Growing an Herb Garden

Growing an Herb Garden

Article by Kate McIntyre

Home growing of herbs is gaining in popularity as more and more herbs are being enjoyed dried in fragrant sachets and potpourris.

Herbs are very easy plants to grow and can even be grown indoors.

They require little care and space,have few insect and disease problems and require only moderate fertility levels. Thus,growing herbs has become continuing and satisfying hobby for many home gardeners.

When beginning an herb garden, it is important to choose a proper site. An optimal site is one where the herb garden receives at least 4 to 6 hours of sunlight a day.

Herbs will grow well under a wide range of soil conditions, with the exception of extremely wet,poorly drained soil. Popular herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme require a well-drained but moderately moist soil. Poorly drained soil can be improved by modifying or amending the soil or by use of raised beds. Although they have little fertility requirements, herbs do better in soils of low to medium fertility.

The garden site should be prepared in the same manner as a vegetable garden: spaded to a depth of 6 to 12 inches, leveled and raked to remove any large clods and debris. The size of the garden depends largely upon the quantity of herbs desired; a good size for an average kitchen herb garden is 4 by 20ft.

More common herbs, such as dill, basil and parsley are usually available from local seed dealers, and those that are less common may be purchased from companies specializing in herbs. Annuals usually grown from seed tend to grow, flower and produce seed during one season and then die. Biennial herbs grow for two seasons, flowering the second year only,and perennial herbs overwinter and flower each season.

Summer care includes weed control and provision for adequate moisture. Mulch is an attractive and effective means of controlling weeds and maintaining constant soil moisture and temperature for the root systems. Mulches include bark chips or shredded bark,compost, ground corn cobs, pecan hulls or dried grass clippings and should be applied at least 3 inches deep around the plants.

Some recommended varieties for use in planting include:

Balm, Lemon (Melissa Officinalis)

* Uses: Herb and iced teas, leaves gloss and scent on wood furniture* Description: Heart shaped, light, bright green leaves, yellow or white flowers, strong lemon scent* Culture: Started from cuttings or seed in spring or early fall, harvest just before flowering stage, leave 2 to 3″ of stem above ground

Basil, Sweet (Ocimum basilicum)

* Uses: Small culinary uses for both leaves and seeds* Description: Blue green, feathery foliage, grows 2 to 4 ft. tall, tiny yellow blossoms* Culture: Started from seed, April through July. Sow in a well-drained, sunny place, thin the seedlings to 8 to 10 inch spacings

Lavender (Lavandula vera)

* Uses: Lovely subtle fragrance, used in sachets and perfumes* Description: Somewhat woody perennial, grows from 1 1/2 to 3 ft. tall, bluish lavender flowers* Culture: Propagate by means of cuttings or layered divisions of three year old plants, dry, well drained sunny location in alkaline soil, harvest as bloom opens

Mint: Peppermint (Mentha piperita) and Spearming (Mentha apicata)

* Uses: Many culinary uses and used as ingredients in potpourris and sachets* Description: Upright growing, reach 2 ft. in height. Peppermint has dark green leaves, reddish stem and lavender flowers. Spearmint is lighter green with pink flowers. Both emit a warm, spicy scent.* Culture: Easily propagated by division of clumps, space at 2 foot intervals, harvest entire plant by cutting the shoots to i inch above ground just before flowering.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

* Uses: Major ingredient in Italian and Mexican main courses* Description: Sprawling stems, may reach 2 ft. in heigth, 2 to 4 in. clusters of small, purple-pink flowers* Culture: Grows well in poor soil and can be propagated by seed or division, flavor is best just after the flower buds form

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

* Uses: Culinary and as garnish* Description: Two tupes-curled and Italian. Curled has tightly curled foliage while Italian has broad, flat leaves and stronger flavor* Culture: Plant seeds in early spring in medium-rich soil, can be harvested as soon as the plants are 6 inches tall. Leaves may be stored fresh in a jar in the refrigerator or dried for later use.

Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis)

* Uses: A cooking herb, used dried or fresh* Description: Evergreen shrub that reaches a height of 2 to 4 feet. Needle-like, leathery, dark green leaves with a gray undersurface. Flowers are pale lavender blue and the whole plant has a “balsamic smell”.* Culture: Propagation by means of cuttings 4 to 6 inches long, well drained soil containing lime. Soil must be kept moist.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

* Uses: Culinary-aromatic and slightly bitter* Description: Shrubby with oblong, wooly, wrinkled gray green leaves; grow to a height of 2 feet and sprawl unless kept trimmed. Lilac blue flowers.* Culture: Can be started from seeds, cuttings or from crown divisions and planted in sunny location when they are 3 to 4 inches tall. Harvest before plants bloom or cut the stems 6 to 8 inches long and hang to dry.

Tarragon, French (Artemisia dracunculus)

* Uses: One of truly “fine” herbs, adds special flavor to food.* Description: Grows 2 to 3 feet tall, with dark green, narrow, elongated leaves.* Culture: Plants best started from clump divisions in early spring and grown in sunny, fertile, well-drained site. Harvest for fresh in early July and again in August for drying.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) * Uses: Culinary, oil used in medicines and perfumes* Description: Low-growing, wiry stemmed, grows 4 to 8 inches tall. Stems stiff and woody while leaves are small, oval and gray green and flowers are purple clusters.* Culture: Light, well-drained soil, started from seed, cuttings or division. New plants should be started every 3 or 4 years, sometimes two or more crops can be harvested in the same season.

Some other herbs worth consideration when planting are: Borage, Caraway, Chamomile,Chervil, Coriander, Fennel, French Sorrel, Salad Burnet, Summer Savory, and Sweet Marjoram.

SOURCE: “Selected Herbs for Illinois Gardens” by James C.Schmidt and Dianne A. Noland Department of Horticulture Cooperative Extension Service,University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Agriculture

About the Author

Kate McIntyre is a writer in Portland, Oregon. She holds a B.A. from Harvard University and an M.F.A. in fiction writing from Oregon State University. She has written many informative pieces on landscaping and garden care.

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