Homegrown: Planting basil, viburnum

I recently planted a basil plant in a pot on my front porch and it seems some kind of bug is eating it. It gets chewed down to the stem. I had this same problem when I planted the basil in my garden. There don’t seem to be bite marks. It looks more like it melted away. Any tips would be wonderful. I miss having fresh basil.


There are a number of things that might be going on here. There are several critters that do feed on the leaves of basil, but two common ones. The first one is a small caterpillar. They usually don’t take the whole leaf quickly — they may eat it all but it takes several days or even a week or more. They also usually leave a calling card of small black pellets which are their droppings.

The second one are slugs. This cool, damp spring really has encouraged these little monsters. They can consume entire leaves overnight but they will usually leave slime trails on the remaining parts of the plant.

Slugs would probably be my first guess as to what’s giving you trouble. You can sprinkle out a slug and snail product called Sluggo to take care of them. It’s safe to use around edibles like your basil.

One last possibility that I’ve seen occasionally is that the leaves are actually rotting away from a disease organism. If the plant is in a humid, moist environment (like if it’s squeezed in between other plants) there are disease organisms that will actually take entire leaves overnight. This can easily be corrected by modifying the environment so that the foliage is exposed to our naturally dry air. Ensuring good air circulation will always take care of this problem.

If none of these is striking a chord with you, bring in a piece of the plant for us to look at—we can usually tell you what’s going on.

I am told the medium-small bush that has the lovely crimson foliage in the fall is called viburnum. Does it grow relatively well here (I live in the Ridges with very sandy soil)? Also, does it flower or have any berries? What variety should I ask for when I come out to your nursery?

— Carol

Well, it might be a viburnum but then again, it might not. Viburnums tend to have pretty good fall color (generally shades of yellow, purple and maroon) but it’s usually not a vibrant, traffic-stopping hue. If that’s what you’re thinking about, it’s probably burning bush. As the name says, this plant just glows in the fall with bright crimson fall color.

Burning bush is pretty common around western Colorado and you’ll see it planted in a lot of different situations. However, I think it’s happiest when it gets a bit of shade in the afternoon. Do a good job amending the soil when you plant (they appreciate rich soil) and water regularly. Nothing extreme, regular “garden watering” is fine; just keep in mind that they’re not drought tolerant at all.

Standard burning bush is a pretty big shrub, 8 feet to 12 feet tall with age. Mostly what you see around town is a compact form of the plant that grows to 5 or 6 feet tall and just a bit wider. This plant does flower, but it’s inconspicuous. The flowers are followed by a small capsule-type fruit that splits open in the fall revealing colorful orange to red seeds inside, however, this plant is grown for its fall color—it’s spectacular.

If this isn’t what you’re thinking about, then maybe it is a viburnum. There are quite a number of them and they vary greatly in size and flower. In fact, I have a number of different ones in my yard and we’ve been enjoying the flowers immensely from the different ones for the past six weeks or so. Let me know and we can try to figure out what it is you’re looking for.


Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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