Well, it's been a long journey since April 12. The light went on saying to add more nutrient tablets, and since there are no more of them, it's time to say good-bye to the basil Aerogarden. Aerogrow does sell replacement nutrient tablets, but to be honest, I've run out of things to do with basil, and I'm ready to explore all the other crops I could be harvesting.
Now, the Aerogarden manual says that when it's time to retire the unit, to throw away the plants. When it came time to retire my original Aerogarden, I felt it was a waste to throw away plants that still were growing strong, so I thought I'd experiment by transplanting the plants into pots. I figured I'd do it and hopefully keep the herbs alive for another month or two so I could harvest and use them.
Well, it's more than four months later, and they're still going strong as houseplants. Here's a picture of the "alumni" from the original Aerogarden (the one that's growing the tomatoes now): purple basil, Italian basil, chives, mint, another purple basil, and another Italian basil.
So, my goal was to take the basil plants from the basil Aerogarden and convert them into houseplants. Note that you can use this technique to transplant plants into your outdoor garden too.
I should add this disclaimer. This is NOT recommended by Aerogarden, so do this at your own risk. Plants grow very differently in aeroponic/hydroponic growth than traditional soil growth, so results aren't guaranteed--in some cases, the plants just can't handle the stress of pulling nutrients from soil or light from the sun. Plus, there is cutting with very sharp objects involved, so please be careful.
Okay, that said, here's a step-by-step guide on how I do it.
- Take the entire Aerogarden basil and plants to a place with a lot of countertop space to work.
- Prepare a flower pot or plant pot (thanks P) and a lot of potting soil. I like using Miracle Gro potting mix mainly because it's fertilized already, is rich in nutrients, and is available at my corner drug store. Other great choices include the Potting Soil for Transplants or the uber-cool Wonder Soil from Gardener's Supply Company.
Fill the pot about 3/4 full of potting soil, and dig a deep hole right in the middle.
- Carefully and slowly pull out a pod from the Aerogarden unit, starting with the smallest plant. The roots at this point will be very long and possibly intertwined with others. Pull the plant out very slowly, trying your best to retain as much of the root system of the plant as possible. If one pod's roots are too intertwined, try another one.
- You should end up with pods with roots that are very long (in some cases very, very long) and not very wide. This is due to the Aeroponic technology--while roots in soil will spread out horizontally and vertically to take in nutrients from the soil, these roots had just one path to go, down, to try to take in as much of the nutrient-filled water as it could.
- Here's the tricky part. Carefully cut the plastic around the grey foam which holds the roots. Be VERY careful not to cut the roots--or your fingers! You need a set of very strong shears or wirecutters to get through the very rigid plastic. I use this very handy Leatherman pocket knife I got as a gift last year (thanks again P)
I like to cut the large circle on top at both ends, and repeat the same for the small circle on the bottom.
You'll need to play with the foam and the plastic a little, but if you do it right the two halves will split apart cleanly...
...completely remove the plastic, and you'll be left just with the foam and the roots, which you can plant in the soil.
- Holding the plant and the root above the flower pot, slowly put the plant into the soil, spreading the roots to cover as much surface area of the soil. Put enough of the stem under the dirt so that the plant will stand up by itself in the flower pot.
The roots will need to adapt from getting their nutrients out of the water to pulling it from the soil. Think of it as your kids going to college...while they lived at home, they enjoyed home-cooked meals served to them, but now they'll be on their own and will have to fend for themselves. But you raised them well and gave them a good home to grow up in, so they'll figure it out ;)
- In case you accidentally chopped off some root, don't worry, just prune some leaves on the plant. Same thing if the root growth is absurdly large and won't fit into the pot--go ahead and cut off some of the root so it'll fit in the pot, and trim the leaves as well. Basil is particularly resilient--I actually accidentally cut off 75% of the root of the basil from my first Aerogarden, and months later, it's one of the huge plants you see in the picture above.
- Pot the plant and fill in the rest of the soil. Voila--you now have a beautiful houseplant.
- Give the new plants plenty of water and PLENTY of sunshine. In fact, what I like to do is to take the potted plants and to put them under the lights of my other Aerogarden units. Think of it as your college kids coming home and enjoying the comfort of their old room :) Okay, I know the analogy is breaking up rapidly now...
Here's the whole gang, enjoying "sunshine" courtesy of the Tomato Aerogarden (which you may notice have gotten even bigger).
The first couple days will be hit or miss. In some cases, the roots just can't take hold in the soil, and the plant will wither away, especially for more fragile types of herb plants. But in other cases, you'll be pleasantly surprised that you have a brand new house plant.
As you can see above, I've had great success with basil, mint, parsley, chives, thyme, basil, basil, and basil, all transplanted from my original Aerogarden herb Kit.
- And finally, it's time to clean out the old Aerogarden. There may be roots and gunk around the unit and in the pump which you'll have to clear away, but nothing a little warm soapy water can't take care of.
- And there you have it. The next step will be starting a brand new garden, which I've already purchased the seed pods for.
Thanks for following the saga of the Aerogarden basil, and stay tuned for Salad Greens!