Horticulture: Propagating Trader Joe’s Basil Plant

This post was last updated on 7/22/2020.

We went to Trader Joe’s on Friday and bought home a pot of basil. However, it started dying almost as soon as it got home. Turns out supermarket basil is made to look great as a clump but will die shortly because it’s a bunch of individual basil clumps shoved together that will fight for root space and nutrients.

The solution is apparently to separate these clumps into new pots. I tried, but honestly I could not. When I pulled my basil plant out, the roots had woven themselves around many times tightly. I didn’t want to destroy all the roots, so gently loosened the soil as much as I could and planted the entire thing into my largest pot.

It turns out you can also propagate basil easily, so I trimmed off some of the stems and stuck them in water. They were dying anyway so may as well try. I’ll let you know how they get on. Check back for updates!

The above photo was taken on 6/8/2020 when I first published this post.

18th June

It’s been 10 days and it’s been… interesting. Haha. I thought my basil was dying because its stems had started to turn brown and some of the leaves were majorly wilting or drying up. One stem completely wilted so I threw it out, but today I noticed one of the stems had started showing signs of rooting!

I have to admit I don’t have super high hopes for these, but if they do manage to take root and grow in a pot I will be a very happy bunny.

24th June

One of the basil stems completely died so I’ve had to dispose of it, but the rest of them are doing really well!

You can see decent roots growing on all 4 of the remaining basil stems. It’ll be time to plant these soon, but as with my new celery stalks I need to find a suitable container and will probably keep them indoors as well, to avoid the gnats that are infesting all of our outdoor plants.

The original basil plant is, um, pretty dead. But I’m glad we’ve got these four cute little basil stems that I can hopefully grow longer-term!

27th June

Their roots are developing well! So well, in fact, that I was going to plant a couple of them today. However, when I took them out of the water it just felt like their roots were still a bit weak after all.

I’ll try again next week because I do feel that they should be planted soon… but I don’t know!! Wahhh… Ah well. We’ll see. I have 4 chances to mess this up anyway hahaha.

30th June

I don’t really have an update on my existing basil except that I briefly moved them to the kitchen as I was planning to plant them, but then realised I should probably let their roots develop a little more first. Then their leaves started becoming pale from limited light in the kitchen so I moved them back to my office. They’re definitely doing a lot better again, and I can even see new growth leaves on them yay.

I realised that some of the dying basil plant on my balcony still had decently strong stems, so I decided to cut them and try to propagate them rather than trying to keep them alive in soil any longer. I uprooted what was left of the shrivelled and dying basil in my pot and I’m going to use the pot for my propagated basil when the time comes. I’m letting the soil completely dry out to hopefully kill off any gnats left in it.

This is what I managed to save:

Looks pretty shrivelled and limp, and like some animals have been chomping at it outside. Well, we’ll see if it survives. I don’t have my hopes up but if it lives that’d be fantastic.

2nd July

Wow! What’d you know… they’re alive:

The stems have perked right up and the leaves have become much stronger. I moved my new basil to my office today since they seem to be surviving and need a lot more light.

12th July

My basil are not doing well :( Out of the ones left in the glass, these two are still okay. They look healthy enough, and there are even more roots are growing out from higher up on the stem:

For some reason though, the stems are turning brown… I realised belatedly that these roots aren’t even healthy-looking roots. I guess there must be something wrong with the plant in general, maybe it was treated with something to stunt its growth.

I had planted the other two basil stems on 6th July because their roots looked to have developed well, and almost immediately one shrivelled up and died. If you can’t see where it is… I’m pointing at a tiny black stem in the second photo:

The other stem I planted (the one that had the most root growth) also did not look to be doing too well after I planted it in soil, and you can see the leaves start to droop already:

My newly-rescued jar basil seemed to be faring better though:

I realised, after Googling, that my glass-basil roots are growing out really weirdly. I don’t understand why the stems look rotten and the roots are growing out with brown tips. It turns out, these roots aren’t actually healthy. Healthy roots should be pure white, and there should be a lot growing in a short space of time.

Apparently, you’re supposed to cut the stem at a certain angle where previous basil nodes were because that’s where growth is stimulated. (The nodes are where the bunches of basil leaves grew out from – they’re not obvious in the photos because I’d already pulled off as many usable leaves as possible when I first got the plant.)

I decided to cut the three jar-stems and see what happens:

22nd July

First up, my planted basil are well and truly dead:

I tried to revive them, but no luck. RIP.

Surprisingly, it seems like my jar basil is actually growing out decently, despite having weak, grubby-looking roots and browning stems.

I really don’t know what to do about these stems, or these brown roots. However, if they’re growing out okay in water, I’m inclined to just leave them in water and see how long they last. If I can get a few more leaves out of these basil that would still be a win in my book.

Now, to my great surprise, one of the stems in my jar-basil is growing what looks to be very healthy, long, white roots:

And to my great surprise, it only took 10 days – after I cut diagonally at the stem node. Wow! This is what a healthy root system is supposed to look like, it seems. Looking back on the photos in this post, it seems like my glass-basil stems were actually growing healthy-looking roots at the very beginning (though it took longer probably because I cut the stems too short), but I’m guessing that when one of the stems died and rotted inside the glass, that decay then spread to my healthy stems too. Sad :(

You may notice in the above photo that one of the stems is not looking good. That’s right, it looks like it’s dying, but when I pulled it out, I realised that somehow, through all that stem rot, healthy-looking roots were developing too:

I don’t want the rot to spread like it did to my other basil (and honestly I’ve no idea what caused it in these to begin with) so I’m cutting off the floppy bottom and putting it in its own little container.

I don’t have high hopes for this one – the stem is too short now. But apparently it’s a fighter, so who knows. At any rate, it does look like new leaves may be developing.

I changed out the water in my jar and took a clearer photo of the clean, white roots. You can see new leaves forming at the top as well. My other basil stem has yet to develop any roots but it also looks to have new growth at the top so I’m not complaining. I am highly impressed that the one with the maximum holes in its largest leaf is the one that is growing the most roots.

Honestly though, I don’t have high hopes for any of these basil plants anymore. I’m not a very good plant parent these days but we’ll see if I can keep them alive for a few more usable leaves anyway.

— Bobbie

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