Loving Basil

Amazel Basil

Basil, one of my top herb favorites, is getting some bad knocks lately. Normally a cinch to grow, Basil has been plagued by fatal downy mildew, which makes it unusable.

Downy mildew disfigures the entire plant
Downy mildew disfigures the entire plant

The latest malady to hit ornamental and food plants is Basil Downy Mildew, which has appeared in the last couple of years and is sweeping through the country like wildfire. It starts with leaf yellowing, which looks like a nutritional deficiency and then spots appear and can make the entire plant inedible. Under the right weather conditions (wet, warm weather), Basil downy mildew can spread rapidly and result in complete loss of all your Basil plants. Although Peronospora belbahrii, the pathogen that causes Basil downy mildew, cannot survive our mid-Atlantic winters, it can be reintroduced on infected seed or transplants or by windblown spores. So, it is here to stay.

Mildew disfigures the entire basil plant
Mildew disfigures the entire Basil plant

Disfiguring my Basil plants by late spring/early summer, I despaired of growing this stalwart of my kitchen again. See my post African Blue and Downy Mildew for more information on this scourge.

Using Basil in many of my dishes, I always like to have some growing Basil plants on hand, but it can be hard to keep alive indoors.  I had almost given up growing it in any form and was buying the hydroponic plants at the grocery store as needed. Dried Basil is not the same flavor and addition to my cooking that I wanted.

A healthy hydroponic basil plant
A healthy hydroponic basil plant

Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and manganese, copper, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids such as beta-carotene), and vitamin C; and a good source of calcium, iron, folate, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. I had no idea this tasty herb was so good for you!

I was delighted to find a new cultivar of Basil called Amazel, a game changing plant, which is resistant to Downy Mildew. Growing in my greenhouse now, it will be planted outside as soon as the frosts subside so I can enjoy it fresh from the garden. Amazel is a hunky vigorous plant that I already have cut back twice in my greenhouse since January for pesto. Once I cut it back, fresh shoots sprout up and are ready in about 10 days to use again. I am back in the green with Amazel Basil from Proven Winners!

Amazel has excellent resistance to Downy Mildew, which will keep plants growing and producing for home gardeners throughout the entire season. Unlike typical basil, Amazel is seed sterile and therefore continues to produce leaves and shoots even after starting to flower unlike other basil varieties that focus most or all of their energy into seed production.

Amazel Basil
Amazel Basil from Proven Winners

For other basil varieties that are resistant to Downy Mildew, go to my African Blue Basil post. I am back to pesto making again!

African Blue Basil
African Blue Basil

Garden Trends and New Plants for 2019

January, right after Christmas, means MANTS (mid-atlantic nurseryman’s show), and I attend every year to see what is up and coming in the gardening world. New plants, new products, new trends, are the things that I look for in the upcoming year. It is the CES of gardening, not as exotic or techy as electronics, but still exciting and new, and way more interesting.

Discussing new products with one of the vendors, Organic Mechanics
Discussing new products with one of the vendors, Organic Mechanics

New Plants

My favorite item to look for are new plants, or new improved cultivars of old plants. I have written about ‘Party Pesto‘ a mildew resistant basil from Burpee Seeds before and found another resistant one called ‘Amazel’ from Proven Winners.

Downy mildew of basil is a destructive pathogen that develops on lower leaf surfaces, all but rendering what’s left as inedible.

'Amazel' is a new downy mildew resistant Basil
‘Amazel’ is a new downy mildew resistant basil

‘Amazel’ is a basil that is resistant to basil downy mildew, and because it doesn’t flower early in the season, produces more foliage in July and August than most plants. The plants grow 24 to 36 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide. This is on my list to plant this year as I love basil and have had unsightly crops for the past couple of years.

Basil downy mildew
Basil downy mildew

‘Rockin Fuschia’ annual Salvia from Proven Winners caught my eye right away with glossy dark green leaves, and profuse bright pink flower wands that covered the plant. Salvias are one of my favorite plants because of the non-stop blooming and deer resistant traits, but this one stopped me in my tracks. Stockier and more compact than the taller forms, this would be perfect in a container.

