9 Tips for Growing Basil
You probably plant basil in a pot or herb garden every year, trimming leaves for bruschetta or sprigs for pesto. But there are dozens more varieties than common sweet or Genovese basil, many with foliage and flowers pretty enough to earn a spot in your landscape.
1) Planting Sow seeds or young plants in late spring and throughout the summer. Most basils are annuals-so you get to try new varieties each year!
2) Conditions Plant in rich, moist but well-drained soil in a location with six to eight hours of full sun daily. Water thoroughly whenever the top inch of soil dries out.
3) Maintenance Pinch back flower buds as they appear, since basil plants stop growing leaves and lose flavor or get bitter when they flower. Consider allowing a few colorful basils, such as Thai or ‘Wild Magic', to flower for feeding pollinators.
4) Harvest Cut individual leaves or whole stems, ideally in the coolest part of the day. Use immediately or store in water like cut flowers. Remember to harvest stems or protect gardens in fall when a frost threatens to zap these cold-sensitive plants.
5) Arrange Basil looks lovely in floral arrangements, or you can keep clippings in a jar of water on the counter for cooking. Just be sure to remove lower leaves from stems.
6) Variety You can eat all basils (including the flowers), but the aroma and flavor vary. 6 types include:
A Thai Basil The anise-clove flavor is a natural in Asian dishes, but you can also use Thai basil's pretty purple blooms in cut flower arrangements or as a dessert garnish. Height: 12–24"
B Lettuce Leaf The bright green, crinkly leaves on this Italian variety are an impressive 3 to 5 inches long. Their large size and mild flavor work well in wraps or sandwiches. Height: 18–24"
C ‘Dark Opal' This All-America Selections winner is a deep purple, ornamental variety with an Italian basil flavor. Use as a high-drama filler in sunny containers and flower beds. Height: 14–18"
D ‘Wild Magic'A striking leaf shape, gorgeous purple-green coloration and a sweet, heavy flavor mark this newer ornamental. Height: 18"
E ‘Pesto Perpetuo'The large columnar-shape plants don't flower, so you'll have plenty of the delicate white-edge leaves to harvest for pesto. Height: 12–48"
F ‘Spicy Saber'Distinctly serrated leaves add texture and vibrant green to the garden as an ornamental. The flavor plays well in Asian dishes. Height: 12–18"
7) Combine You don't have to relegate basil to an herb garden. Below, pale green ‘Pesto Perpetuo' and flowering ‘Wild Magic' join zinnias, sedums and marigolds in a border bed.
8) Add Amazel Basil is a new Proven Winners variety that stands up to downy mildew, a disease that sometimes plagues basil plants and turns their leaves yellow.
9) Decorate You can create tiny tabletop topiaries with ‘Spicy Globe' basil plants. The itty-bitty leaves are ideal for sprinkling on a pizza or salad as a garnish.