Basil is a warm weather plant that grows well with less care and has strong fragrance. It is an easy to grow herb which any beginner gardener can take on in their own garden. Basil is generally an annual plant. Some varieties need hot sun to thrive well, while others can thrive well in part shade once established. Basil and tomatoes complement well with each other both in garden and kitchen.
Types of Basil
In this article, we are going to discuss in detail about two basil varieties, how to grow and care for them in your garden.
Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Of all the basil varieties sweet basil is the tastiest and most popular for culinary usage. They are very easy to grow and care for as well. When I think basil the first thought that comes to my mind is – pesto. Pestos are easy to make and the best way to use surplus leaves. They go well with pasta. They store well in the freezer in pesto form.
Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
Holy basil is also called tulsi. Some cultures consider this plant as sacred and is also used in many ancient medicines. These woody plants can reach up to 5 feet under favorable conditions. I have come across two varieties
Rama tulsi: This is the more common variety of holy basil which has light green leaves with purple flowers. The flavor is a bit mellow and less spicy then the other variety.
Krishna tulsi: This variety has purplish green leaves with the older leaves more purple. The blooms are purple in color. This variety is more spicy and strong flavor.
One of my favorite method to use holy basil is to steep them along with green tea. The flavor is so enhancing. If strong spicy flavor is not your palate use only a couple of leaves.
Other basil varieties
Purple Basil Ruffle: Along with the edible values this variety also adds ornamental values. You can grow this variety in the front garden if you are concerned about growing vegetables in front yard. Its only this year I came across this basil, am eyeballing this one but not easy to them in stores.
Lettuce leaf basil: This is also a sweet basil variety with mild flavor. This basil has ruffled leaves and also edible. The usage is similar to common sweet basil. This variety of basil can also be grown in front garden if the backyard space is premium. Because of their larger leaves, they are also called as mammoth basil.
Lemon basil: A compact hybrid variety that has many culinary values.
African blue basil: They are a hybrid of camphor basil and dark opal basil. The seeds are sterile, so the best way to propagate them is through cuttings. The flowers are eye-catching and used in flower arrangements. They also have culinary values.
Plant seeds or transplants in your garden after the danger of frost has passed and soil is warm (around 70F or 21C). The seeds won’t sprout well if the weather is not warm enough. Even if I was able to sprout them indoors then transplant them in late May or early June they struggled with the cool morning and evening weather. The key to grow great basil in your garden is going to be the right temperature and nutrition. Sweet basil responds well to fertilized soil, but holy basil can grow well even in poor soil. So plan your planting and growth season accordingly.
Encouraging basil growth in garden:
Here is a great tip to grow more basil leaves from your garden – harvest frequently to encourage growth. The unpruned plants become leggy and will bolt soon. When the plant blooms it will stop producing new leaves and also loses its flavor. So the best way to keep the foliage going is to harvest the leaves frequently.
Pests in Basil:
Most of the time the garden pests will leave these plants alone. I had problems with aphids one year and the infestation came from a store bought rose plant. Watering with hose was enough to control infestation. If the problem gets out of hand go for organic pesticide like neem oil spray or simply soap water.
Harvest the leaves by pinching off stems or the leaves whenever you want, leaving one-third of the plant for future growth. For a large harvest wait until the plant attains full maturity, but harvest them before the plant starts to flower. Harvesting the leaves in early morning will keep the leaves fresh, but you can harvest at any time during the day. Cut off the whole plant to its base before the first hardy frost. These plants cannot tolerate frost.
Drying and storage:
Store the dried leaves in a cool dark place in airtight containers to enjoy throughout the winter. Dry the leaves completely before storage to remove any moisture, cause moisture encourages mold. To dry the basil leaves, separate the leaves from the stem, then spread them on a clean cloth or on a table in a well ventilated area in indirect sunlight. I still have sweet and holy basil dried up years ago.
What to do with bolted Basil
If the basil plant you are growing in your garden bolts, don’t worry here are a few things you can do even with a bolted plant.
- Let the plant bloom, enjoy the blossoms, the bees do like the flowers and they are good in flower arrangements too. You can also let some of your plants to bolt and collect seeds for next season. You can have the seeds to start your own micro greens (Basil micro greens).
- If your plants are in flower bud stage and you are not yet ready for the flowers, pinch off the buds an inch or two below the bud. This may encourage new growth in some cases.
- Basil leaves are used as food seasoning. They can be used either fresh or as a dried herb.
- The purple basil are also grown as ornamental garden plants in addition to their edible uses.
- The leaves can be dried and stored in airtight containers for future use. These leaves can be used in salads, dressings, pasta, pesto and the possibilities are endless.
Growing basil as container garden:
If you are short on garden space or want to grow basil in your deck / kitchen then it is best to grow basil as a container garden herb.
- For the common basil, sow multiple seeds, and start harvesting leaves when the plants have gained enough leaves. They are compact plants which do well in any decent sized container.
- For holy basil, grow in a container which is at least 10 inches wide. The bigger the pot more vigorous the plant is. To encourage bushier growth prune the plants and use the leaves fresh or dry for future. Bees love the blossoms of basil. Don’t forget to collect seeds from the plant.
You can also overwinter the basil plants. Check out my article on how to over winter container plants. But these plants give more than enough seeds during each grow cycle, so collect the seeds and start new during each cycle. You can have a potted plant in the kitchen during winter to give you fresh supply of leaves throughout the year.
Bonus tip: Holy Basil Tea
In cold winter days I like to make holy basil tea with some handful of basil leaves(dried or fresh) couple of peppercorns, ginger(fresh or dried) bring the water to boil add all the ingredients and steep in for about 10- 15 minutes. The hot and spicy aroma will make you feel good during the cold winter days. There is nothing more rewarding to me than having a cup of tea made from basil that was grown in my own garden.
Bonus tip : Basil Pesto
For the pesto I use the common basil. Clean the leaves and separate the stem from the leaves. Throw the leaves along with some walnuts or pinenuts (whatever you have in hand), two cloves of garlic and some olive oil into the mixer. You will get a fine paste. Freeze some of them for future use at this stage. If using straight away season with some salt and pepper and serve it with cheese.
What are your most favorite gardening experience with Basil? Do share in the comments below.