Separate supermarket basil for a clutch of new herb plants.

How to grow more herbs for free

Autumn is the ideal time to make cuttings from garden herbs or repot supermarket pots for cheap and fragrant additions to your herb garden.

Nothing reminds me of summer more than a bouquet garni of my favourite fragrant herbs – and September is a great time to slice, snip and save them for free plants.

Shop-bought herbs can be expensive and wasteful with their single usage and the addition of plastic pots and cellophane. And it seems particularly uneconomical when many herbs are easy to grow at home. Come September, you can also make more of your herbs by taking cuttings and dividing plants.

If you don’t have any herbs in your garden, ask a friend, neighbour, or family member to gift you some cuttings. Or, if you’ve already bought a potted supermarket herb, you could try splitting this to make more plants.

Divide and conquer

Many herbs such as chives, oregano, thyme and sage can be easily divided in autumn while the ground is still warm by splitting large clumps. I like to slice like a cake with my spade, but you could also use a fork. Make sure your smaller divisions have lots of healthy roots and replant in the ground, so the soil is at the same level as before, or into containers. They may sulk for a few days but keep them watered and they will bounce back.

This is something you can do on a smaller scale with pot-grown supermarket herbs, if you have some leftover from cooking. Many of these potted herbs are made up of many smaller plants tightly packed into one pot. You can almost feel that they’re gasping to escape. I gently tease them apart and repot a clump with a good set of roots into a small pot of peat-free compost.

I’ll place it in a warm, sheltered spot – out of direct sunlight – and within a few days it will begin to sprout and regrow.

When you consider how many plants you get in one supermarket potted herb, they tend to be a lot cheaper than those bought from the garden centre. It’s a great money-saver if you, or someone you know has a herb pot that’s going over or about to be thrown away.

Cut out and keep

Herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme can be propagated easily from cuttings. You can make more plants for next year by taking semi-ripe cuttings from non-flowering stems (10-15cm long) now. These are the ones that are turning woody at the bottom but still have soft growth at the top.

Make rosemary cuttings from woody stems.

Take off the lower leaves and pop four or five cuttings into peat-free potting compost. Place a plastic bag over the top, secured with an elastic band, to increase humidity. Remove the bag after 10-14 days. It’s sometimes helpful to give the plant a gentle tug (after a couple of weeks) as this is a sign that the plant has rooted. Once this has happened, or you see roots growing out the bottom of the pot, grow on in a cool place until spring.

Rooting in water

As long as they’re still healthy, any leftover sprigs of herbs can be rooted in water and potted up into compost when they have a ball of roots. If you change the water regular, you can keep growing them hydroponically for many weeks without using compost at all.

Herbs such as basil, coriander and parsley all propagate easily in water. Simply snip a stem and pop the cutting in a vase. Wait a week for roots to form and pot up them up into peat-free compost. They will need a warm windowsill to grow on, as the weather outside cools – but they should last for a few months before lower light levels slow their growth.

Follow Garden Organic’s #ThriftyThirty hashtag for 30-days of cost-saving ideas for organic gardening projects this Organic September.

The Grow Your Own Wicked Leeks series is written by Garden Organic, the national charity for organic growing. Each month we bring you timely advice on what to do in your organic patch, whether you’re an experienced grower or just starting out. Share your own tips and gardening photos on social media under #GYOWickedLeeks.


Leave a Reply

  1. Thanks, Alice, just the advice I was looking for! I was wanting to transplant some cuttings from my current home that is being sold to my new place once I have one. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a suitable rental so I will need foster plant parents during the intervening time that I am homeless. Any advice about how best to package up cuttings that might be neglected for a while?


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