Complete Guide to Growing Herbs in your Garden
What are Herbs?
A very general definition would be ‘useful plants.” The leaves, roots, flowers, and seeds are used to provide flavors to spice up food, medicine, perfumes, cosmetics, teas, and dyes. More specifically, today we think of herbs primarily in the culinary sense, although, some are used for fragrance. Homeowners living and the cuisine that developed along with it, make the use of fresh herbs almost mandatory. Cooks soon realized they could easily grow 95% of the herbs they were buying in little bottles and also save money. They also found they could create custom herb blends, sauce, and soup mixes and salad dressings without excess salt, sugar or chemical additives — just the natural flavor of the herbs.
Where to Plant?
Locations for growing herbs are as varied as their flavors. Some adapt to cool and damp locations (mint) while others need a sunny hillside (rosemary). Growing conditions for specific varieties can be found using references such as, “The World of Herbs and Spices” by Ortho Books, “Herb Plants” from Hasenpfeffer Farms, or “Growing Herbs For Seasoning Food” from the U.C. Cooperative Extension office. Herb plants can be grouped in a kitchen garden or spread throughout your landscaping. Many herbs have foliage or flowers that make them a decorative as well as a delicious part of your garden. Most can also be grown in containers.
Even though many herb plants can exist in poor soil, quality and flavor will be greatly improved if they are grown in conditioned soil. They are intolerant of poorly drained soil If you have heavy soil, results will be better if herbs are grown in raised beds. Mix 20% ‘Paydirt’ or ‘Gold Rush Firbark Mulch’ with existing soil in beds. If pots and planters are used, Nursery potting soil is an excellent premixed planting medium and is available in several sizes.
The basic rule for watering herbs is to water deeply and infrequently. Allowing plants to become completely dry stops growth but so does constant moisture. Drip irrigation systems or soaker hoses work well for watering herbs. Drip systems can be easily adapted to water herbs in pots. Soak plants thoroughly and then allow them to become almost dry before watering again.
Many herb garden failures are the result of poor plant nutrition. Rapidly growing plants quickly deplete nutrients in the soil and if the plants grow too rapidly you will have nothing to harvest. Herbs are divided into two groups that require different diets. Leaf crops (where the primary goal is leaves) should be fertilized with a plant food high in nitrogen. A good example would be the Nursery Mastergreen (25-6-4). Root or seed crops (where the primary goal is root and seed production) should be given a food high in phosphorus and potassium. Nursery Tomato and vegetable food (5-10-10) would be ideal.
Pests & Diseases
Herbs as a group are amazingly free of pests. High oil content and pungent aromas seem to repel most insects and diseases in healthy plants. Aphid and whitefly are the two major pests and they can be quickly and safely controlled with Master Nursery Oil Spray (an organic product). It can be used up to the day of harvest on all crops. Snails are fond of some herbs. To solve this problem, ask for a copy of our sheet on “How to grow escargot.” For the non-gourmet, Pestfighter Meal will control snails, slugs, earwigs, and cutworms.
Herbs always taste best if used fresh. A pair of scissors or grass shears are handy for snipping off just the amount you need for spicing up tonight’s dinner. Take a colander out in the garden and pick and rinse your herbs right there. Most herbs respond well to regular picking as long as no more than 40% of the total plant is picked at one time.
Seasonal herbs such as basil, chives, dill or parsley may be dried or frozen for use during the “off” season. To freeze, simply remove leaves from large stems, place in a well-labeled plastic bag and freeze. Frozen herbs retain texture and flavor almost indefinitely but are best if used within 2 years’ time. Traditionally, herbs are dried by tying them in small bunches and hanging them in a place that is warm and dry but out of direct sunlight. They should be dry in 7-10 days and then stored as a whole as possible in airtight containers away from heat. Herbs also can be dried in less than an hour by spreading them on cheesecloth covered racks in an oven on the lowest setting. Leave the oven door open and stir until dry.
