Gardening: All kinds of basil a snap to grow

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

I made lasagna from scratch last week — my grandson’s birthday dinner — and the recipe called for basil. I’m not a fan of the dried herb, so I was thrilled when I found a small pot of organically grown basil in the grocery store. There was enough foliage on the plant to harvest what I needed for the recipe, leaving behind about a third of the leaves to keep the plants going. I placed them under my grow light.

Basils are warm weather lovers so I won’t rush to get this little treasure in the ground outdoors — the soil temperature should be 60 degrees or warmer for it to thrive.

Basils are a snap to grow. About all they require is six hours or more of sun, organically rich soil kept moderately moist and regular pinching.

A big mistake many folks make when growing herbs, including basil, is over-fertilization. Regular fertilizing may grow large plants, but the flavor will be compromised.

When planting I add a good quality compost, such as Organimax, to the soil and then give my herbs a pick-me-up of diluted fish and kelp fertilizer a couple times a summer.

The very best flavor develops in the leaves just as the flower buds begin to form on the plant. The plants expend their energy as the flowers develop, age and begin to go to seed and the leaves lose their flavor and fragrance.

To attract pollinators or grow flowers for bouquets, add an extra plant or two and allow them flower away.

If you’re a serious foodie, check out the Richters catalog ( that offers more than 50 varieties of basils. Most are in seed form, however many are available as plants.

Not all basils are grown for culinary purposes. The burgundy red to purple leaves of opal basils make colorful additions to any garden. I plan to add them to the red portion of my color-blocked design garden to provide interesting texture. They might also add color contrast to the pink plantings.

According to Richters, in Mexico cinnamon basil is used as fresh-cut herbs on outdoor dining tables to ward off insects.

The Siam Queen Thai basil, with its dense purple blossoms, was an All American Selection for 1997. It was first touted for use as cut flowers and is now popular to use fresh in Thai green curries and Vietnam noodle dishes that are all the rage with foodies.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnewscom/homestyle.