The Plant Man: sweet basil for culinary flavor and plumeria for colorful aromatic blooms

By Steve Kawaratani

“In early June the world of leaf and blade and flowers explodes, and every sunset is different.” –John Steinbeck

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Photos courtesy of Steve Kawaratani

Steve Kawaratani

As June graces Laguna with her longer days and recently sunny skies, just in time for the summer solstice, our gardens are favoring us with culinary flavor and colorful splendor. A couple of my favorite plants caught my attention this week – Sweet Basil and Plumeria, also known as Frangipani. Whether you have a backyard oasis or a tidy container garden on a balcony, these plants will flourish and bring joy to your horticultural pursuits.

Sweet Basil, with its aromatic leaves and delightful flavor, is a staple herb in our kitchen gardens. It thrives in Laguna and most other locales, making it a perfect complement for your homegrown edibles. It thrives in warm weather and clear skies; select a sunny spot in your garden that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day, and if you’re inland under a summer heat dome, provide some shade during the hottest part of the day.

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Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a culinary herb of the mint family. Remove flowers to keep the plant from going to seed prematurely.

Like most herbs, basil prefers well-draining soil that is kept consistently moist, however, avoid overwatering. It’s best to water the plants in the morning and avoid wetting the leaves to discourage foliar diseases. Fertilize monthly with a fertilizer formulated for vegetables.

Regular pruning encourages bushier growth and removal of the flowers keeps the plant from going to seed too soon. Pinch off the top leaves to encourage side shoots and harvest leaves frequently, not removing more than one-third of the plant at a time.

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Bring a touch of the tropics to your garden with Plumeria (Plumeria rubra) – a stunning and aromatic bloomer

The fabulous Plumeria, with its beautiful clusters of fragrant flowers, brings a touch of the tropics to our gardens. It is native to Mexico, Central America, Colombia and Venezuela (not Hawaii), and blooms profusely during the summer in Laguna’s subtropical climate.

Plumeria requires as much direct sunlight as can be provided, preferably at least six hours per day, however, they will become deciduous during colder weather. I recommend planting new plants in Cactus Mix as they will appreciate a coarse medium that drains well. Water deeply but infrequently, allowing the top two inches of soil to partially dry before watering again.

Pruning your Plumeria is generally not necessary unless you want to shape the plant, remove crossed branches or cut off dead branches. Plumerias bloom during the warmer gardening seasons, always rewarding gardeners with a vibrant floral display. Fertilize monthly through October with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer to ensure healthy growth and encourage abundant blossoms.

As spring yields to summer, plants offer both taste and beauty to our gardens. With a modicum of care and attention, Sweet Basil and Plumeria reward us with gastronomic essentials and stunning blooms. Treat your garden well and see you next time.

Steve Kawaratani, a regular columnist with Stu News Laguna, has been a local guy for seven decades and likes to garden and drive the Baja Peninsula with Catharine and Loki. He can be reached at or 949.494.5141.

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