Some of Paula’s growing tips for basil are:
Wait until May to plant basil whether from seeds or transplants. Though it is tempting to plant basil in March as soon as the plants are available in nurseries, basil loves hot weather and will often be stunted if planted too early.
Basils and tomatoes are consider “companion” plants and seem to do well planted near each other. Of course, everyone knows that a basil, tomato and mozzarella sandwich is a culinary delight.
In general, basil does not like to be pampered. However a light application of a synthetic or organic fertilizer can be used to give the plants a boost as the growing season progresses.
Never prune off more than 1/3 of the plant at a time. Paula also does not recommend letting the plant go to bloom as this seems to change the flavor of the leaves.
It is best to pick basil early in the morning when there is the highest concentration of oils in the leaves. Paula either keeps the stems in water on her counter top or she washes the leaves, rolls them in paper towels and places them in the refrigerator. They will keep this way for a few days. Basil can also be frozen as ice cubes (Paula freezes the leaves in broth.)
It is best to add basil to recipes at the end of the cooking cycle to preserve more flavor.
In general, basil is a fairly hardy plant that is not attacked by many insects. However caterpillars, grasshoppers, slugs and snails, white flies and aphids can be a problem. Many of these can be controlled by organic means such as the use of Bt, Sluggo, or a strong stream of water.
Basil is also able to be used as both an aromatherapy and medicinal agent. It is said to relieve aches and pains. Essential oil of basil can be added to bath water. Paula also uses a poultice of basil on ant and bee stings. She says this helps bring down the swelling.
Some of Paula’s favorite places to find unusual varieties of basil are: Round Top’s Herb Festival which takes place the third weekend in March, NorthHaven Gardens, Central Market, Southwest Nursery, and Plants and Planters in Richardson, TX.