by Trisha Shirey
Basil is colorful and ornamental as well as delicious. It loves the heat and bees love the blooms. It has few insect problems but can be prone to diseases. There are so many varieties to choose from that it can be overwhelming to select them for your garden.
In general, basil appreciates a rich soil, generous mulch and consistent moisture and does not like temperatures below 45 degrees. While the flowers are edible, it is generally best to keep them cut back regularly during the growing season to keep the plants full and bushy. Start cutting basil when the plants are young to promote branching. As flowers start to form cut the plants back by ? to ? their height. Like most annuals, basil will start to decline once the plant produces mature seeds and the leaves will have less flavor and the stems will become woody.
In the fall I allow the flowers to mature and harvest the seeds. The dried flowers are lovely and aromatic in dried arrangements. Many basils will seed themselves and repeat each year.
Aussie Sweet Basil has small leaves, a columnar shape and a very sweet clove and citrus aroma. It seldom blooms so is easy to manage in the garden. It will grow to about 30 inches tall.
Genovese (also known as Lettuce Leaf Basil or Valentino) has large crinkly leaves and a wonderful clove aroma. Good for pesto, salads, sauces. Grows to 24 inches tall. Very ornamental form, but needs regular pruning to keep it vigorous.
Greek Column and Dwarf Greek Column grow in an elongated narrow shape. They have a strong flavor and are grown from cuttings. No blooms to keep trimmed! The dwarf one grows about 18 inches tall.
Mammoth Basil has extremely large crinkled leaves similar to the Genovese. The leaves are often 6 to 8 inches wide. The plant grows to about 20 inches tall and appreciates some afternoon shade and regular pruning to keep it well shaped.
Nufar is a Genovese type which has fusarium resistance. It grows to about 36 inches tall and is a lush plant with great flavor.
Pesto Perpetuo has green and white variegated leaves and a columnar growth up to 36 inches tall. It does not produce many blooms and has a milder flavor than most sweet basils.
The Dwarf Basils : good choices for containers
Boxwood basil is a new dwarf cultivar that grows 8 to 10 inches tall. The leaves are tiny but the flavor is intense.
Pistou basil has a nicely rounded shape with tiny, very aromatic leaves. It grows to about 8 inches tall.
Spicy Globe Basil has small leaves and a strong flavor. It grows to about 12 inches tall.
Lemon Basil : Sweet Dani variety grows to about 15 inches tall and requires trimming almost weekly to keep it from going to seed. Benefits from some afternoon shade.
Lime Basil : similar in growth habit to the Sweet Dani, it needs regular pruning and likes some afternoon shade. Keep the flowers trimmed regularly. I add this to summertime tomato salsa when cilantro is not available.
Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil is one of my favorite plants. It grows to about 30 inches and is lush and attractive. Not as prone to constant blooms as the Sweet Dani variety and it has much larger leaves. Use the leaves in salads, make lemon basil pesto, add to soups, vegetables, sauces and enjoy the fragrant foliage in your home also.
The Purple Basils : flowers or foliage with purple color
Cinnamon Basil : Strong cinnamon aroma with purple flowers. Similar in appearance to the Thai Basil, its flowers and stems are a little lighter color than Thai but the cinnamon smell is unmistakable. It is also known as Mexican Spice Basil. Grows 24 to 30 inches tall. A good cut flower.
Opal Basil : This has a deep purple color and a strong clove flavor and grows to around 15 inches tall. The color often transfers to food. It is a favorite for herb vinegar as it makes a dramatic wine red color vinegar. Not as vigorous as the Red Rubin Variety.
Purple Persian Basil has green and purple leaves and dark flowers. It is highly fragrant and grows to about 18 inches.
Purple Ruffles Basil has a deep purple color and ruffled leaves. It grows to about 18 t0 20 inches and appreciates some afternoon shade. One of the most ornamental of the basils, it looks dramatic planted with bright pink, yellow or orange zinnias. The flavor is both clove and anise and has lovely pink flowers.
Red Rubin or Purple is the hardiest of the purple types and is a more reddish purple than Opal or Purple Ruffles. The clove flavor is very strong and the leaves are smooth. It grows 20 inches tall and is an outstanding ornamental plant.
Siam Queen : is a type of Thai Basil with large dramatic blooms that are flat and wide, up to 5 inches across! An excellent cut flower plant. It grows to about 24 inches tall and needs regular pruning to keep it well shaped. Cut off any flowers after they fade to keep it attractive. Strong anise flavor.
Thai Basil : also known as licorice basil or anise basil. Lovely purple flowers and deep green leaves with a strong licorice scent and flavor. Grows to about 24 inches tall. Used in drinks, stir fries, curries and salad dressings. Flowers are great for flower arrangements.
African Blue Basil is one of the largest basils, easily 36 inches tall and wide. It is usually covered in flowers. Pinch it back regularly when getting it started to make a full and attractive plant. The camphor like scent makes it unpalatable for humans but bees love the blooms. I use it frequently in ornamental beds. The stems are dark purple and the leaves are green and purple. It really is a show stopper! Give it plenty of sun. There is no need to prune off the flowers as it does not set seeds, but the flowers are nice as a cut flower.
Blue Spice is a new introduction with small somewhat fuzzy leaves and a slight vanilla scent mixed with clove. The flowers are a pale lavender color. It grows 16 to 18 inches tall. It is edible, but I think there are better choices for culinary use.
Holy Basil has small fuzzy leaves and pink or white flowers. The scent is very sweet and less clove like than other basils. While some people do cook with it, I tend to use it as an ornamental. Prune regularly to control seeding. This one reseeds and comes back most years. It is usually 12 to 18 inches tall. Also known as Tulsi or sacred basil it is used in religious ceremonies in India and planted around temples.