Lynda Hallinan: Basil

Publish Date
Saturday, 28 January 2017, 11:29AM
(Getty Images).
(Getty Images).

How to grow better basil. It's the quintessential herb of summer yet it seems perversely timed to bolt to seed just as the tomatoes start coming on. A few tips:

  1. The best basil to grow is the large leafed Genovese sort, aka pesto basil. There are dozens of other pretenders, such as purple basil, lettuce leaf and Thai basil, but if it's the standard basil flavour you want, go for the variety with the biggest, greenest, lushest foliage - and that's Genovese (or Genovese Giant). 
  1. It's not too late to sow a late crop of basil but you'd be better suited to planting a few punnets of seedlings from the garden centre. Don't separate the clumps into individual seedlings as they are quite delicate - just bung them all in together and let them form little mounds. 
  1. Basil needs watering more than most herbs. If it's in a pot, give it a good soak every second day, and move it into semi-shade as one hot day can cause it significant heat stress and lead to premature bolting.
  1. All annual herbs have only one purpose in life, and it's not to make your salads taste good. It's to go to seed and propagate the species. So, as soon as you spot the central stem of the plant getting taller (going to produce flower buds), nip it off. This prolongs the life of the plant. 
  1. When harvesting, nip out the tips of each stem, which causes two new stems to grow from the buds that are left. Don't cut the stems under the leaves. 
  1. If you want to try other basils, try Mrs Burns Lemon or Greek Mini - the former is citrus-flavoured, and the later is a super cute cushion variety.