I’ve had an herb garden for more than 20 years. Many of the herbs are perennial and it’s great to watch them come back year after year. On many occasions I’ve potted some of my herbs so my daughter, sister and mother could transplant them and get their own herb gardens growing. I’ve done my share of research and helped them to enjoy the many benefits I’ve derived from my small but productive collection of herbs.
Here are a few things I’ve learned both the hard way and from experience.
My very first herb garden was way in the backyard and far from my house. That was a bad idea. I rarely remembered to hoof it back there and even when I did remember, I’d skip it on rainy days or in the dark. My herb garden soon found itself closer to home and I even interplanted with other plants by the back door and back deck. Think twice about where you plant your herbs; remember they don’t all have to be in the same place, and get in the habit of using them.
Herb Garden Size
You don’t need a lot of space to have herbs all year long. In fact, if you live in an apartment where your balcony or deck is your backyard, you can plant them in pots and not only have herbs all season, but you can keep them going indoors during the winter. I’ll event pot some of my plants from the yard during the winter including my rosemary, basil some of my chives. Some actually make it through the winter if I remember to feed and water them. If you do have the room in your yard, 1 10′ x 10′ garden is more than enough for household and you can divide them among smaller areas. It all depends on which herbs you want to grow and how much you use them for meals.
Determining the herbs you choose to grow is a lot like the choices you make for a vegetable garden. Grow what you like to eat. Some of my favorites include chives, oregano, tarragon, lovage, lemon balm, cilantro, dill, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. If you harvest them judiciously they’ll produce all year long and some will even reseed themselves. This is especially true for dill, chives and cilantro so make sure you harvest them regularly and pull new shoots out if they over-extend their bounds.
Perennials versus Annuals
I love perennial herbs because they just keep coming back. These include chives, oregano, tarragon, basil, lovage, lemon balm and thyme. There are others, but it’s so easy when they always show up in late April and early May. Be careful though. Some of them like chives, oregano and thyme will spread over the seasons. That’s a good reason to share the wealth and pot some of them for family and friends.
Annual herbs have to be planted each season although that may depend on what growing zone you live in. Rosemary will make it through the winter in some of the more temperate zones, but its toast in the Chicago area after the first frost. Basil is particularly delicate and will die immediately after the first whisper of frost. Some annuals can be started from seed including chives, dill, cilantro and basil. Other are best bought as seedlings especially rosemary, thyme, oregano, tarragon and lovage. It’s not impossible to get them to sprout from seed but you may be looking at a 50/50 chance for success.
It’s tempting to believe that your perennial herbs are doing fine as they return year after year. Trust me on this one, don’t get complacent. You need to take care of the soil in your herb garden. Try to incorporate some compost and fresh soil each year and consider a fertilizer from time to time. I’ll usually take some compost from the compost heap and work it into the soil along with some sand and sometimes a bag or two of good old black dirt. When it comes to fertilizers I use Miracle Gro. It’s easy and works just fine. If I see earthworms on the driveway or patio I’ll gather them up and toss them in the herb garden. They work for free and do a great job of recycling the compost and aerating the soil. Remember to keep your herbs watered too if you go without rain too long. It’s easy to do because most herb gardens are relatively small.
Many herbs will flower. You might want to discourage that. All you have to do is pinch off the flowers or cut the stems where the buds begin. There’s an added benefit to doing this too. You can eat the flowers from herbs. They make a great garnish and usually have a very intense flavor. I’ll put chive buds in soups and salads, garnish soups and plates with oregano blooms, and sprinkle green dill seeds on fish and vegetables.
Weeding and Bugs
First, the good news. Many herbs are natural insect repellents. This includes mosquitoes and many other bugs that might take a fancy to your herb garden. Unfortunately, few plants can do much to inhibit the growth of weeds. You’re just going to have to get in there and pull the weeds, but remember that many weeds like dandelion, plantain and purslane are good to eat. Maybe top them with a few chive buds and some chopped lovage and pat yourself on the back for planting that herb garden in the first place.