Splitting Supermarket Basil

Julia Parker and Basil

I love growing Basil, it is my all time favourite annual herb, I use masses of it through the summer. It grows happily in the greenhouse in pots or in a raised bed but equally it will grow happily outside once the frosts have passed through to September. I grow my plants from seed as it is easy and inexpensive but you can also grow Basil successfully from one growing pot bought from a supermarket.

Did you know that when you buy a growing pot of Basil it is actually a pot full of seedlings not one plant! 

How to split Basil seedlings 

Here is a little guide on how to divide up your supermarket pot of seedlings filling your summer with Basil leaves:

Divide up each stem retaining as much root as you can and trying not to damage the fibrous root, it’s tricky as you can see how pot bound they are. This is why when you buy Basil this way they don’t last very long. Each root needs plenty of room to grow.

Transplant each stem into it’s own small pot, filled damp with multi-purpose compost. Make a hole with the end of a pencil or widger or dibber and place the stem and root into the hole. Be extra careful to hold the leaves not the stem when doing this as the stems are easily damaged. Back fill with more compost and a little water, place on a tray to catch water spills or on a shelf in the greenhouse. When your plants are bigger you can transplant them to their final growing place. I plant some up in large tins (make sure you drill a few holes in the base and add a handful of grit for drainage), larger terracotta pots and in a raised bed below my tomato plants. If growing outside, Basil likes a sunny spot.

Water once a day, morning or evening, in a few days your seedlings will have settled in and started to grow again.

Pinch out the central growing tip when your seedlings are as tall as your hand, this is basically removing the top of the stem. You can replant these tips, place in water for a week until you see fibrous roots appear at the base of the stem, pot on to make more plants, or just eat the tips. You will need to continue pinching out all the tall growing tips to keep the plant healthy and to produce new leaves.

Flowering – Do not let your plants flower, if you do the plant will set seed and then die, keep removing any flower buds you see, these are edible and nice on a salad. Basil plants are prone to flowering when the weather is hot.

Feed – Add a liquid feed to your plants once a week, I use an organic liquid seaweed feed.

Planting outside works well, although the leaves are less tender, but all the same principles above apply. Plant them approx. 15 cm apart.

Pest Control – Planting Basil below or nearby your tomatoes will help keep the pests away.

Prolonging the season by continuing to pinch out the growing tips and removing flowers, if you have a heated greenhouse your Basil plants will survive until late in the autumn. Outside plants will need to be brought into a warm kitchen in September.


My favourite varieties to grow are Sweet Genovese (the more common Basil), Neapolitan which has the largest leaves ever! And Purple or Crimson Basil (this has a more aniseed flavour). The supermarket ones are usually Sweet Genovese.

You can watch my webinar where I share how to split supermarket basil here – and see below for my pesto recipe to use up all the lovely basil you’ve grown.

Basil Pesto Recipe

Handful of Basil leaves
100 ml Olive Oil add more if too thick
50g Parmesan cheese
2 Garlic Cloves
Freshly ground salt and pepper
50g Pine Nuts

Blend the ingredients together and serve. It can be frozen in batches.

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