Almost all varieties on this list are available throughout the year. ‘P’ indicates the variety is available as plants, ‘S’ indicates seeds are available.varieties of Herbs
Growing Herbs Indoors: A How-To Guide
The warm sunshine and the fresh breezes which indicate the arrival of spring and summer can draw out the gardener in everyone. Unfortunately, it’s not always summered so having fresh herbs can be difficult. Growing herbs indoors is a very simple and effective way to get your most wanted herbs and to indulge in your gardening hobby.
Growing herbs indoors
Growing herbs indoors demands complete and focused attention from you in order to be successful. Since the plants won’t get much natural sunlight, all the other conditions need to be just right in order for you to get delicious, fragrant herbs. Here is what you need to have to make sure that you get the best herbs for your kitchen.
This is vital for the herbs. Any good soil, like Miracle-Gro Potting Mix, will be enough for your herbs. However, garden dirt should not be used. The soil which is chosen should be neutral; neither too acid nor alkaline. The best herbs are produced with a PH value of 6.5 or 7. If the value is not the required one, you can use additives to adjust it. Moreover, highly fertile soil is not a must. It is only necessary if you think you will need lots of herbs because it produces excessive foliage. Save the money on high-grade soil unless you’re feeding an entire family.
You should also ensure that your pots drain properly. Herbs need their water, but they do not want to drown in it.
Depending on the herb you are growing, harvesting them at the correct time will also be beneficial for the overall health and growth of the plant. The same applies to prune. There are different rules for every plant but generally, try to cut the stems of the herbs as close to the soil as possible to reduce the chance of disease.
Lighting and Exposure:
The biggest challenge that you, as an indoor herb gardener will encounter is the exposure and lighting which your herbs will receive. All plants need light to grow well but herbs, in particular, are highly sensitive and need the right amount of lighting. 75% of the work involved in growing herbs indoors is related to proper lighting. Northern exposure is not recommended as it provides weak light while Eastern exposure is the most ideal as it offers a bright, clear light. Western and Southern exposures are also effective but during the summer season, they might provide too much light.
Keeping the herbs on a window sill is ideal for getting the right amount of light but all light obstructions like awnings and curtains should be removed because at least six hours of clear and bright light is crucial for the herbs. If you think your plants aren’t getting enough sun, you can also always enlist the help of led grow lights.
Settling on the right water regime is fundamental for the herbs to thrive. Nonetheless, there is no fixed amount for each herb. Experimentation has to be done to judge how much water your herbs need and when. You can check the moisture with the help of a finger.
Providing nutrients to the herbs is essential. If you are planning on keeping your herbs in their pots for an extended period of time, they will need occasional feedings to keep them growing healthy and strong and full of the phytonutrients your body needs!
This is also one of the requirements of herbs. You can place your herbs on dishes which are filled with marbles, stones, and water to make sure that they get enough humidity in the air. The air around your herbs will remain moist if you build these miniature reservoirs for them.
During the day, the herbs need a temperature of 70 to 75 degree while 55 to 60 is needed in the night. For maximum survival and growth, ensure that these temperature ranges are provided.
This all may seem complicated, but growing herbs indoors becomes a very easy task when you get a grasp on the above-mentioned factors. All of them contribute to the growth and health of the herbs. You can grow a wide variety of herbs in your indoor garden. Most of them are used in cooking so you can use them in making delicious food for your friends and family. Some of the most popular herbs which are grown indoors include mint, rosemary, oregano, lemon balm, bay, thyme, and tarragon. Quit stalling – got and start your own garden!
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme
Like vegetables, the definition of an herb depends upon your point of view. To some, herbs can be any type of seasoning or medicinal plant. To the botanist, herbs are all of those plants that do not have woody stems. So if you were a botanist, everything from bamboo to palm trees could be considered an herb, because neither fit the strict definition of a woody stem.
More popularly, herbs are plants grown for aromatic, medicinal, or culinary properties. So for our purposes, herbs can be herbaceous like parsley or woody like rosemary. Some of the more well-known and frequently cultivated examples are parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, bay, basil, dill, chives, marjoram, and mint. The nice thing about herbs is that they are very hearty and grow just as easily in a pot, a garden, or a window box.