Salvia 'Rockin Fuschia'
Salvia ‘Rockin Fuschia’
Truffula Gomphrena
Truffula Gomphrena

Gomphrena  Truffula also caught my eye because these are long bloomers, dry well, and last a long time as a fresh cut.This a tough and durable airy annual. I have written about ‘Pink Zazzle’ Gomphrena, another gomphrena. which I love and is a great looking plant, but I have trouble keeping it alive as it needs dry conditions with perfect drainage.

'Pink Zazzle' Gomphrena
‘Pink Zazzle’ Gomphrena

I was ready for another Gomphrena with easier care. Truffula is a large multi-branched plant which mounds up and is literally covered with flowers and I hope this one fits the bill.

Another plant that appealed came from Terra Nova Nurseries, Artemisia Makana. A soft grey pillowy plant that you could sink into, Makana would be wonderful in mixed containers.

 Artemisia Makana from Terra Nova
Artemisia Makana from Terra Nova

NewGen Boxwood is high on my list of shrubs to try this year. Boxwood blight/leafminer resistant, attractive, and deer proof are all traits that I am looking for in my landscape design business. Introduced by Saunders Brothers who spent years developing it, NewGen will definitely  be on my list this spring.

Sandy’s Plants was introducing a new Arum ‘Pamela Harper’ with a beautifully patterned leaf. An under-used shade perennial that bears wonderful red berries in the fall, deer won’t browse on it. A great ground cover that will add beauty with foliage and berries, I will look for this one in the spring.

Sandy of Sandy's Plants in Virginia
Sandy of Sandy’s Plants in Virginia
Pamela Harper Arum

A New Invasive

The MD Department of Agriculture had a large display on the dreaded Spotted Lantern Fly which is moving south from Pennsylvania into Maryland. A scourge for crops, especially hops, grapes, and fruit trees, I have seen this insect in Pennsylvania and they are expected to hit us home in Maryland soon.

Spotted Lantern Fly
Spotted Lantern Fly

An invasive with no known predators and laying eggs in the host plant Tree of Heaven, another invasive, I am not looking forward to this onslaught. But it looks like the MD Dept of Agriculture is on top of it with tons of information to give out.

The spotted lantern fly is actually a beautiful insect
The spotted lantern fly is actually a beautiful insect

New Products

Root Pouch makes great seed starters
Root Pouch makes great seed starters

I have written about Root Pouches before and they continue to wow me. Great for Micro Greens which continue to be a huge health trend, these sustainable alternatives to plastic pots, are useful for many situations.

Root Pouches
Root Pouches

Hydroponics continues to be strong and I can see a Millennial having one of the new hydroponic carts on display in their apartment growing greens and herbs. No soil required is attractive, and growing a lot of edibles in a small space with no additional watering is the perfect solution for busy people. Fresh healthy greens at your fingertips all year round!

AutoCrops' hydroponic set up called LF-ONE
AutoCrops’ hydroponic set up called LF-ONE

Garden Trellis & Fence, Co. was a new vendor this year. They solve the problem of tall-growing plants and vines. The trellis system allows you to plant large plants in a smaller footprint using their easy put-together(no tools!) trellis system. How many times have you planted a tomato and it grows quickly to the top of the cage and then drapes over becoming this huge cumbersome plant? Supporting your tomato plants to grow up rather than out sold me on this hot dipped galvanized trellis system that won’t rust and can be left in place all year-long.

Garden trellis system
Garden trellis system

 

New Services

Best Bees
Best Bees

Have you always wanted honeybees on your property but were afraid of the upkeep and the work involved? Best Bees is for you! A company that installs and maintains beehives on residential or commercial properties, they will make sure you have honeybees that you can watch and enjoy the honey benefits but not lift a finger! Yes, it costs money, but if that is your dream, then you can use this company’s services.

You can even get a custom paint job on your hive to duplicate your house
You can even get a custom paint job on your hive to duplicate your house

Another unique service is Bower & Branch, an online service that delivers ordered plants to a local garden center for pick up. Trees, shrubs, perennials, ornamental grasses are available. Their plants on display were beautiful and you can get unusual things that a local garden center won’t carry. How many times have you lusted for a plant but it isn’t available locally? I can see the benefits of this right away. I need to try it!

