Basil (Ocimum spp.) has its roots in India and Africa but is mostly known and appreciated all over the world. The word basil comes from Greek basileus meaning King and it certainly can be considered royalty among herbs.
Basil has broad, dark green aromatic leaves that can be grown from seed. It should be started indoors in early spring (May) or sown directly in the garden after danger of frost has passed. Basil needs warm soil and temperature to germinate. If started too early you will get slow, weak growth so don’t rush it. Transplants can be planted when temperatures are above 50 degrees at night. This heat loving annual, thrives in warm weather, requires full sun and a rich well drained soil. As with many herbs, it needs little fertilizer; in fact with too much fertilizer, basil will develop a bland flavor. Container grown basil will need more water and fertilizer than basil grown in the ground.
Plant 12 inches apart to allow room for growth as they grow as wide as they get tall (12-24 inch). To maintain the size and shape of this vigorous growing plant, pinch frequently. For best leaf production and flavor harvest basil often.
Flowerheads and Pruning
Once the plant reaches maturity or temps are over 80 degrees, look for emerging flower heads which will drain the plant of energy to produce more leaves. Pinching or deadheading doesn’t stop flowering, it encourages more flowers.
To discourage flower production and stimulate more leaf growth, cut the stem at least six leaf nodes down or leave 2 sets of healthy leaves from the bottom of the plant. Depending on how quickly the plant grows, you may have to prune once a month. If basil is allowed to go to seed, the leaves will develop a bitter flavor. For a continuous supply of fresh basil, plant at three week intervals during the summer. Plant basil next to tomato plant to improve their flavor.
There are more than 150 species of basil grown around the world. Even the most popular have a wide range of leaf shapes and flavors from anise, camphor, cinnamon to lemon. Sweet Italian Basil has an anise flavor which brings out the essence of summer tomatoes. ‘Genovese’ as well as bush basil (O. basilicum minimum) are great for pesto and Thai (Siam Queen) impart a spicy flavor with a hint of licorice to Thai and Indian cuisine. The dwarf to medium sized basils; such as Little-leaf bush or Spicy globe are ideal for small pots and window boxes. Dark Opal Basil stands up as a culinary herb but also works well as a decorative accent plant.
Combine basils with parsley, sage, rosemary and chives along with any one of your favorite herbs in a large container, place it close to the kitchen door and you will have a convenient culinary herb garden at your disposal.
Basil tip: Mosquitos and flies dislike the smell of basil. Grow it on a patio or deck to keep them away.
Rub crushed basil on your skin to repel mosquitoes.
Problems; light green/yellowing leaves possible overwatering or needs fertilizer. Black dying leaves-cold weather
Insects: Aphids, Japanese beetles, slugs feed on the leaves.
Disease: Damping-Off (Rhizoctonia), root rot and fusarium wilt and leaf spot