Everyday in grocery stores across America, people are standing in the herb aisle in amazement! How could such a little bottle of something cost so much! If you do decide to buy the herbs you find in the stores, chances are the taste is not what you had hoped for. Today, herbs are very popular and consumers have to dig deep to afford the herbs they need for tasteful healthier cooking, medicinal needs and crafts. Still, what other choice do you have? Grow your own! They taste great, smell great and have many uses. It’s easier than you think and with spring coming now is the time to started.
The First Step
Most herbs can grow just about anywhere. I remember many summers as a child chewing on wild mint from the yard. You too, probably have wild herbs growing in your backyard. Some herbs do well anywhere but others need specific climates and care to thrive. Choosing herbs for your climate helps ensure a successful garden. You can find your correct zone by looking at gardening websites or on your next visit to your local library. You can also call your local county agricultural office or 4-H extension agent.
Other things you will want to decide is what kind of herbs do you want to grow? What kind of herb garden do you want? Inside or outside? Formal? Informal? How do you choose plants? What methods of planting should you use?
Let’s get started
There are many types of herb gardens. Many gardeners use them all. Heres a look at a few to see what kind you would like best.
Formal Herb Gardens
These herb gardens are outside gardens and can be very beautiful. They are symmetrical in form. The designs and techniques used are often centuries old. One popular kind is the Knot garden. Herbs are planted to form a knot like design. These gardens can be planted with an eye towards color and size of plants. Beauty is combined with being useful in a formal garden.
This was my grandmothers favorite way to plant herbs. She’d tuck self sowing herbs like dill,basil,and parsley here and there among the vegetables. Her flower beds with always edged with lavender which produced beautiful purple blooms. Chives is another good choice to edge around a flowerbed. Try different things to see what works for you.
If you can,put these right outside your kitchen door so they will be close at hand to
grab for cooking. Nothing tastes better than food cooked with fresh herbs! Some good choices for a culinary garden are sweet basil, spearmint, dill, parsley, oregano, and thyme, English thyme being the one most commonly used for cooking.
Prepare soil around outside herb gardens for the best growth. I save scraps of left over peelings and such on a small compost heap. I then mix this in raised beds of soil. Once a year in the spring, I add granular fertilizer and then once again in the summer.
Many versions of herbs are just wonderful for the smells alone. You can plant this outside or inside and enjoy! Some good varieties include lemon verbena, pineapple sage and chocolate mint.
Herbs in pots
Some herbs are better in pots because outside they will spread like wildfire, putting down runners and more roots and taking over your garden. Mint is one of these.
Of course many herb gardeners, myself included have limited space outdoors if any.
Don’t worry, you can still have a wonderful herb garden by using pots, window boxes, even plastic containers. Basically anything that holds enough soil can be used. In hot climates don’t use metal containers though. They will cause the plants to dry and burn.
All containers except for unfinished wood or terra cotta will need adequate drainage holes. If you use things for small herbs like old coffee cups put a little bit of small pebbles in the bottom and be sure not to overwater. Aquarium gravel from a local pet store is good to use.
Pots that have been used before need to be washed with warm soapy water, rinsed and allowed to dry completely. This keeps any diseases the previous occupant had from spreading to the new plant.
Some use outside soil in the pots but I find in my area it is too heavy. I use a commercial potting soil.
Plants in containers get hungrier faster than their outside counterparts. They also are fed in spring and summer during their growth period but use an organic plant food and don’t overfeed.
Container plants also need more water. It will depend on the size of plant and the kind of container as to how much water is needed. Monitor each plant to see how much it takes and how quickly. Keep soil moist but not extremely wet. Don’t water directly in the hot sun. Excess cooking water makes a great drink for your thirsty herbs just be sure to let it cool first. In fact your plants will like any water at room temperature.
Herbs need plenty of sunlight. If you use artificial light remember 1 hour of real sunlight equals about 2 hours of the artificial light.
Now that you have an idea of what kind of herbs you want and where you want to plant them you’ll need to know how to choose the plants and how to plant.
In my experience seeds started indoors and then transplanted to outside gardens or inside pots grow best.
You can buy seed trays or use things from home like egg cartons or paper cups. You can make a greenhouse out of plastic deli trays or 2 liter pop bottles. This can help keep seeds and seedlings warm when the weather is still a little cooler. For the two liters just cut off the bottle half way down and after planting seeds cover loosely with plastic wrap. Keep soil moist and transplant seeds when seedlings look strong and have a second set of leaves.
Store bought seedlings
These are ready to plant directly into your garden when you take them home.
Look for unblemished plants. Check color and make sure they do not appear dried out or droopy looking. Look for more than one set of leaves. Don’t be afraid to ask the seller questions about where they got their seedlings and the methods they used to grow them.
If you already have healthy adult plants taking cuttings from them is another way to get new plants. Do this in the summer and choose a section of stem without flowers? Use a firm side stem with several sets of leaves. Cut at a slant under the lowest leaves. Remove the lower leaves on the piece that you have cut from the main plant. Then put this bare part of the cut stem in a hole in the soil in a paper cup. When the stem is strong and resists gentle pulling and has grown more leaves, replant in the garden or pot.
Some herbs like comfrey and ginger do well with this method. Take a healthy looking “root finger” or branch of the root from a healthy looking plant. put into the soil, keep well watered and in a warm sunny place. Transplant by following the guidelines you used for the cuttings.
With these basic guidelines you can be well on your way to saying good bye to those expensive bottled versions in the store. You’ll save money and have fun in the process.
When you see what herbs can do for you and how easy it is, you’ll wonder why you never started sooner!