Tea Time for Me and You: Up-potting and Pruning

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So you’ve planned out your tea garden, you’ve planted the seeds, you’ve tended to the baby plants and your greenhouse (or growing area) is starting to smell amazing. By now, the plants are getting tall enough to move out of the 1×1 cells and be up-potted into your larger pots. This is when things get exciting, folks! But this is also when you need to keep a good eye on your plants because this is when you will prune them, feed them and start to grow them into all that they can be.

We up-potted our basil plants from their 1×1 cells into 4″ pots when they started showing their second set of true leaves. We absolutely love FoxFarm’s Happy Frog potting soil. We tested a variety of potting soils last year and this one proved to be the very best by a landslide! After the seedlings started to show their next set of true leaves (their fourth, fifth or sixth set of true leaves depending on how they’re growing) we applied fish emulsion to the soil. This gave them a HUGE boost almost overnight. Within the next week, they started to grow another set of leaves and were about 8″ tall. This is when we prune our basil plants.

Pruning is very important for basil plants. You don’t want them to grow up, you want them to grow out and create new branches and leaves. If you don’t prune them, they’ll grow tall, leggy and will start to bloom and that’s not what you want.

This little basil plant is ready to be pruned!
This little basil plant is ready to be pruned!

When you prune your basil, you want to look for what we call “the head.” The head will be the top group of leaves, followed by a portion of stem and then two main leaves shooting out from either side, and those may have small suckers on them too. You want to cut off the head and most of the stem underneath, leaving about 1/2″-1″ of stem above the next set of leaves and suckers. Those leaves and suckers will develop into branches and leaves and shoot out in a Y formation. That’s what makes your basil plant nice and bushy. Basically, you want to encourage new growth to grow outwards, not upwards.

Here's a good example of 'the head.' You can start to see a tiny bloom just thinking of starting to form in the center. Lop its head off!
Here’s a good example of ‘the head.’ You can start to see a tiny bloom just thinking of starting to form in the center. Lop its head off!
After the pruning, you'll see that there's the two large leaves, two little suckers and a bit of stem sticking out. Those leaves will become branches, those suckers will become new leaves and will give your basil plant a nice shape.
After the pruning, you’ll see that there’s the two large leaves, two little suckers and a bit of stem sticking out. Those leaves will become branches, those suckers will become new leaves and will give your basil plant a nice shape.
Just one week after pruning, the basil is already starting to shoot outwards.
Just one week after pruning, the basil is already starting to shoot outwards.
Here's another example, the side leaves developed into secondary branches, making the plant nice and full
Here’s another example, the side leaves developed into secondary branches, making the plant nice and full

 

And what’s great about pruning is that you can (technically) count it as your first harvest! Well, at least we did! We saved the cuttings, threw them in our dehydrator and saved them for later. We ended up pruning the Thai basil, Lemon basil and Tulsi basil. Our sweet basil isn’t quite ready for pruning but will be soon. And you best believe that when it’s ready we’ll be making a small batch pesto! We took our Tulsi basil cuttings and dried them so we can make our first batch of Tulsi tea for the year!

Tulsi basil cuttings ready to be dried for tea!
Tulsi basil cuttings ready to be dried for tea!

Aside from our basil plants, we also up-potted our other tea garden plants:

Our hibiscus roselle completely TOOK. OFF. They are ginormous and continue to grow each day. We can’t wait to transplant these and see what they do in the ground! These guys grow really, really fast so if you’re planting these yourself, be prepared!

Our hibiscus roselle is getting HUGE! We can't wait to put these in the ground and watch them take off!
Our hibiscus roselle is getting HUGE! We can’t wait to put these in the ground and watch them take off!

Our chamomile plants are looking like little tiny mighty bushy.. plant.. machines.. or something. I don’t know. But they’re looking healthy but still have a few more weeks to go before transplanting.

Chamomile plants in their 4" individual pots.
Chamomile plants in their 4″ individual pots.

Anise Hyssop is coming in slow but strong. It’s already giving off that sweet anise scent. This is the point at which it’s ready to be up-potted into individual 4″ pots.

Anise Hyssop is ready to be up-potted!
Anise Hyssop is ready to be up-potted!

We’ve also started our Monarda Bee Balm seeds. We’re still on the lookout for some unique Wild Bergamot flavors. Bergamot is not only apopular herb for tea and medicinal purposes, but also a pollinator attractant. Hence the name, Bee Balm. You can harvest the flowers and leaves to dry for your tea. The oils of the plant is used to flavor Earl Grey tea, so you’ll notice a slightly similar flavor. But it’s not just for tea, Bergamot is also used to to season sweet dishes (like a fruit salad) or savory dishes (in a sauce or a dry meat rub).

We’re also growing lemon balm again this year. Since it’s a member of the mint family, it will completely take over the area that it’s in. But that’s cool with us because we use it all the time! A little lemon balm in sun tea, cocktails, flavored water or even as a garnish on a summery dessert is pure mouth joy.

Besides these herbs, we also have some za’atar oregano growing. Not the herb za’atar, which is actually a combination of herbs, but the variety is called za’atar and will be excellent when we dry it and use it as a seasoning for pork, poultry and our morning breakfasts!

In the next few weeks we’ll continue to add some more varieties into our herb/tea garden so keep checking back! And let us know how your herb/tea garden is coming along so far!


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