Know Your Herbs Or, the difference between sumac and poison sumac
Knowing your herbs is important for taste and health. The aforementioned sumac is used as a spice in the Mediterranean and also in different Native American preparations. The poison variety is a different matter altogether. This is one example of why it’s important to know the difference.
A few words on herbs
Your herbal misdeeds might not be as dramatic as a run-in with poison sumac, but for most people, a ruined main course is still quite a motivation.
Angelica: Angelica is a unique addition to an herb garden, it is most often used to tame the sourness of fruits such as red currants, gooseberries, strawberries, and sour cherries. It weakens the acidity of these fruits, which enhances their sweetness for use in confections and baking. Traditionally, tea made from Angelica root was used to soothe the nerves and relieve colds and congestion. (Classic Use: Strawberry Rhubarb Pie)
Basil: This is the superstar of culinary herbs. Basil’s distinction comes to it because of the complexity of flavors that the leaf imparts. Sweet basil has hints of mint, citrus, and anise that doesn’t overwhelm even in large quantities. This is why it can be used with such density in pesto sauces; it imparts flavor while enhancing those of the foods to which it is added. (Classic Use: Pesto sauce with pine nuts)
Bay Leaf: Bay leaves are often used in concert with basil in tomato sauces and soup stock. Bay leaf enhances the flavor in a way not unlike MSG but without raising concerns in regard to sodium intake and allergies. It deepens the savory notes of meat and poultry dishes. It can also be used to cook potatoes as a way of enhancing the depth of flavor and aroma, and lowering the need for salt. (Classic Use: Homemade Chicken noodle soup)
Caraway: Brought west on the Silk Road, caraway was a Chinese herb. Central and Eastern Europeans have embraced caraway and used in a number of different national foods. Caraway is an ingredient in most rye bread, from pumpernickel to Russian. It is also used to flavor cheeses such as Havarti and Bond-Ost. (Classic Use: as a flavor and texture enhancement to sauerkraut and German potato salad.)
Coriander and Cilantro: Coriander and cilantro both are from the same plant. The seeds, coriander, of the herbs are used in confections. In the US when we use the leaf of the Coriander plant we use the Spanish name, cilantro. Cilantro is used as a fresh seasoning in salads, Mexican and Asian dishes; it is also considered a Chinese herb. Knowing when and how to use herbs can make meal prep much more fun and enjoyable. (Classic Use: Cilantro is used on both tacos and Indian curries)
Marjoram: These sweet mildly flavored organic herbs are a more delicate cousin of oregano, and belong to the same plant family. Marjoram is one of the meat herbs and is a good addition to any meat stew or stock. Marjoram has a balsam-like flavor that, unlike many herbs is enhanced in its dried form. The herb should be added toward the end of cooking so its delicate flavor won’t be lost. (Classic use: Thanksgiving stuffing)
Rosemary: In many ways, rosemary is a companion to marjoram because it goes well with meat. Unlike the aforementioned herb, rosemary is best when fresh, but the dried variety is still adequate. Rosemary is a member of the mint family and shares some of the characteristics of mint but with much more subtlety. Rosemary also has tea and pine notes as well. These herbs can be used in tomato sauces and burgers to create a much more substantial yet refreshing dish. In sauces, it can be used by vegetarians as an alternative to meat so that a dish stays true to its original character.
Windowsill Herbs for Winter
In winter, there’s nothing more pleasing than a sunny windowsill full of herbs. North facing windows are particularly good sun traps, especially if you have a broad windowsill that can hold pots of mature herbs. But what really appeals to me is the chance to try my hand at some early spring sowing. I love to get a month’s start on the salad herbs like Basil, Rocket, Chives, Chervil, and Mint.
Find the Right Position
Herb seeds need a temperature of about 22° to 24°C to germinate. The ideal spot is one that gets sun for about five or six hours a day, preferably from the morning onwards so that the soil heats up. If your windowsill gets even more sun just make sure that the soil does not dry out because seeds need to be inconsistently damp, but not soggy, soil to germinate.
