Hello again, Friends and Fans of ESH! Today, lettuce chat about planting ESH's culinary herbs. Over the years, and now more recently, we have had several customers inquire as to whether you can plant our herbs in soil and grow them. (Like seedlings you buy at the garden center to transplant in the garden.) What an excellent question! I have chatted with a few folks about this, including the Head of Lettuce Mary Ellen, and we decided the topic was a great one to address. So here we go!
To be clear, any experiment you decide to do with planting herbs purchased from ESH should be considered just that...experimental. To date, our experiences with planting our culinary herbs in soil have been limited. Remember that our herbs are grown hydroponically, which simply means that they are grown in circulating water (no soil). They are held stable in a root cube. This root cube is not soil and contains no nutrients itself. The water they are grown in is fortified with nutrients, which flow in the water for the roots to uptake.
We theorize that if you take a hydroponic plant such as ours and plunk it down in soil, all willy-nilly, it will likely go into shock and die a painful death. This is due to the need for nutrition and the fact that the roots no longer have that known, constant nutrition in circulating water, which leads to stress on the plant, because now it is fighting for its life.
We suggest that if you choose to plant one of our herbs, first use all or most of the plant as you would normally use it, snipping off the stems/leaves as needed. When you have little to none left, THEN plant the rest in soil, water it, and see what happens. This way, at least you haven't wasted a perfectly good portion of usable herbs, if it all goes south.
The theory here is that the plant is not stressing to provide nutrition to a whole plant's worth of leaves, all vying for those nutrients to survive. (Much like a tree that drops its leaves to survive the winter, or perennials that die back in the winter, the main part of the plant can save those nutrients to survive.) Then, when the roots have adjusted to life in soil, and relearned how to survive in new conditions, it will grow new stems and leaves. In theory. *We do not suggest that you flood the plant to death, in poorly draining soil, attempting to recreate its former habitat. Root rot can happen quickly in soil, without proper water circulation and drainage, and that, dear Ladies and Gentlemen, equals plant death.
Farm staff have successfully planted our Red-Ribbon Sorrel in soil (without cutting it back), and it has grown almost every single time. Thus, we can confidently say that yes, you can plant our Sorrel and it ought to live. A word of caution: Sorrel can become invasive, especially when you forget it is there and it goes to seed. Then you'll end up with a whole garden bed of Red-Ribbon Sorrel. Maybe plant it in a separate planter or pot. Sorrel can be cut down almost to the ground and it will come back quickly. Sorrel will also likely re-emerge after you thought it died in the winter, as Sorrel is very hardy.
What about the other herbs? Well, this farm-hand will only vouch for our Sorrel with confidence, as I have seen it survive many times and over the years. I cannot vouch for our other culinary herbs with confidence. Personally, I have not had anyone say the basil has thrived after planting, but that's not to say it hasn't happened. I am embarrassed to admit that I have personally killed more basil and parsley plants at home than I care to admit, before I tried to plant them (remember that root rot?). I forgot to change the water. Guilty. (I did use them up before they were totally wasted, so not all was lost.) Therefore, I reiterate that this whole thing should be considered experimental.
We would love it if you would share your personal experiences on this subject. If you have planted our herbs in soil and have successfully had them grow and thrive, we would love to hear your stories! Lettuce leave comments below on how you made it happen, and share your personal recommendations.