March 27th, 2014
Nothing flavors your home-cooked meals quite like fresh herbs. They smell and taste amazing and add a layer of complexity to every dish. Growing an herb garden near your kitchen is a great way to always have fresh herbs on hand throughout the growing season.
Spring is the perfect time to start planting. Most herbs are easy to grow and require little effort besides a little cutting back. Here are a few pointers for getting your savory cutting garden going now so it’s ready for tasty summer dishes.
1. Let the sun in. Most herbs require 4-6 hours of full sun per day. Pick a location that receives several hours of sunlight each day. If you’re in a very hot climate, place the herbs in a spot that gets morning sun so the plants will be away from harsh afternoon light.
2. Location, location, location. Find a spot in the ground or in a raised bed that drains well. Water that sits too long can cause “wet feet” and rot the plants’ roots. If planting in an oversized pot, try adding an inch of gravel at the bottom of your container to allow water to flow freely. If planting different varieties together, remember to marry plants that have similar sun and water needs.
3. To seed, or not to seed? Some herbs are easy to grow from seed, others are not. Use this a guideline:
SEED: basil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, parsley
PLANT: rosemary, tarragon, thyme, sage, lavender, fennel
4. Don’t overcrowd. Herbs can often look tiny when you plant them, but follow the instructions on the tag to be sure you’ve left enough room for the herbs as they mature. Think 1-4 feet in diameter for each plant, depending on the variety. Here are some general guidelines on the space needed:
3-4 FEET - rosemary, sage, mint, oregano, marjoram
2 FEET - basil, thyme, tarragon,
1 FOOT - cilantro, chives, dill, parsley
TIP: Mint is invasive. Try planting your mint in a separate pot. Or plant the entire pot in the ground to avoid it spreading and taking over precious garden real estate.
5. Improve the soil. For best results, add some compost, sand or peat moss to the soil to improve drainage and act as a natural fertilizer. Avoid chemical fertilizers or pesticides. (Who wants to eat those?)
6. Give ‘em a clip. Herbs should be cut back regularly to keep them from flowering. Cut off 1/3 of the smaller, weaker branches when the plants get 6-8 inches tall. This allows the plant to concentrate on growing the healthiest branches. Don’t cut off more than 1/3 of the height at time. Pinch off the flowers. If the herb is blooming, this signals to the plant that it’s life cycle is about to end and you won’t get the tasty leaves you desire for cooking
7. Water properly. Plants do best when given morning waterings to avoid evaporation. Water the soil, not the leaves so you don’t burn the leaves in the hot sun. This will also prevent mildew and disease.
8. Many happy returns. The good news? Many herbs are perennial and will come back each year to flavor your cooking for many seasons to come. Woody plants like rosemary, thyme, oregano and marjoram are usually hardy. Other plants like basil, parsley and dill often reseed.
9. Cooking Advice. If you have a recipe that calls for dried herbs and you want to use fresh, triple the amount. 1 tsp of dried herbs = 3 tsp chopped fresh herbs. If you have some extra herbs leftover that you want to save, try chopping them up and freezing them with a little water in ice cube trays for easy flavoring to soups and rice dishes.