou can water at the base of the plants and keep moist but not wetFull sunshine, if on a windowsill you may have to make sure it is in the most sunny spot!
Coriander (Cilantro)Much the same as parsley, keep it watered but not wet.Plenty of sunshine for the full flavour to develop

How Do You Look After Potted Basil Herbs

If you are not intending on repotting the basil make sure that you remove the plastic covering from the supermarket. If you are putting the plant on to a windowsill you will need to protect it!

The pot will need to have good drainage, so not sitting in water. This is where watering sparingly comes in. Make sure that the soil is dry on top. The pots from the supermarket are often watered incorrectly as they have all sat together and just been soaked.

Soaking the plants is a massive issue. The roots will rot and this will kill your plant quicker than anything else. If you water from on high then the leaves will have water on before the sunlight hits them. Water damaged leaves does not mean that the plant will not grow, however do you want to eat yellowing leaves or lush verdant leaves?

You want a vibrant green pesto!

Basil will thrive when you regularly pinch out the leaves you want to eat. In order to increase your harvest, pinch new growth where it meets with the older leaves. Then it will sort of hurry up to fill the space with new growth again.

How To Look After A Thyme Potted Plant From The Supermarket

thyme is an absolute classic British herb and the aroma when you start to break these roots apart is so intense and wonderful
thyme is an absolute classic British herb and the aroma when you start to break these roots apart is so intense and wonderful

If you are not repotting this herb, you will need to remove the plastic sleeve. You could really benefit from taking this herb outside and planting as it is a perennial and could mean you never have to buy another thyme shrub again. You can plant each of these young plants individually and I think we counted around 25 in one supermarket bought pot!

If you are not going to repot outside you can still grow it outdoors in its original pot.

But if you want it as a windowsill herb then keep it in a dish that will prevent the windowsill from getting damaged, but you do not want water to sit in the dish.

If you did plant thyme from the supermarket outside you can buy pots with feet. Keep the drainage in the pot as top quality too. Thyme can really handle drought conditions and even seems to thrive in this climate. So do not despair if you forget to water your plants for a few days.

Think about location for this fast covering herb. It is superb as a plant to put in between taller, more structural plants and shrubs. Grow it with other plants who love good drainage and can happily thrive in low water areas. Herbs like Rosemary and Oregano go great, plus they are the basis for so many mixes of herbs we all know and love!

How Do You Revive A Dying Herb

To revive a herb that has almost completely died please give it lots of water. DO this by watering from on top and leaving in an inch of water for the roots to soak up. Leave it for around half an hour and then make sure there is plenty or warmth for it. Not direct sunlight but a warm and sunny spot is ideal.

Avoid a hot and windy location as that can cause the leaves to become damaged and it may not survive.

Storing Fresh Cut Herbs

By using this method you can store fresh cuts soft herbs for at least another week. Let’s face it, the supermarket does not care if you have to buy more fresh herbs, but you do not want to increase food waste! It is expensive and pointless and avoidable!

Start by washing them thoroughly, rinse under the tap with cold running water.

herbs to love
The dirt may still be there on ‘washed’ supermarket herbs

Then dry in a sieve.

Next you will want to dry them completely, you can use paper towel for this. Make sure you have shaken as much off in the sieve first.

Then find a glass that is short enough to allow all of the leaves to sit outside of the water level whilst at the same time having their base submerged.

supermarket herbs
Supermarket herbs need to be kept hydrated

You can then put the glass either on the work surface or in the fridge. So in theory the cold of the fridge will keep them fresher for longer. I find that actually i just forget about them and they die in there. We can’t all live in an Instagram perfect world. So if i have them out by the hob then it reminds me to put a few sprigs on dinner each night. Similarly with herbs growing on my windowsill. I will probably be more likely to use them than those growing in my garden!

Change the water in the glass every few days and if needed it can help to cut the stems as well. This will keep the herbs invigorated and able to absorb the water.

When you cut the stem it sort of forms a surface to protect itself and his can inhibit the ability to absorb water. Interestingly cuttings like basil will grow roots if left in water and the sunshine. So think about that when it comes to growing more plants as a possible solution too! But for the purpose of cut herbs that you have bought it is unlikely that they will propagate this way.

If your fresh cut herbs are really on their way out and you know that you will not have a chance to cook with them in time, think about herb butters. A herb butter is finely chopped herbs, like parsley, chives, coriander or basil mixed in with soften butter. You then spoon it on to a sheet of cling film and then roll it into a sausage. A herby sausage that can then be tightly wrapped and put into the freezer. When you want to use it (for frying meats or melted on potatoes) you just take it out of the freezer and slice a circle off.

If you are short of time we have put together a guide to drying herbs using a dehydrator, available for free here.

Where to Buy Peat Free Compost

It can be difficult when we don’t know what is happening with our local nurseries and garden centres so online is a good place to look.

You can get away with using soil from the garden as well. Just be aware that it may have seeds in from other plants, just keep an eye out and weed when needed. Soil from the garden will not have any added fertilisers so you may need to feed certain herbs.

To be honest herbs are kind of hardy and the worst thing you can do is over water, or let the roots sit in that water really. So make sure that you have good drainage and the rest will take care of itself to a certain extent.

If you would like to follow us for more practical and affordable ways to grow a herb garden, please do subscribe. Thanks for reading and I hope you do decide to give this a go!

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