You Can Dig It

Small-leafed basils are fun to grow

By Jim Janke | Sep 15, 2016
Photo by: Jim Janke Spicy Globe basil

I’ve been growing small-leafed basils since the 1980s. Varieties like Green Bouquet, Spicy Globe, Boxwood and Pistou have all done well. They have a couple of advantages over regular basils:

— Small-leafed basils are base branching; they don’t need to be pinched as often to keep them from getting scraggly.

— The plants stay compact and bushy, making them ideal for the front of the border or for growing in pots.

— For many dishes the leaves are small enough that they don’t need to be chopped. (You have to understand my lack of expertise with a knife to appreciate how important this is.)

Small-leafed basils are easy to grow from seeds. Here are some notes.

Sow seeds indoors in early March on the top of a soilless seed starting mix, and cover with a light dusting of milled sphagnum moss. Put the seeding flat in a tray with a half-inch of water, and cover the tray with clear plastic.

Seeds should sprout within a couple of days; placing the tray in a warmer spot, like on top of a refrigerator, may improve germination.

Wait until the second leaves have appeared, then carefully dig out each seedling — handling by the leaves, not the stems — and transplant to individual containers at the same depth they were growing in the seeding flat.

Grow the seedlings in a bright windowsill or under fluorescent lights. Keep moist. Fertilize every other week with a half strength liquid fertilizer.

In early May harden off the young plants by exposing them to increasing amounts of sun and wind over a two-week period before planting outside.

Basil is very tender and may get damaged when outside temperatures fall below 40 degrees.

Sow indoors again in September for plants in pots that you can harvest all winter. Small-leafed basil plants make great hostess gifts during the holidays.

Most seed catalogs include at least one variety of small-leafed basil. The seed should remain viable for several years if stored in a cool, dry place.

Jim Janke is an Extension Master Gardener volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 828-456-3575. © 2016 NC State University.

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