Garden Planner: Basil Basics

Because We Enjoy This Popular Herb Year-Round

In hot weather, annual basil goes to seed prematurely. For a bounty of flavorful leaves, pinch off flower stalks before they bloom. To enjoy this popular herb year-round, try perennial basils like ‘African Blue,’ ‘Amethyst’ or ‘Greek Columnar,’ suggests Holly Pearson of Pearson’s Gardens & Herb Farm in Vista. Leave flowers on these handsome plants to be enjoyed by pollinators. In cooler coastal conditions, heat-loving basils grow slowly and are prone to mildew, so avoid overwatering. New ‘Wild Magic’ basil, part of the Herbalea series from Germany, is said to thrive in cool-summer areas and retain flavor with flowering. They are available from Annie’s Annuals at 

Bloomin’ Cactus
Succulent lovers are not necessarily fans of prickly cacti. Tom Jesch of Waterwise Botanicals (
hopes to change that with a new line of showy prickly pears (Opuntia). The rapid succession of short-lived, peony-like
blooms covers them in flowers for months at a time. “And some of the plants are almost thornless,” Tom says. Here are six
to try.

1. ‘Pina Colada’ Changing flower colors pop on this green-paddled prickly pear. From March until May, 3-inch-wide flowers open yellow and then turn pink. Shrubs
can grow up to 6 feet wide.

2. ‘Desert Skies’ — Blooms on this shrub cactus are “shades of a desert sunset,”
Tom says. It bursts into bloom for several months in the spring.  

3. ‘Orange Chiffon’ — Plant this almost thornless, 2-foot-tall prickly pear in a container where you can enjoy its orange sherbet-hued blossoms up close.
4. ‘Nel Pastel’ — Another smaller prickly pear, ‘Nel Pastel’ has olive green pads and 3-inch-wide, soft pink flowers. It stays around 2 feet tall and wide.
5. ‘Mon Cherry’ — Gleaming green, almost thornless pads show off hot pink flowers in spring. It is ideal for containers at 1 1/2 feet tall and 2 feet wide. 

Grass With Sass
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), a native of India with a pungent lemon scent, is a plus in Southeast Asian fare. Add the perennial to herb gardens for a year-round supply of the tender inner stems chopped for cooking. T rouble-free and ornamental, lemongrass forms 3-foot-tall-and-wide clumps of arching, bright green leaves, often blushed with purple in cool weather. Grow it in the ground or a container in a sunny site. Provide additional water in hot weather, especially inland. Harvest bulbous stems at ground level, discarding the top two-thirds. Maintain its good looks by pulling out and discarding dried, brown clumps. Mature lemongrass plants are easily divided to share with foodie friends.

Shunning Pesticides
Garden-care giant Ortho plans to eliminate from its products a class of chemicals widely thought to harm pollinating bees. But gardeners don’t have to wait; they can stop using pesticides with neonicotinoids, or neonics, now. These chemicals that attack insects’ central nervous systems often are implicated in the dramatic honeybee decline in recent years. The decision by Ohio-based Ortho affects eight of its products, starting in 2021. Many more frequently used insecticides by Bayer Advanced and other companies also contain neonics. Avoid using products whose labels list ingredients like imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam and dinotefuran.  

Learning Livability

Sustainable landscape guidelines are spelled out in a 60-page report compiled by the City of San Diego, San Diego County Water Authority, California American Water and the Association of Compost Producers. To help homeowners plan sustainable land-scapes, a series of four classes is being offered around the county. A three-hour design workshop also is available. Details and signups for both, as well as a link to the report, are at

Leafing Through Pages 
Cooks who garden and gardeners who cook benefit from in-depth descriptions of 97 herbs, familiar and unusual, in The Culinary Herbal by Susan Belsinger and Arthur O. Tucker (Timber Press, 2016). In addition to growing advice, the book instructs on how to preserve favorites and use them to flavor giftable vinegars, syrups and such. 

LEI OF THE LAND Say aloha to Hawaii’s signature scent by adding fragrant frangipani or plumeria to your garden. T ropical Plumeria rubra loves the sun and thrives in containers or the ground with infrequent deep watering. Elegant star-shaped flowers used for leis and wedding bouquets vary from ivory to creamy yellow, pink, coral and multicolored pastels. See and smell plumeria’s many variations at the Hawaiian Plumeria Festival, the annual show and sale of the Southern California Plumeria Society, held over Labor Day weekend (Sept. 3-4) in Room 101 of Casa del Prado in Balboa Park. Find information at

Anti-ant Tactics
A hot-weather menace, ants invade potted plants. To drive them away, flood the con-tainer several times with water; then insert ant stakes. To eliminate colonies, use bait stations with insecticides. Information on ants and other summer insect pests can be found at

And don’t forget to:
•  Water natives as little as possible to avoid attacks by fungi that thrive in warm, wet soils.
•  Feed blooming iris with low-nitrogen fertilizer and water deeply once a week to keep flowers
•  Watch for signs of stress in potted succulents, including shriveled leaves. When watering,
ensure moisture reaches parched roots.
If possible, move pots to areas with afternoon shade.
•  Take advantage of early-bird deals offered by many bulb com-panies. Store bulbs in a cool,
dry, dark place until planting time in fall.
•  Clear brush before Santa Ana winds blow.
•  Feed tropicals and other heat-loving plants. Water thoroughly before applying fertilizer.
•  Prune stone fruit trees when this year’s harvest is complete to maintain manageable size and
handsome shape.
•  Learn how to renew gardens with sustainable planting and water harvesting in an Aug. 27
class at The Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon. The class costs $10, but is free for
members. Find details at
•  Attend the Aug. 8 meeting of the San Diego Horticultural Society to learn about the plight of
monarch butterflies from Ecolife Foundation founder Bill Toone. Details are at 

Categories: Garden Guide, Gardening