It’s Sara Everett again, guest blogging for Hilary about one of our favorite bee plants: African blue basil. In addition to sharing lots of information about this bee magnet of a plant, including how to grow it yourself at low cost, this post also includes a special announcement: the winners of the Bee-Friendly Gardens book giveaway! Congratulations to the 5 winners whose names are published at the end of the post!
“The best way to help bees is to plant flowers,” says Hilary, when people want to know what they can do to help honey bees. “The amount of forage that bees have access to is directly related to honey production and hive health.” Hilary’s advice, along with the myriad things she has taught me about bees, got me to reimagine planting flowers; seeds in hand, I can see myself as a chef to the bees, ready to serve up the best flowers. I try to make sure my garden—or bee restaurant—has tons of menu options, and it’s fun to see the bees trying out the different plants.
Flowers are a bee’s primary food and nutrition source, and a flower seems to have it all: carbohydrate-rich nectar, protein-packed pollen, and a medley of nutrients entirely unique to the flower and the type of soil it grows in. That’s why it’s not only important to plant flowers, but to plant a variety of them.
One of my favorite staple bee flowers though is African blue basil, a plant that hums with bees from sunup to sundown every day in my garden. It’s a beautiful plant, with green-purple foliage; a plump, round growing habit; a bewitching herbal smell; and an eye-catching spray of purple and white flower spikes. For a basil, it’s a surprisingly forgiving plant: if you forget to water or prune an established African blue basil, it bounces back. It also makes great cut flowers!
As a bee plant, African blue basil tops my list because it’s so easy to propagate from cuttings. For new gardeners out there, propagation from cuttings is a cloning a technique, a way to grow lots of new plants from an existing plant, that works especially well for anything in the mint family—like basil.
A cutting will sprout roots directly from the stem if placed in water and given the right conditions. I first learned the details of this technique years ago by watching CaliKim’s episode about basil propagation on YouTube. Though she teaches about Italian basil, the concepts are the same for African blue basil, and I highly recommend that you watch it if you’re interested in seeing all the steps of propagation. My tutorial below is for to African blue basil and includes lots of photos and tips specific to this type of basil.
Tutorial: How to Propagate African Blue Basil
Time Commitment: 2-5 weeks (total project duration), 30-40 minutes (active project time)
- Glass jar
- Scissors or pruners
- Mother plant
- 4-inch diameter pot or similar size container (with drainage holes)
- Potting mix
- Study your mother plant to find a branch to remove that will improve the health or shape of the mother and provide several good cuttings. I like to remove branches from dense sections to encourage airflow or to prune off some weight on a really laden branch.
- Once you have a branch, clip off all the flowers—buds included—and any damaged or dead materials.
- Inspect the branch. Identify a supple stem that’s purple or green with 4-8 leaf nodes (or more) that’s 6-10 inches long, and make a cut a quarter inch below the bottom node. A leaf node is where a pair of leaves meets the stem, and it’s the point where new branches will eventually sprout. Don’t pick a woody stem to root. Purple and green stems are the best.
- Now take a look at your cutting. The bottom 1-3 nodes will be underwater, so use your fingernails or scissors to gently snip off the leaves and buds just around those nodes. Let the other leaves be, as those will continue to carry out photosynthesis and supply the cutting with energy to grow roots.
- Repeat steps 3-4 for as many cuttings as you want. Fill your glass jar with water and stick the cuttings in, making sure that 1-3 inches of bare stems are submerged. It’s okay to crowd a bunch of cuttings in the same jar.
- Find a sunny spot you walk by at least once daily, like a kitchen windowsill. For the next 2-3 weeks, keep an eye on the cuttings. Remove any that die; keep the water level up; change the water if it becomes discolored; and wait for roots to grow.
- Once you have a lot of roots (see photos), it’s time to pot up the cuttings. This doesn’t take a lot of time, but it does take a gentle touch, especially if the roots of all your cuttings are tangled up. To pot them up, put a couple inches of soil in the bottom of the pot. Rest the roots a single cutting on top of that soil, and don’t worry about how the roots fall into place. If they’re coiled and tangled and a total mess, that’s okay. Resist the urge to spread them out. You’ll only break or bruise the delicate roots, and the plant can take care of growing more roots in the right directions. Gently sprinkle more soil on top of the roots until you fill the pot. Pack the soil down with your fingers just a little bit to stabilize the cutting, and water lightly.
- Repeat step 7 for all your your cuttings.
- Over the next 1-2 weeks, keep your potted-up cuttings in a sunny spot outside. Water gently every other day or so. Once you see lots of new growth or roots protruding from the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, the plants will be ready to give away as gifts or to transplant into your garden!
Cool Plant Fact: Why does African blue basil bloom so much?
One of the reasons it flowers so endlessly is it’s a sterile plant. Since African blue basil never produces seed, its biological clock comes to a standstill. The clock stops ticking at the flowering stage of its life. It does not make a mature seed and die, as most plants are programmed to do. This happened because African blue basil is a hybrid, a plant produced when two types of basil were crossed by a plant breeder. This resulting sterility of the plant was viewed as a good trait because it gave the plant a long season of flowers. In San Diego, where we can garden year round, African blue basil blooms every day of the year.
Now, the announcement you’ve all been waiting for:
Congratulations to the Giveaway Winners!
- Carlamcgov whose favorite bee flowers are cosmos.
- Kelsi who plants catmint for her kitties and the bees!
- Randi who was inspired by his grandmother to plant lavender.
- David from Riverside who likes thyme.
- Kate F. from Maryland who plants bee balm which is native to her state.
Winners: you will be contacted through the e-mail address you provided to make your comment.
Thank you to everyone who participated and shared the contest!