Basil Growing Guide in your Home Garden
Basil is Most Versatile Herb
Of all the herbs that can be grown successfully in USA gardens, basil is likely the most versatile. Basil can be used as a showy ornamental, it’s fragrance and flowers are great in fresh flower bouquets and, of course, there are some very delicious culinary creations enhanced by the awesome taste of this easily grown garden herb.
Gardeners who are experienced at growing herbs know that there are quite a few choices of basil that could easily fill up the garden and the landscape. There are four delightful groups of basil to choose from that include sweet green basil, dwarf green basil, purple-leaved basil, and scented leaf basil. It’s easy to get caught up in basil-mania once you start to explore all the possible cultivars and their attractive characteristics.
Sweet basil usually grows to about 24 inches. The leaves of sweet basil are 2 – 3 inches long and it produces white flower spikes. Genovese basil and spicy Thai basil, ‘Siam Queen’ (AAS 1997 winner) are part of this group.
Dwarf basil grows to about 12 inches tall with 1/2 inch leaves and white flowers. ‘Spicy Globe’ and ‘Green Bouquet’ are two well known dwarf varieties.
Scented-leaf basil brings additional aroma to the garden. One of these, lemon basil, actually has a very distinct lemon flavor. Lemon basil ‘Sweet Dani’ is a 1998 AAS winner. The leaves are grayish green and the flowers are white. Two others to consider are cinnamon basil and anise basil. Cinnamon basil has a spicy cinnamon flavor and pink flowers with purple bracts. Anise basil is licorice-flavored and purple-flowered.
Purple-leaved basils are considered very ornamental but are also quite edible. The purple leaves are ruffled, frilled or deeply cut and flower spikes produce showy deep pink to lavender-purple flowers. Some of the more popular varieties have names like ‘Purple Ruffles’, ‘Red Rubin’ and ‘Dark Opal’. ‘Purple Ruffles’ is a 1987 AAS winner.
Basil can easily be sown directly in warm garden soil after nighttime temperatures are 55 degrees consistently. Select a sunny, well-drained site. Add a little organic matter if the soil is very sandy. Seeds should sprout quickly. When plants are about 4 inches tall, give them their first pinch to increase branching. For dwarf basils, thin seedlings to about 12 inches apart. For the larger growing varieties, thin to about 30 inches apart.
When harvesting basil for the kitchen, cut entire stems. What isn’t used fresh is easily dried and will store all winter. For best flavor, harvest before flowering begins. However, basil makes an excellent cut flower by itself, with other basils or with a mixed bouquet from the flower garden.
As you are planning this year’s garden consider adding one or several basils. The easy-to-grow basils add beauty and flavor to USA gardens.
Growing Basil… it’s So Easy
Basil’s pungent flavor enhances any summer garden recipe. And you can choose from lots of varieties, including lemon, cinnamon, and anise-flavored types. Basil also comes in a variety of shapes and colors; you can plant varieties that are low-growing, stocky, or tall, with variegated, crinkled, purple, green, or smooth leaves. The plants can grow up to 2 feet tall and 8 inches wide.
Basil Growing Guide
- Soil preparation: You can grow basil in any well-drained soil amended with plenty of organic matter.
- Planting: Make sure you plant basil where it will get full sun. Start basil seeds indoors 6 weeks before your last expected frost. Plant the transplants outdoors after the danger of frost has passed and when soil temperature averages 50°F or higher.
- Spacing: If you’re growing small-leaved basil, place the plants 6 to 8 inches apart. Varieties with large leaves need 1 to 1½ feet between plants.
- Special hint: Mulching the area after the seedlings have shot up helps to keep the ground moist and warm and discourages weeds. But make sure you mulch after the ground has warmed up because basil roots need heat.
Begin harvesting basil as soon as the plants have several pairs of leaves. If you harvest frequently, you’ll help encourage your plants to produce new growth—which, in turn, will give you, even more, basil to harvest. You can keep harvesting basil up until the first frost. After harvesting, wrap dry foliage in paper towels and store it in resealable plastic bags in the fridge.
In Italy, basil has been and still is a sign of love. According to tradition, if a man gives a woman a sprig of basil, she will fall in love with him and never leave him. Today, he’d probably have better luck if he made her pesto and served it over pasta with salad, bread, and a little wine—and then did the dishes afterward.
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