Ask a Gardener: Transform grocery basil into summer bounty

Attention, gardeners! Looking for a deal? Want free plants? How about basil, that heavenly herb that almost everyone loves on pizza, pasta and salads?

All it involves is a trip to your local supermarket. There you’ll find basil (in the produce department) that’s grown hydroponically, or in nutrient-infused water.

The basil is most commonly sold in packs of multiple plants, with roots still attached.

So here is the golden gardening opportunity. Purchase one package, and you’ll get several others in addition. All that’s needed is a little patience, because you’ll have to wait until late spring to begin this process. Any hint of frost turns basil into a black slimy mess, and your plants will need protected time to develop a stronger root system than the one they need as hydroponic plants. Don’t gamble by planting out too early.

When it’s time, separate the plants and take all but six or so leaves off each plant. Before the roots get established they have a hard time getting water and nutrients to multiple leaves. It won’t really hurt too much to do this, as you can enjoy all the clippings!

Now put each plant in a pot big and deep enough to spread out its roots. Fill with potting soil, being careful not to damage the weak roots. Drench each pot with warm water. You’ll need to keep the pots indoors, with good light but not direct sun, for two weeks. Hydroponically grown plants, with their weaker and thinner roots, will need an adjustment period. Keep the plants well watered, and after a week in the pots, add a very diluted all-purpose fertilizer in the water.

Though you’ll need to baby your plants, be persistent, keep them well watered, and you’ll be able to plant them outside or into bigger pots for months of fresh, scrumptious basil.

The title of this column was corrected March 16, 2015.