are among the easiest of plants to grow and enjoy. A herb garden,
even in a single pot on a patio or window sill can yield more fun
and make a bigger difference in your cooking or your life, plant for
plant, than any other kind. Herbs provide flowers, fragrance,
flavor, more comfort, and better health. Aloe offers first
aid for burns, lavender and tansy keep moths out of
clothes, and shoofly keeps flies out of the kitchen. Any
plant with possible uses-- culinary, aromatic, therapeutic,
medicinal, cosmetic, for natural dyes-- beyond the usual one for
landscaping or producing food is a herb and you can pronounce it
with or without the H.
Which Herbs To
The first herbs to get are those you will use or enjoy most and
those that will grow most successfully for you.
You need to know whether they need sun or partial shade, constant
moisture or dry spells between watering. Knowing how tall they will
get lets you put them in the front or back of the border or box.
Most herbs stay much smaller in containers.
You need to know whether they are annual like nasturtiums and
will need planting every year, perennials like lemon balm and
mint that will come up every year, or biennials like
parsley that will bloom the second year and then die out. Some
annual herbs like dill and borage will self seed as
long as there is sufficient moisture.
Choose plants that are hardy in your climate. If you live in the
Sunbelt, you can grow ginger and citrus.
Some otherwise delightful herbs like mint can take over your
garden, but not if planted in a container or if you surround the
plot with mown grass or cement walks. This booklet and the label or
advice you get with your plant will start you off just fine and you
can learn as you go. Books from the library or bookstore, advice or
bulletins from the county Cooperative Extension Service, or advice
from the people where you buy the plants can fill in the details as
you need them.
Selecting the Site
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Some herbs grow well in partial shade, but most need sun for at
least five to six hours a day. In Sunbelt climates, winter sun with
some summer shade works best.
Nothing beats the convenience and pleasure of having the cooking
herbs by the kitchen door or on the kitchen window sill in winter.
Start with half a dozen of the most useful culinary herbs:
parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, plus mint and chives. (Also- see
Herbs can grow in mixed flower borders or among shrubs. Plant the
ones with fragrant foliage where you can brush against them or pluck
a leaf to crush when passing or sitting nearby. Herbs that chase
mosquitoes and flies, like basil, shoofly (Nicandra) plant,
and certain scented geraniums, are best by the kitchen door
or on the patio. The ones that you raise for wreaths or potpourri
can go in rows in the vegetable garden.
Preparing the Soil
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To prepare the bed, turn the soil as deeply as possible, a good 6 to
8 inches, by hand or with a rototiller and smooth out any lumps with
a garden rake. Add as much humus in the form of compost, peat, or
well rotted manure as you can, especially in heavy clay or very
sandy soils. Herbs tend to be less fussy about soil as long as the
drainage is good.
Starting with SeedTop
You can start all of the annual and many perennial herbs from seeds
for the most plants at the least expense. For indoor planting,
gather together everything you'll need before you start: seeds,
clean containers, sterile potting soil or other seed starting medium
like milled sphagnum moss or vermiculite, water, bread bags, flat
pans for watering and labels.
Gather Materials for Starting Seeds Indoors
Use margarine dishes, 4
inch pots, or milk cartons cut to size. If there are no drainage
holes, make some with the point of a paring knife or an ice pick
warmed over a flame.
With pen or pencil that will not fade in rain and weather (nurseries
sell these) or an indelible laundry marker, write the name of the
plant on the label. Add the date or the color or height of the plant
if there is room. Fill the container to within half an inch of the
top with soil or medium that is fairly moist but not soggy.
it off and press it down gently. Then sprinkle the seeds evenly over
the surface. Small seeds like parsley need only be pressed in, not
covered. Larger seeds should be barely covered. Plant one kind to
small pots or several kinds in rows in the same flat.
each container well. The best way is to let it soak in a pan of
water until the top is moist. If watering from the top, use only the
gentlest spray that will not dislodge the seeds or wash too much
soil over some and expose others.
Then add the label and
place each container or
pan of pots in a plastic bag, but do not close it tightly. The
plastic prevents drying out for a week or more and many seeds will
sprout by then. Most seeds will germinate best if the soil
temperature is maintained at 75 degrees F. Setting the containers on
top of the TV, refrigerator, dryer, or heat pipes will help. Or run
a heating cable under the flats. Only a few kinds of herbs need
light to germinate. If time and space are limited, plant only those
special kinds and varieties of herbs indoors that you cannot seed
outside or buy from local outlets.
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Watch carefully, remove the plastic covering, and move containers
into brighter light and cooler temperatures (usually a window sill)
as soon as seeds begin to sprout.
