They all grow easily in warm, sunny weather as tender annuals. The leaves are commonly used in cooking, but the flower buds are also edible.
Bloom Period/Days to Harvest:
You'll want to prevent your basil from blooming for as long as possible, by harvesting or pinching off the top sets of leaves as soon as the plant reaches about 6 inches in height. If the plant sets flowers, it is on its way to going to seed and will not grow bushy and fill out with a lot tasty leaves. Once a basil plant goes to seed, the existing leaves lessen in flavor, so don't be afraid to cut and use it. The flowers are edible, too. So don't despair if a few plants get ahead of you.
- 'Cinnamon' or 'Mexican Spice' - Green foliage, purple flowers, with a spicy, cinnamon scent.
- 'Finissimo Verde a Palla' & 'Spicy Clove' - Quick growing compact plants that are great for containers and edges.
- 'Lemon' - Gives a fresh lemony tang to pesto. Small leaves can be harder to harvest. The cultivar 'Sweet Lemon Dani' or 'Sweet Dani' has lemon flavor and larger leaves.
- 'Red Rubin' - Keeps purple color throughout the season with great flavor. Wonderful in vinegars.
'Genovese' - Larger leaves than 'Sweet Basil', with all the flavor.
Space plants about 10" apart. They will bush out. Begin pinching the tops off once the plants reach about 6" in height. If you don't pinch or harvest, the plants will grow tall and gangly, with few leaves and will bolt to seed.
Basil is very sensitive to frost and will be one of the first plants to go in the fall. You can extend the season slightly by covering your plants with row covers when frost is threatened. Don't let the row cover touch the leaves. Frost on the outside of the row cover is enough to damage the tender leaves and is to likely turn them black.
If you live in a frost free area, you might want to allow some basil plants so set flowers and self-seed in your garden. Not all varieties will do this successfully.
Growing Indoors: You can grow basil indoor, from seed, seedling or cuttings from your vegetable garden plants. Provide direct sunlight and warmth and feed monthly. An underfed basil plant, indoors or out, will have pale green leaves.
Problems: Aphids are the biggest basil pest, especially if grown indoors. Beetles and slugs can be a nuisance outdoors, tearing holes in the leaves.
Harvesting: Frequent harvesting or pinching of the leaves will keep your basil plants producing longer. You can pinch off individual leaves or take the tops off of large plants, if you need a large amount.
Uses: Basil can be used in cooking, generally added at the end to keep its fresh taste and color. Basil can also be used fresh in salads, on sandwiches or even as a wrap, for instance around cheese cubes.