August 13, 2012

Gimme Shelter: Shading the Basil in a Heat Wave

The basil plants do not like this 100+ heat wave we're having one bit. I've got two beds of basil in the garden and noticed last week that one of them was looking a lot better than the other. That first bed is situated next to our pomegranate tree and therefore gets some nice filtered shade throughout the day. The plants were looking happy, with big, green leaves ready to be picked and turned into pesto.

Basil growing in the shade of a fruit tree

The second bed of basil, however, was looking decidedly unhappy last week. Most plants were flowering--not a big surprise at this time of year in Davis, but I was pinching off way more flowers in the second bed than in the first. Also, the plants were spindly, the leaves were little, and the color wasn't as good as that of the plants in the other bed. Same variety.

What was the difference? Well, I had planted bed #2 about a week later than bed #1, for one thing, so those plants had a week less of growing time before the serious heat hit. More importantly, bed #2 was getting intense afternoon sun at the hottest time of the day. No matter how much water I gave them, the basil was getting zapped by those rays to the point of deciding it was time to move on to seed production.

Spindly basil in bed #2, just after pinching loads of flowers

My family loves its pesto, so in an effort to save basil bed #2, Mr. English and I grabbed a roll of shade cloth that was sitting in the greenhouse, attached it to some leftover 1 x 2 boards, attached those to the bed and--voilá--a shade shelter for the basil.

Shade shelter for the basil bed

It's not pretty, but it's getting the job done. The shade cloth looks pretty dense, maybe 60-70%, so I was a teeny bit concerned it might block too many rays. Not so. The basil looks fantastic a week later. The leaves have broadened, the plants have filled out, and while there are still some flowers showing up, there is nothing like the concentration there was prior to erecting the shelter.

This makes me think that other plants in the garden might also benefit from some shading during these intense heat waves, particularly the peppers, some of which are suffering from sun scald. I'm inspired to make a number of more permanent, but still portable, shade structures. PVC pipe as the frame might work, or to save money and recycle resources I could use up some more of those old 1 x 2s that are sitting around in the "farm junk" area of the yard.

I'm curious if anyone else has constructed temporary shade structures for their beds, or if readers have ideas for what might work. Let's hear 'em, and in the meantime, try to stay cool in today's 103 degree heat!


  1. Thanks for sharing the basil and garlic with us!

    1. No problem, and there's more where that came from if you're ready for it. Hope the pesto was tasty!