The summer gardening season is in full swing and gardeners have been harvesting their bounty - lettuces, tomatoes, zucchinis, peppers and herbs. Insect activity is also gearing up in the garden. As the growing degree days increase, so does the damaging effects of pests in the garden. Here are a few ways to protect one of the most popular herb in the garden - BASIL. It's loved by children and adults alike, and unfortunately, also by a few garden pests.
Basil is a tender annual herb, in the mint family, that is easy to grow, as long as it's given a fair amount of sun (6-8 hours), and its leaves are harvested regularly to encourage growth.
As a companion plant, basil planted next to tomatoes is said to help improve the flavor of tomatoes. It's also attributed with the ability to repel mosquitoes, flies, carrot fly, whiteflies and asparagus beetles. So go ahead and plant basil next to carrots, and asparagus as well.
Children are not the only ones who like to chew on basil leaves. Basil is susceptible to certain insect damage. Chewed leaves and holes indicate the presence of slugs and Japanese beetles; Yellowing leaves can indicate the presence of aphids. Slugs are moisture loving creatures who will eat a diverse range of plant material. Japanese beetles are tan with metallic bluish green coloring. The beetles will eat a wide range of plant materials also. Aphids are soft bodied insects which suck the juices from leaves. Check for the presence of aphids on the stems, and the underside of leaves.
To prevent slug damage, it's best to water basil plants early in the morning so that the soil will be dry by evening. Slugs like moist soil and are active in the evening. I've been known to sprinkle crumbled egg shells around my plants in order to deter slugs. For Japanese beetles, hand pick them in the cool of early morning, (their wings will be wet with dew making it harder for them to fly away). Crush them between your fingers, or place them in a container of water, mixed with liquid dish detergent. Planting garlic around your garden has been said to deter beetles as well. Aphids can be removed from plants, with a burst of water, homemade soap spray, or the use a commercial insecticidal soap.
Larger animals such as rabbits, will also eat basil leaves, so protect plants with some form of netting, bird netting or chicken wire.
As much as we love basil in Caprese salads, as a pesto spread on sandwiches, and tossed with pasta, it's worth the extra effort to protect the plants from the damaging effects of garden pests.