Plant a Basil Herb Garden

Flavor your summer meals with the season's best herb.

Story by Gene B. Bussell

Basil is the king of herbs—it adds fragrance to any garden and is so versatile in the kitchen. Use it for pestos, salads, pastas, or pizzas. In your garden, pair basil with tomatoes, and pick both when needed. It's also a great ornamental. Place it where you can pinch off a few leaves and enjoy the scent whenever you're outside. Cut stems of 'Opal' or 'Thai' basil, and mix with zinnias to add a clean scent and nice color to casual bouquets.

Select Basil
'Genovese' is the classic basil grown for pesto. Plant other selections for a variety of flavors that can be used in different ways in the kitchen. Try 'Mrs. Burns' Lemon' and 'Lime' to enjoy citrus flavors that work well with fish. Use the purple leaves of 'Round Midnight' and 'Purple Ruffles' to flavor vinegars. A single large leaf of 'Mammoth' basil can cover a tomato sandwich. Spicy 'Cuban' basil will pump up your salsas. Order online from johnnyseeds.com or cooksgarden.com.

Grow Basil
Basil is an easygoing annual herb. It needs warmth and likes four to six hours of sun a day. Plant it in a spot that gets morning light as well as protection from late-afternoon sun. It prefers slightly moist, well-drained soil that has been amended with organic matter. Set out transplants or sow seeds in your garden or in containers. Add mulch such as pine straw or finely shredded pine bark to help keep the roots cool. Don't overwater it. Feed your basil using an organic product, such as Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed & Fish (3-1-1, planetnatural.com). Gather it regularly to encourage new leaves and help delay flowering, because once it starts blooming, the leaves will toughen and lose flavor. So bring basil into your kitchen this summer to crown your table with good taste.