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Over the Garden Fence

Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard.

Herbs in the Home Garden

Posted by Sarah Navrotski -

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

The garden catalogs have been out on the table awhile, maybe even "dog eared" a bit form all the reading and circling of plants you are considering. Hopefully some of those circles have been around the herbs that flavor our food or make our homes more inviting. Herbs are pretty versatile when it comes to getting them grow. Herbs do well in containers on the patio or in the ground in the garden or a spot just outside the kitchen or back door. A newer trend is to get the herbs into the landscape, where you do not have to make a new bed. Any herb can be in the landscape, yet some gardeners will create a color garden within the landscape bed using herbs like wormwood and artemesia.

Culturally herbs are easy to grow. Since they typically naturally contain oils, most insects leave them alone. Like vegetables they do best with lots of sunlight during the day and a well drained soil. Herbs do not require a high level of soil fertility, so that can be a bonus if the location you have does not have the best soil.

If you like to cook, herbs like sage, basil, thyme, dill and tarragon make a lot of sense to grow. Fresh herbs in a meal can really add some punch to the flavor of dish. If you want to go out in the yard and smell the herbs you have, then a scented garden should be planned using mints (watch out because they can spread), lemon balm, and scented geraniums.

Growing herbs in a container means the potting soil should have good drainage, just like your flower pots. Water them well until water comes out the bottom of the pot. If you have a saucer beneath, empty that after a few minutes so the roots do not remain water logged. Herbs grown in the ground will need little more than water and sunlight. Herbs grown in a container will need some fertilizers to maintain good growth given the limited soil they have to grow in.

Herbs can be annuals or perennial forms. Container gardens will likely contain mostly annuals since it will be harder to over winter a perennial in a pot. Annual herbs will need to be harvested regularly, sometimes more often and in amounts greater than you need in the kitchen. These can be dried and used at a later time. When harvesting your perennial herbs, more of the plant will need to be left in place. You can expect to harvest the perennial herbs a couple of times a season. The first harvest should be done just before the plants flower for best flavor content and then again late summer. Many gardeners will harvest and dry the second time for use later in the colder months.

There are many ways to dry your herbs and much has been written on that subject. The basic idea is to remove the moisture as quickly as possible. The internet will reveal methods for tray drying, drying with artificial heat, and bag drying. There is even a way to do prepare the fresh herbs for freezing.

If you have not yet circled any herbs from the catalog, reconsider what might end up in your garden this year and experiment with just one or two of the more common ones or put in a musical garden of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

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