Know Before You Grow: Basil

Know Before You Grow: Basil
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Know Before You Grow: Basil

Basil Is a Sun-Loving Annual Herb That's Also a Good Companion to Tomatoes

Native to Asia, it was carried from India to Egypt to Greece in the ancient world and remains a mainstay of cuisine in many cultures. In the garden, it is often grown alongside tomatoes, and is considered a guard plant protecting veggies and flowering plants from some predators.

Choosing a Basil Variety

Selecting which basil to grow is the most difficult part of gardening with this scrumptious herb. Most have green leaves and either pink or purple blooms, though some sport purple-toned foliage. We recommend that for growing indoors, you select dwarf varieties. There are many delectable choices:

Sweet Basil

Used in French, Italian, Greek, and other Mediterranean cuisines, these varieties are mildly flavored yet strongly aromatic, an irresistible combination. Nufar Hybrid is a Genovese type that resists fusarium wilt, making it one of the easiest to grow. Large Leaf Italian is among the most popular for fresh or dried use.

Spicy Basil

A mainstay of Oriental cuisine, these varieties pack a stronger, spicier bite than their sweet cousins. AAS winner Thai Siam Queen delivers zingy flavor on extra-large plants that produce very heavily, while unusual Cinnamon uniquely combines the sweet with the spicy.

Citrus Basil

Combining lemon or lime flavors with traditional basil flavor makes a superb addition to drinks and desserts. One of our favorites is Mrs. Burns' Lemon, an heirloom variety from New Mexico with lip-puckering intensity. It is indispensable for Thai cuisine, and its dwarf habit makes it a must-have in the indoor kitchen garden.

Can't decide where to begin? We recommend that you save money with our sampler platter—the Culinary Blend. You'll get a packet each of 4 of our very best: one Genovese, one French, one lemon, and one purple-leaf.

When to Start Basil Seeds

To grow basil indoors, sow the seeds at any time of year. To grow in the garden, begin seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before anticipated transplant date. Transplant the seedlings or sow seeds directly into the soil only when daytime temperatures are in the 70's and nighttime temps remain above 50°F.

How to Start Basil Seeds

Drop one seed into each bio sponge of your Bio Dome, or sow on top of a seed flat and lightly cover with vermiculite. Germination occurs in 5 to 15 days at any temperature between 65° and 85°F. Transplant the seedlings any time after they have 2 sets of true leaves.

Special Considerations

  • Harvest basil as you need it, taking leaves from the top of the plant first. Try not to harvest more often than once a week.
  • To dry the leaves for seasoning, cut the entire plant at soil level, turn it upside down, and hang it in a warm, dry room for about a week. Then strip the leaves from the stems and store them in an airtight container for up to a year. Do not crumble them until they are ready to use.
  • When adding basil to cooked dishes, wait until just before serving for the strongest flavor and best texture.

Growing Tips for Basil Plants

  • Basil loves hot weather and needs consistently moist, rich soil for the best growth. Give it 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day outdoors, and a good dose of grow lights every day indoors.
  • As flower buds arise, pinch them off. Flowering will stop the foliage growth and dilute the flavor of the leaves.

Pests and Problems to Watch For

Outdoors, slugs and beetles can nibble the leaves. Using a sharp mulch will discourage their approach.

Indoors, aphids can become a problem. Check the undersides of new leaves very carefully for signs of these tiny white creatures, and spray leaves on both sides to keep them clean.

Return to the full Know Before You Grow list.

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