If overhead light is not bright enough to make a strong shadow, put
trays of seedlings on shelves just a few inches below fluorescent
lights and they will grow almost as well as in a greenhouse. Water
carefully. Never allow the seed containers to dry out. But also do
not over water or damping-off disease could cause seedlings to rot
at the soil line. Fertilize the seedlings with a weak liquid
solution beginning when the first true leaves have opened.
When plants in flats or crowded containers show four to six leaves,
transplant them directly outdoors if it is warm enough or to
individual pots if not, or give them more room in mixed containers.
Fill pots with damp, fertile soil. Then use a pencil to lift plants
up carefully. Hold them by the leaves, not the fragile stems, as you
firm the soil gently around the roots.
Planting Seed Outdoors
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Many herbs: anise, chervil, dill, coriander, cumin and parsley
do better if sown directly in the garden where they will grow. This
assures good light, room for roots, better air circulation, and no
Use Fine Spray Twice a Day Unless Rainy
Leave walkways or place stepping stones so you can easily get to all
parts of the bed. Plant your seeds according to packet directions.
Unless it is rainy, water seeded areas at least twice a day with a
fine spray to keep the soil evenly moist at all times. The top,
where most seeds are germinating, can dry out quickly on a hot or
windy day. A hard rain, on the other hand, may wash out smaller
seeds. If it does, replant as soon as possible. Two weeks after the
seedlings emerge, broadcast some safe, slow-release, non-burning
Transplanting HerbsTop of
1. Hardening off or gradually acclimating a plant to its new
environment is the most effective means of reducing the trauma of
transplanting. Move potted plants to the the back porch, a few days
later to a protected spot in the garden, and eventually to their
permanent place. Or set them in a coldframe and open it a little
more every day.
2. If it is very cold, or
windy, shade and protect the plant, with a Hot-Kap, overturned
canning jar, bottomless milk jug, or floating row cover that will
let in some air and light. Remove this for longer parts of each day
for about a week. Summer transplants also benefit from covers for
shade and added humidity.
3. Whenever possible, transplant late in the day or on a cloudy day
to give the plants the longest possible time to readjust.
4. Cut back the foliage
to reduce transpiration and stress on the roots. For herbs, use,
freeze, or dry the leaves and sprigs you cut off. Immediate harvest
from a new plant reduces the shock of transplanting and increases
the appreciation of the planter.
5. New plants, even ones that will be drought resistant later, need
constant moisture when first transplanted. Make a donut like
depression around the plant and then water well and slowly.
......"Donut" Depression Gathers Water
Making More Plants
with Cuttings Top of Page
Some herbs like true French tarragon and horseradish
do not produce seeds. All seedlings have two parents, so there can
be variations of flavor or flower color. Cuttings or division give
the exact same kind of plant and also grow more quickly and surely.
For cuttings fill a clean container with a sterile medium like
vermiculite, perlite, or sand that is wet but not soggy. Cut off 4
to 8 inches of tip growth, cutting just above a node or leaf joint
so unsightly stubs on the parent will not attract insects and
diseases. Make a new slanting cut just below a node and remove the
lower leaves of the cuttings.
Cut Below Node and Remove Lower Leafs
With herbs you can use
these otherwise discarded pieces in cooking or potpourris. If you
have powdered rooting hormone, dip the stem ends in water and then
in the hormone. Then make a hole in the medium and insert the
cuttings to cover at least one node. Firm the medium around the
stem. Cuttings can go fairly close in the container with the leaf
tips just touching. Keep cuttings out of direct light and keep
humidity high. After about two weeks, pull one to test. If it pulls
out too easily roots are not mature enough; reset the cutting and
wait a few more days. To remove rooted cuttings from the medium
insert a trowel or spoon gently and lift the roots intact. Plant at
Still Deciding which
Herbs to Plant?
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Dividing Clumps of
Herbs Top of Page
Many clump-forming perennial herbs like French tarragon are easy to
propagate by dividing established plants. Lift the plant carefully
out of the ground with a spading fork or knock it gently out of the
pot. If possible, break the clump into parts by hand. If not, use
the prongs of two spading forks (or table forks for a very small
potful). If all else fails, use a butcher knife to get individual
plants, each with some roots and a bud to sprout a shoot.
New plants can sometimes be cut from the side of a clump with a
spade or trowel without disturbing the main plant at all.
Tips for Super
GrowingTop of Page
1. Water as needed whenever rainfall is less than one inch a week.
Watering weekly will do in most soils, but giving half an inch twice
weekly is better in sandy soils. Containers should be checked daily
and watered as needed. Do not over water.