Bower & Branch is an e-commerce solution for independent garden centers
Bower & Branch is an e-commerce solution for independent garden centers

African Blue Basil and Basil Downy Mildew

African Blue Basil

Everyone knows and loves the wonderful basil plant and its many uses, notably pesto. Pungent pesto made from fresh basil is a wonderful accompaniment to pasta, bread, and just about any other food that you can find to slather it on. But African Blue Basil amps up the flavor switch a notch. It has a “licoricey” or almost a camphor or anise flavor that is hard to describe. The added benefit for me is that African Blue is not susceptible to Basil Downy Mildew which is running rampant throughout the United States.

Opal basil showing signs on the lower leaves of Basil downy mildew
Opal basil showing signs on the lower leaves of Basil downy mildew

African Blue Basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum ‘Dark Opal’) is an accidental hybrid between an East African basil that is native to Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda that is valued for its exquisite scent, and a garden variety basil called ‘Dark Opal’, known for it eggplant purple coloration. It is a hybrid so it can only be grown from cuttings, not seed.

That is why African Blue has plum undertones and speckles, and has its unique aromatic taste. And contrary to what some people  believe, it is very edible, in fact quite delicious as pesto.

The makings of African Blue pesto
The makings of African Blue pesto

Edible Landscaping

African Blue Basil is a very decorative plant and would fit right in with the craze of edible landscaping; you can eat it –  plus it is beautiful! Every part of the plant is edible-stems, flowers, and leaves. Covered with blooms all summer long, the slender flower spikes of violet buds open to lavender flowers.

Slender wands of flowers decorate the plant all summer long
Slender wands of flowers decorate the plant all summer long

A regimen of nipping the flowering stalks off a basil plant is normal for any other varieties but not African Blue. You want those flowers for garnishes so this is a strictly “leave it alone” plant. The 1- to 2 1/2-inch long leaves are a slightly grayed green hue with amethyst spattering on their undersides. The plant grows up to 2 feet tall  and is much bushier than regular basil varieties. One rooted cutting will supply you with plenty of pesto and edible flowers all season long. Throw the edible flowers into salads for a flavor sensation. Go to my post on Eat Your Flowers! for more ideas.

African Blue Basil
African Blue Basil

Cultivation

Plant African Blue Basil transplants in spring when all danger of frost is gone in a sunny spot and step back and let nature take its course. It will do well in a container and behaves well with other plants. Like all basils, it likes hot, hot sun and good drainage.

Pinching off the tips of basil stems makes the plant branch out laterally. Since this basil is a sterile hybrid, you can only purchase plants, not seeds. When you bring home your young plant,  pinch out its center stem to start this process. I naturally harvest it all season long for pesto and salads so the plant gets very bushy and lush. Don’t be afraid to pinch it to avoid floppiness later.

 

African Blue Pesto Recipe 

Place in your food processor: 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup water, 1/4 cup raw pine nuts, 3 cloves of garlic, chopped coarsely, and 2 cups of basil leaves, stems and flowers, chopped coarsely and packed lightly into the measure. Blend well, stirring large bits back into the mixture and reblending as needed. Transfer the mixture into a bowl and stir in 3/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Add a sprinkling of grated black pepper. And sit back and enjoy this concoction on your pasta! You can keep this in the fridge with a layer of olive oil on top for a couple of weeks or freeze it. I freeze it in ice-cube containers for ease of removing throughout the winter.

Basil Downy Mildew

The latest malady to hit ornamental and food plants is Basil Downy Mildew, which has appeared in the last couple of years and is sweeping through the country like wildfire. It starts with leaf yellowing, which looks like a nutritional deficiency and then spots appear and can make the entire plant unusable. Under the right weather conditions (wet, warm weather), basil downy mildew can spread rapidly and result in complete loss of all your basil plants. Although Peronospora belbahrii, the pathogen that causes basil downy mildew, cannot survive our mid-Atlantic winters, it can be reintroduced on infected seed or transplants or by windblown spores.

Basil leaves infected with basil downy mildew
Basil leaves infected with basil downy mildew
Sweet Basil starting to be infected with Basil Downy Mildew at the base and then it moves up the plant
Sweet Basil starting to be infected with Basil Downy Mildew at the base and then it moves up the plant

It seems like every basil I plant gets the infection soon after planting, but the African Blue one remains immune for me. I love using Basil in cooking and this really upsets me as there is no known cure, other than applications of fungicides which are know to be damaging to bee populations. Even fungicides are not effective when the weather is wet and warm like it has been all spring and summer.