Enjoy a Bounty of Basil Every Summer

Article written by Saturday6TM blogger Dave Townsend from Growing the Home Garden.

Basil is one of our family's favorite herbs. It's not only a great herb for the kitchen, but also looks fantastic as an ornamental plant. It comes in several colors, flavors, shapes and sizes so there is basil for every person!



Growing Basil from Seed

Basil is a very easy herb to start from seed. Surface sow several seeds in your favorite seed-starting mix. I use an equal blend of compost/peat/vermiculite (or perlite). Keep the seeds moist, and within a few days to a week there should be germination. To help keep the soil moist, put a small plastic bag over the pot until germination begins.

Once the basil has a pair of true leaves and the stem is sturdy, transplant it into larger pots or into your garden. As the basil plant grows, pinch the top two leaves off of each branch and use them in the kitchen. When the top growth is pinched off it encourages the plant to grow new branches along the stem, which will make a much bushier plant with more leaves.

If you want to make even more basil, take cuttings and root them in a glass of water or in a moist pot of soil. Roots will grow quicker on cuttings if placed in soil rather than water. (The dark environment is better for the formation of roots.) Rooting hormone is not necessary for basil cuttings.

Basil Varieties

There is a wide array of basil varieties available for gardening. I always plant a traditional Italian basil like Genovese, but I also plant several other types with unique flavors and appearance. Red Rubin or Dark Opal Purple basils have dark purple-colored leaves that blend nicely with silver or green foliage. For a variegated variety, try Pesto Perpetuo. It must be planted as a propagated plant and not from seed as it reverts and loses its variegation. Window Box and Italian Cameo basils are excellent choices as potted plants. There is also a boxwood basil, which grows into a round boxwood-like form. It would be ideal in pots or as a formal garden element. A large leaf basil, like lettuce leaf, is delicious on a tomato with some mozzarella cheese, sprinkled with a touch of balsamic vinegar.

For a couple of uniquely flavored basils, try a lemon or lime basil. Lime basil is not as strongly flavored as lemon. Both would be great in a cold summer drink! Cinnamon basil adds a delicious flavor twist in pesto.

For many people, Thai basil is a must-have for cooking. Ararat, Blue Spice, Corsican, Fine Verde and Spicy Globe are just a few more of the many options!

Other Basil Benefits

Basil is a great companion plant for tomatoes and many other edible crops. It helps ward off damaging insects by disguising the scent of the tomato plants. It can repel the tomato hornworm for several years, and is also said to repel flies and mosquitoes, so plant it everywhere!

When basil begins to flower, trim the flowers until you are ready for the plant to set seed in the fall. (The flowers are edible so toss them in a salad for a unique look and awesome taste.) If basil is allowed to produce seed it can be collected or may even become a self-sowing crop in your garden. It will cross-pollinate freely with neighboring basils, which can result in some interesting surprises!

To save basil seed, cut the seed stalks from the plant when brown and place in a paper bag. The seeds will release from the stalks when ready. Shake the basil bag to release all the seeds and remove the stalks. Then empty the seeds into a container to store for next spring.

Basil can be overwintered indoors if you have it in a pot or through a rooted cutting if taken before the first frost.


The Dirt from Troy-Bilt®

July/August 2014