Basil

Aromatic basil is tasty and easy to grow.

This wonderful aromatic herb is included in many dishes these days and is a must for tomato sauces and Italian dishes. Pesto, a ground combination of fresh basil, garlic, nuts, olive oil and Parmesan cheese goes well with just about anything. A little bit of basil goes a long way, so often a single plant provides enough for a small family. There are many different flavored basils, but my favorite is the large-leafed sweet basil.

Although it is fairly easy to grow from seed, basil is generally planted from transplants after all danger of frost in the spring.

Basil thrives with mild and moderately warm temperatures but cannot tolerate a frost or freeze. If summer heat and drought kill your initial planting, another crop can be planted in late summer. Although a single plant is generally enough for a small family, an 18-inch spacing is generally sufficient for multiple plants.

Basil performs best with at least eight hours of direct sun each day. Plant basil in rich, well-drained soil, either in the ground or in containers at least 12 inches in diameter or preferably larger. Small containers dry out quickly in Texas’s frequent warm temperatures. Ideally, till several inches of organic matter into the soil and incorporate 2 pounds of a complete lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, etc.) per 100 square feet of bed or every 35 feet of row.

In small plots use 2 teaspoons per square foot or foot of row. The ideal soil pH for growing basil is 5.5 to 7.0.

Basil can be grown either in the ground or containers. I prefer the ground, so the plants don’t dry out as much. If you are direct seeding, scatter the seed on tilled soil that has been raked smooth.

Gently rake the seed into the soil, making sure that it is no deeper than ¼ of an inch below the surface of the soil. Water gently and carefully (to avoid disturbing the seed), and keep the soil moist until germination (sprouting) occurs.

Then reduce the frequency of watering so that the plants gradually get tougher and dry out slightly. Transplants should be placed 18 inches apart in well-cultivated soil. Dig holes that are the same size as the existing pot they are growing in. Gently firm the soil around them, being careful not to plant the transplant any deeper than it was growing in the pot. Water thoroughly with a water-soluble plant food such as Miracle-Gro at half the labeled recommendation.

Basil is easy to grow and relatively pest free. To stimulate new tender foliage, keep it trimmed or harvested regularly, keep the flower heads cut off, and apply several teaspoons of a complete lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, etc.) every two to three weeks or a water-soluble fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro every one to two weeks.

Basil is generally ready to harvest in seventy to eighty days from seed or just weeks from transplants. Harvest basil as young shoots or tender, pest-free leaves that have just reached full size. Wash and use them immediately.

Many different forms of basil perform well in East Texas, including Genovese, Lemon Basil, Purple Ruffles, Siam Queen, Spicy Globe and Sweet Basil. Balsamic Blooms is a Texas Superstar selection. Basil originated in Asia and Africa.

Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com), and follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.