Basil is a bushy annual, most varieties grow 1 to 2 feet tall. They have glossy opposing leaves and white flowers.
Basil leaves are utilized in the recipes from many ethnic groups, but most commonly in tomato dishes such as pesto, salads and tomato dishes. Many varieties are available with subtle differences in taste as well as size, and general overall appearance.
Some varieties have a hint of lemon-lime overtones, while others have a cinnamon or a licorice-anise flavor. Some have purple leaves such as Dark Opal but most are green.
Starting Basil from Seed
Plant the seeds outdoors only when chances of frost are over and the ground is warm. Soil temperature should be 65-85 degrees F. In most areas it’s a good idea get a head start on the season by starting seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost.
Basil can be started indoors year round. If starting plants indoors, adequate heat and moisture is advisable as this a semi tropical plant and will not survive or at the very least produce poorly in cooler weather. See – Indoor Herbs
Sunlight – A minimum of 6 to 8 hours of full sun light daily.
Soil – Well drained organically endowed and compost enriched soil. Clay soils will not suffice, sandy soils should have abundant organic material such as compost worked into them.
Seed Depth – 1/4 inch is optimal
Spacing – Large leafed varieties, should be about 1.5 feet apart and small leafed varieties such about 1 foot apart – basically follow the seed package directions as there are many varieties.
Starting new basil plants from shoots
Starting new basil plants from cuttings or shoots is simple. Cloning basil is a good way to keep your basil supply regenerating.
To clone basil, cut about a 3 to 4 inch stem of new growth just above two lateral leaf nodes. Give the cut plant a generous watering so it can also repair itself.
Gently remove the lower leaves on the stem you just removed from the parent plant, leaving only the two smallest leaves near the top.
Place the cutting in a container of fresh water in a sunny location such as a windowsill . Maintain the water level in the container, keep it fresh.
After about 6-7 days you will notice the stem sprouting new roots, the first roots that form on a cutting are not true roots that will take well in soil. Once you notice these small fibrous roots add some soil to the water, just enough to make it look like brownish kool aid. Add a little soil every few days, this enables the delicate roots to acclimate to drawing nutrients from the soil and will increase their survival rate once transplanted.
After about 3 weeks sometimes slightly longer your cutting should be ready for transplant.
An occasional problem with stem cuttings grown in water is fungus. Some people will add a few drops of bleach to the water, but I personally prefer to use hydrogen peroxide – only a few drops a week – which helps to eliminate fungus and mold issues.
Rooting Hormone enhances your success rate and expedites the plants progress- but in most cases it is purely optional.
Tips – Care of Basil Plants
Water – Basil requires ample and persistent water. Mulch to retain moisture in warm weather is advisable.
Delicate flowers on Basil are attractive however they are a sign your plant is going to seed and production will decline at this point. If you are not looking to harvest seeds, you should pinch off any flower stems as they appear.
Temperature – Basil thrives in warm temperatures and heat. It will turn black and die off in temperatures approaching the mid 30s F. Temperatures should be at the very least in the 70s around the clock.
Optimal Growth Temperature 65 to 85 F
Germination Temperature 70 to 75 F
Pests and Disease
Basil has some enemies, Beetles, particularly Japanese Beetles, love Basil as much as people do and have been known to completely skeletonize whole plants. Aphids are also a problem at times. Most varieties are also subject to various plant diseases such as black spot, gray mold and fusarium wilt.
Harvest and Storage of Basil
As soon as the plant is healthy and large enough you can begin harvesting some of the leaves. Collect leaves from the tops of branches, trimming off several inches per harvest. Basil leaves have the most oil just before the plant flowers, so harvesting them at this point will ensure that the dried basil has better flavor. Be gentle in handling the harvested leaves as they sometimes blacken before they can be used.
Storage and Preservation
Basil can be air dried in small, loose bunches. It can also be frozen where it retains much more of its flavor.
To freeze basil, wash and puree the leaves , adding modest amount of water as needed to make a thick sauce like puree. Freeze the puree in ice-cube trays than freezer bags for later use as needed . I sometimes make a mixture of pureed basil and garlic which will keep for a long time in the freezer. In the refrigerator put a thin coating of olive oil on top to extend its shelf life and enhance as well as retain flavor. See: Herbal Ice