Summertime is basil time in the Southwest. The nights stay warm, the sun shines for hours on end and the soil temperatures rise – all conditions that basil love. Originally native to India, basil is now grown around the globe wherever (and whenever) it is warm enough. Basil in not as picky as some plants but it does have some specific preferences if it is to thrive.
Soil should be a rich, well-drained loamy soil that is high in organic matter. Sandy soils drain too quickly and clay soils become waterlogged and don’t hold oxygen well. Either case makes for unhappy basil plants. Ideal soil pH is 6.2 to 7.0. Most desert soil is around pH 8.0. Add ample organic matter or grow your basil in large containers with potting soil.
Light preference is for around 8 hours per day, but since we a blessed with more than that, ideally provide noon or afternoon shade. The east side of a home is a good place to plant basil.
Temperature range is ideally between 55 to 95 degrees F. This gets back to providing some afternoon shade to reduce heat-stress on the plant. Basil can’t take freezing. Thus many of us must replant our basil every spring. If you grow basil in large pots, you could move it to a sheltered site for winter.
Water needs keep basil off the xeriscape plant list. Provide ample moisture for healthy flavorful, not bitter, basil. Basil that tastes bitter is a sign of water stress.
For best basil productions, fertilize. Basil does best with high levels of nitrogen mixed with all the other major and minor nutrients. Our desert soils lack only nitrogen. Adding ample organic matter or growing basil in containers generally solves this.
There are over 150 varieties of basil. If first you don’t succeed – try a different variety! Find the one that does well for you in your yard and your style of plant care. For my tendency towards minimal care gardening I grow the variety called ‘Mrs. Burns Famous Lemon Basil’ an Heirloom variety. Renee’s Garden Seeds has that variety and more – and you can order them [[here]] through this affiliate link.
To learn more about growing basil, consider my book “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening” (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there I will get a few pennies. I am available to speak to your group. Learn more here.
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