by National Gardening Association Editors
Types of Basil
Caring for Basil
Basil needs a steady supply of moisture and warm soil temperatures to produce well, so you have to play a balancing act with mulch. In cool areas, delay mulching until the soil temperature has reached the mid-60s. Where summer really heats up and soil loses moisture quickly, you can add mulch sooner.
This heat-loving herb is susceptible to even mild frost; harvest the remainder of your crop if temperatures are predicted to dip into the 30s.
Basil has few pests, but occasionally generalist pests such as aphids, flea beetles, and Japanese beetles will feast upon it. Rinse off aphids with a garden hose. To prevent beetles from munching, cover the crop with fabric row cover. If slugs are a problem on new transplants, try a barrier of copper flashing.
Diseases are more of an issue for basil-lovers. Fusarium wilt of basil, first identified in the early 1990s, arrived via infected seed imported from Italy. Symptoms include sudden wilting and leaf drop, accompanied by dark streaks on the stems, usually in weather above 80°F. If you notice these signs, quickly dig up the infected plant, along with all soil around the roots, and discard it. If part of your garden becomes infected, avoid spreading the disease by moving soil around on your tools or tiller, and consider growing your basil in containers. You might also try a fusarium-resistant variety, such as Nufar.
Basil is also susceptible to a few bacterial rots that show up on stems or leaf clusters, usually in cool, wet weather, often late in the season. Keys to control include planting in well-drained soil, spacing plants so they dry off after rain, and removing infected plants from the patch.
Harvest and Storage
The later in the day you harvest basil, the longer it stays fresh. In a perforated bag kept at around 60°F, it will keep for 10 to 14 days. In contrast, refrigerated basil lasts two or three days. You can also store stems in a vase in your kitchen, close at hand for cooking. As for flower bouquets, change water in the vase every few days.
To best maintain the flavor of dried basil, store it in the freezer. To quick-freeze basil, dry whole sprigs and pack them in plastic bags with the air pressed out. To dry basil, pinch leaves off the stem and spread them out in a shady, well-ventilated area. Check in 3 or 4 days, and if they dont crumble easily between your fingers, finish drying in the oven; otherwise the leaves may turn brown or black in storage. Use the lowest heat possible with the door slightly open, turn leaves for even drying, and check them frequently.
Another method is to make pesto (or even basil processed with olive oil), pack it into containers or ice cube trays, and freeze it. Once cubes are frozen, you can pop them out of trays and into plastic bags for easy storage.
Photograph by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association
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