Week of July 8

Basil

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Basil is a beautiful and easily grown herb that not only brings flavor to food but also brings life to a garden, literally. Basil flowers attracts numerous beneficial insects bringing the essential life diversity needed in any garden. Basil plant in a landscape is very versatile and has its place not only in a vegetable or herb patch but also among the flowering plants and other ornamentals. It can be mixed among the plants in a hanging basket or a mixed container.
A very common variety of basil grown in gardens is the Genovese Basil. It is the variety most commonly available in the grocery stores as well. There are other varieties with different shapes, sizes and colors and flavors. A deep purple basil can be very attractive among lighter shades of ornamental or edible plants.

Basil transplants
Basil plants are available in most nurseries and garden centers. To enjoy the plant to its full potential transfer it from the small nursery pot to a larger pot (about one gallon size container per plant) or to the ground. Basil self seeds very easily so in next season keep an eye on the tiny two leaved plants sprouting up in the soil. These new plants can be left in place or once they are about 2 inches in size can be transplanted to a different location or a container.
Although 3-4 different varieties are now available in the nurseries & garden centers but an even wider selection is available if basil is grown from the seed. There are several good online seed companies from where seeds can be purchased.
Starting from Seeds
Basil seeds are extremely small and it is best to sow them in a tray or a container instead of the ground. A seed packet contains small number of seeds and why risk losing the seeds to ants or other insects which might carry them away if directly sown in ground.
The seeds are dropped in a light, fine potting mix and then lightly sprinkled with fine seed starting mix or fine potting mix. To make the potting mix fine it can be sifted with a colander or other large pore sifter.
Once the seeds are covered with a fine layer of the potting mix water them with a bottle mister and keep them covered with a clear plastic sheet or a clear plastic growing-tray cover so that the moisture is not lost. If a clear plastic sheet is used as a cover it should not be touching the potting mix and there should be a space of about 2 inches between the sheet and the surface of potting mix. As soon as the seeds start to sprout remove the plastic cover or open up some ventilation holes in the cover to allow the plants to breath. It’s easier to grow them away from direct sun but in a well lit area. Once the plants have about 2-3 leaves they can be gradually hardened to tolerate sunlight.

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Basil loves the hot weather. Basil plants from the nursery or started at home from seeds can be transplanted outside anytime after the last frost.
In El Paso, TX April through October is a good time to grow basil. After October if a new plant is transplanted there may not be enough time to enjoy the plant unless the winter arrives late like it did last year in 2012 when basil survived till December.
Basil can be maintained indoors in winter near a sunny window which gets at least 4-6 hours of sun.

Basil will attract variety of beneficial insects including hoverflies, ladybugs and bees. If you have a few basil plants let some go into flowering early (by
not pinching off the growing end) as it is the flowers which attract the beneficial insects.

Basil is wonderful to enjoy fresh with variety of foods. It can also be used to flavor teas. To delay flowering the growing end in each branch can be pinched off regularly.
Basil has good antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. A variety of basil called Tulsi or holy basil (
Ocimum sanctum) has been used for centuries in India for medicinal purposes and is considered a sacred plant.

Basil is one of the easiest plants to grow specially when bought as a transplant from nursery. Beginner gardeners will definitely be encouraged by rapid growth and usefulness of the plant. It can be planted with different vegetables as a ‘companion plant’ to help pollination and fight off bad insects. Tomato and basil plants are well know companions.
One or two basil plants are quite sufficient for the usual cooking needs but grow some more for the life in your garden and you will enjoy it even more.