It's official! Spring has finally arrived, and we have been enjoying some beautiful weather here at the Crossroads. We started several large projects last week, but I managed to find some time to tidy up my herb garden.
And I thought that I would pass along some herb growing tips since some of you may be thinking about growing some herbs, too.
This is what my herb bed, which is located inside our vegetable garden, looked like before I spent a little time in it this week. It felt good to get the winter weeds pulled, the dead material cleaned out, and the soil prepared for planting. You can see a little green poking out from the old BBQ grill where the perennial herbs are beginning to grow again.
What an amazing difference, right?
Just about any food tastes better when prepared with fresh herbs, and there's no better way to get them than to grow them yourself. And most culinary herbs are easy to grow with minimum effort and can be successfully grown in containers or in the ground.
My herb bed measures about 3 feet x 7 feet so you can see that you don't need a lot of space. And there's a reason why I put some of my herbs in containers and some go in the ground.
So if you want to grow some herbs, just follow these tips below and you'll have more than enough for you and your family.
1. Choose a sunny spot with good drainage
Most herbs love the sun and don't want to be too wet. Whether you are using containers or are planting your herbs in the ground, you must make sure that the soil drains. If you're using pots, just fill them with regular potting soil. But if you're planting in the ground, make sure that you're not planting your herbs in a boggy spot.
2. Don't make the soil too rich or fertilize too much
Herbs are used to growing in "lean" soils so you don't really need to amend your soil unless you adding sand to help with drainage. I added a shovel full of our compost to my bed only because I grew herbs in this spot last year. Otherwise, I never fertilize them through the growing season. However, if you grow your herbs in pots, you may need to add a weak solution of fertilizer to your plants after about 6 weeks since watering will leach out the minerals in your soil.
3. Know which herbs are perennials and which are annuals
When thinking about which herbs you want to grow, it's nice to know that once you get some of them established, you can enjoy them for a number of years. Some common herbs that are perennial in most areas are rosemary, chives, thyme, and mint.
4. Locate your herbs close to your kitchen
The more accessible your herbs are, the more likely you are to use them in cooking. Growing some in window boxes or pots near your back door are the best places as long as you have plenty of sun. There's nothing better than walking outside and picking some of your own fresh herbs to use in a dish.
5. Plant seedlings rather than sowing seeds
Many herbs are easy to grow from seed, but the problem is that you will have WAY more plants than you need if you start with seeds. For about the same price as a packet of seeds, you can buy a seedling and will be able to harvest much more quickly. If you grow from seeds, you will have to thin your herbs and it is always really, really hard for me to thin something that's already growing. Plus, I have found that having one or two plants of each type of herb is more than plenty.
6. If you've never grown herbs, start with basil
Basil is such a wonderful herb to start with for many reasons. Wait until the soil is warm to plant it. A good rule of thumb is to plant basil about the same time that tomatoes are planted which would be after all danger of frost has passed.Basil is the perfect compliment for so many summer dishes and it's easy to grow even if you don't know what you're doing! It does well in pots or in the ground but allow at least 1 foot of space for your plant. Basil will tell you when it needs watering. It will get a little droopy but it will recover nicely when it gets water. Harvest leaves from the top rather than the bottom and if you pinch off new growth right ABOVE a spot where you see new leaves sprouting from the stem, you'll create a bushier, more compact plant. Harvest often to keep it in its growing cycle, and if you see a flower, snip it off.
This photo was taken last October. As you can see, basil plants can get quite large and I had gotten lax in snipping off those flowers. That's ok because bees love them.
7. Know that some herbs are invasive
There are a few herbs that will spread and take over a garden spot! Mint is especially invasive. I have mine planted in a concrete pot that doesn't even have a drainage hole. Mint must be planted in pots to contain it, and be sure keep a saucer under the pot as well. The roots will climb out the drainage hole and the next thing you know, you will have mint sprigs popping up everywhere! Also, don't put mint in a pot with other herbs because it will just take them over. Chives, oregano, and thyme will spread as well so it's best to grow them in containers.
8. Don't over-water herbs
Most herbs like to be kept on the dry side. Over-watering can be just as bad as under-watering. The exceptions are mint and cilantro. They seem to require a little more water than others. But keep in mind that plants planted in clay pots will dry out much more quickly in hot weather than others. Just stick your finger down in the soil about 2 inches, and if it's dry, your plant needs water.
9. Allow plenty of space for your plants
Be sure to read the labels on your herbs to determine space requirements, but here is a good guide. Allow 3-4 feet for rosemary, sage, mint, oregano, and marjoram. Basil, thyme, and tarragon need at least 2 feet with cilantro, chives, dill, and parsley requiring 1 foot.
If you are planting your herbs in the ground, it is a good idea to sketch out your area to make sure you're allowing enough space for them. In my small area, I usually plant 2 of everything except for lemon thyme and cilantro. I've always found that 1 of each of those is always enough.
My one rosemary bush is located in a different corner of the garden. It's about 4 years old at this point, but you can see how much it spreads.
10. Plant cilantro early in the spring
Cilantro likes cool weather so it's best to grow it from a seedling rather from seeds in our area. When it gets hot here, cilantro goes to seed very quickly. I just usually pull it out of my bed, allowing more space for something else to grow. Cilantro is one of those herbs that people either hate or love. Did you know that people are genetically predisposed to either like it or not? And a few people are allergic to it. Cilantro is a natural cleansing agent and some people consume large amounts of it in order to cleanse their bodies of toxins. But consuming too much of it can be very dangerous!
11. Harvest early in the morning with scissors
Once you get your herbs growing, harvest them early in the morning just after the dew has dried. That's when the essentials oils and flavors are most concentrated. Using scissors helps you to make clean cuts instead of mangling the stems.
12. Plant flowers among your herbs
Ok, this is not really a growing tip but one I just like. Last year I interspersed flowers such as violas, marigolds, nasturtiums, snapdragons, and English daisies among the herbs, and they added so much color and interest to the herb bed.
But the prettiest thing that I did was to throw some sweet alyssum seeds, aka "Clouds of Snow" into the bed.
I put a lot of seeds along the landscaping timbers which edge the bed, and the sweet alyssum softened the edges and bloomed all summer.
And speaking of pretty flowers, look at these chive flowers!
So gorgeous and totally edible!
Not only do herbs enhance the taste of foods, they are nutritionally good for you. I hope my herb growing tips get you started growing your own!