If your windowsill is too narrow for pots, you can take a leaf out of my granny’s book and use a moveable tea trolley, but a shelf, a table or any other flat surface in front of a sunny window will do.
Once you have identified your spot, then you need to see what you can fit on it. My preference is for small 10 cm pots but you can use almost anything, like basic seed trays or even egg boxes, where you plant a seed in each hollow.
Be aware that your herb seed trays will be competing with the cat for the winter sun. To prevent disappointment and a break down of relations, you might have to fence off the trays with plastic mesh or similar material that can be cut to size. That’s why smaller individual pots are best because they do not create a comfortable couch.
Fill the pots with a good commercial potting soil, the finer the better. If your potting soil is a bit coarse, you can sieve it. Water the pots and let them drain so that the soil is damp. Drainage indoors is always an issue. There are a number of alternatives. You can put drainage trays, saucers or even small tinfoil containers under the pots to catch the water. But then you must empty the water out otherwise the soil stays too wet and cold and the roots will rot. You can also stand the pots on folded paper towels or ordinary towels to absorb the water.
The conventional wisdom is that you should plant three seeds in one hole. With chives, you will want a clump so you can show up to 12 seeds in one hole. An old wives’ tale is that the seeds stimulate each other to germinate, but really it is just a way of increasing your odds for success. Fortunately, herb seeds are quite big so they are easy to handle which makes sowing less complicated.
Check on the seed packets for sowing depth but, if you have harvested your own seed, here’s a quick refresher: Basil (4 mm), Parsley (1 mm), Chives and Garlic Chives (2 mm), Chervil (3 mm), Garden Cress (2 mm), and Rocket (4 mm).
Most herbs take between seven to 14 days to germinate, except Parsley, which can take up to three weeks. For herbs that germinate with difficulty, a tip is to soak the seeds in lukewarm water overnight before sowing. This softens the outer casing and speeds up germination. I also do this with Borage seeds and have great success.
Mint is another super summer herb that is better propagated with root cuttings. Mint foliage tends to die down in winter but if you take a root or two and put it in a pot, it will soon sprout if the temperature is warm enough.
Two weeks after germinating you can water the herbs with a liquid fertilizer, like Sheer Blue, Margaret Roberts Supercharger, or Nitrosol, at half the strength. Feed them again after a month.
Don’t overwater. Once a week should be enough. Keep the soil feeling slightly damp, but not sodden or bone dry.
The reason why I like germinating herbs in 10 cm pots is that you can keep them growing on in the pots for quite a while until the outside temperatures are warm enough and there is no danger of frost. If you use smaller containers for germination, especially egg boxes, you will need to transfer the seedlings into bigger pots so that their roots have space to develop and there is enough depth of soil.
Come summer, and once the danger of frost is over, it’s a good idea to move your pots of mature herbs outside and plant out your mature seedlings.
By early September you may be able to pick your first Basil, Rocket, and Parsley. What a treat! Garden Cress can be harvested every 14 to 21 days so it’s a good idea to show that on an ongoing basis.
How to Have Year-Long Windowsill Herbs
If you don’t have space, or live in a flat, windowsill herbs are the most practical solution, but you need to realize that growing herbs on a windowsill all year round is not ideal because pots are generally too small for sustainable growth. Also, they probably won’t get enough light and air. Having said that, all it really takes is an adjustment of your expectations: don’t expect them to act like perennials. Instead, treat them like you would any flowering pot plant that you buy for the house and discard when it has finished flowering. Use the herbs and when they start looking sickly, turf them out and buy or grow a new pot. It doesn’t mean you have failed as a gardener.
Recommended herbs for the windowsill
culinary herbs are Mint (summer), Parsley, Lemon Thyme,
Basil (only in
summer), Garlic Chives, Chervil, Sage, Oregano, Marjoram,
Rocket (summer), Salad Burnet, Garden Cress, and Winter Savory.
Otherwise, base your choice of herbs around those that would not
grow too big in the garden.