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The Practical Gardener

Basil experiment update

Posted on August 11, 2010 by Paige

Is this not the most pitiful August basil you've ever seen?

Okay, it’s a bad year for basil here in Seattle – We seem to be skipping summer altogether. An article in the paper said that we have had more low clouds this summer than any other on record (since 1951) – oh joy.

One well-grown basil plant that I had kept inside from mid-May to mid-July stopped growing (essentially) and ran to flower when placed outside. All the others either stopped growing or stopped growing and went to flower.  Sigh.

Running to flower is called bolting (running to flower, bolting, why does this action imply movement?) and some plants are more prone to it than others. Bolting is a plant’s attempt to make sure it sets seed before it dies. Lettuces bolt when things get too hot. Clearly that’s not the  problem with my basil.

Nope, my basil clearly thinks the cold of winter is on the way and it better stop all this frivolous leaf growth and put its energy into making the next generation. It is generally held that once a basil starts to flower, taste degenerates. That is certainly true for bolting lettuce. I haven’t noticed it with the basil, perhaps this is one instance in which having less-than-discerning taste buds is a plus.

I’ll post if the basils do anything unexpected in the next month (like grow) but I believe this marks the end of my experiment. Next year, I’ll make sure I keep one basil indoors and only let the rest out if we’re having a “good” summer – or I put in a cold frame. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the leaves from my puny, bolting basils, until even my taste buds rebel.

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