2. Though not necessary, many growers favor raised beds for better
drainage, easier maintenance, longer lasting soil improvement, and
3. Put several kinds of herbs together rather than all one kind. The
mixture will give better pest control.
4. Mulch around herbs to keep the ground a more even temperature and
prevent alternate freezing and thawing in spring that can thrust
roots out of the ground. Mulch soaks up water and holds it around
the plant, thus preventing both runoff and erosion. If the layer is
thick enough to keep light from the weed seeds, weeds will not
germinate. The few that do will pull up easily because the soil will
be soft and workable.
5. Do not overfeed herbs. Use any all-purpose fertilizer and read the
label carefully. Then start with half of the recommended strength
and see if that is sufficient. Also be sure the plants have all the
other things they need: sun,water, humidity and reasonable
temperatures. Overfeeding will decrease the concentration of
essential oils and therefore the fragrance and flavor. Too much
nitrogen can cause rapid, lush growth of foliage but hardly any
flowers or seeds. Remove weeds when they are tiny, before they go to
HerbsTop of Page
Trim herbs as you use them or prune as needed with snips or shears.
Even in hedges, keep plants far enough apart for good air
circulation. Whenever pruning, lay a piece of plastic, paper, or
cloth beside and beneath the plant to catch the clipping and use
them all, either for potpourris,for mulching garden paths, or for
adding to the fireplace for fragrance or to the grill for flavor.
long and lovely bloomers as lavender grow freely throughout the
summer and then cut them well back at harvest in early autumn.
Germander will usually manage to bloom in spite of frequent
clipping. If flowers are not important, make a spring and a mid- to
Controlling Pests and DiseaseTop
Herbs are among the most resistant of all plants to pests and
diseases. However, they are not completely immune, and as a rule,
the warmer and more humid the climate, the more frequent and severe
the problems. Good soil drainage and aeration and wide enough
spacing between plants for air circulation can do much to reduce
diseases. Good cultural practices will keep stress to a minimum and
therefore reduce the threat of insects. But into every garden, a few
bugs and spores will fly.
Discard the rare plant with serious problems to the bottom of a HOT
compost pile or to a trash bag.
sometimes occurs, especially in a very humid climate like the
Florida gulf coast in the summer or in a wet and muggy season
elsewhere. The gray-leaved herbs and the low, sprawling thymes and
marjoram are most susceptible. Raised beds, improved drainage, extra
a gravel or rock mulch will all help prevent the problem. Once
detected, it is usually too late for control and sulfur and Bordeaux
mix are the only fungicides recommended.
Herb Garden Top of Page
Perennial herbs will live over the winter where they are hardy. Give
them a good drink before the ground freezes and a loose mulch to
prevent thawing and refreezing. Some herbs, like parsley, will live
over most places if you cover the plants with an overturned basket.
They usually bloom and die the second year, though they may reseed
Cover with Overturned
....Basket in Winter
Growing Herbs Indoors Top
When the season ends outdoors, you can extend the lives
of annual herbs like basil for some months and save
some of the tender perennials like lemon verbena by bringing them
inside. Pot up the entire plant if it is not too large. To keep some
plants in pots all year, sink pots in the garden in the summer and
then lift, trim away any roots growing through the pot hole, and
bring indoors before the furnace goes on in fall Make the move
gradually with a stop on the porch or in the shade. Mist the foliage
to add humidity.
Or take cuttings and start new plants (go to "Making More Plants
with Cuttings".) Bring in the ones you most want to have all winter
or just want to save. Plant several different herbs together in an
old kettle or crock, or put them in a window box on your kitchen
window sill or in hanging baskets.
With five to six hours of sunlight daily in south or west-facing
windows, they will do almost as well as outdoors and be much more
fluorescent lights, plants can brighten the darkest corner or
produce a cash crop in the basement.
Indoor Care Top of Page
Herbs don't need much fertilizer in winter. If you do use a
houseplant food, cut to half. Pest problems are unlikely and any
mealy bugs or aphids that do cause trouble can usually be washed
away with soapy water.
Work Beads of Release
Fertilizer Into Top 1/2" of Soil
Herbs that grow indoors all year benefit from regular, light
feedings of one of the balanced houseplant fertilizers applied in
liquid solution. Feed them as often as every two weeks from late
spring to early fall if they are growing vigorously. Most dry
fertilizers are too strong, but potted herbs as well as outdoor ones
can use one application of a slow-release fertilizer in the spring
and another in summer. Work the little beads into the top half inch
of soil and they will do their job for a good three or four months.
Using Herbs Fresh
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The best time for picking and using herbs is anytime you have
clippers in hand and a use in mind. This can start from
transplanting or thinning. For evergreens or potted herbs it can be
anytime all year.
Slip out in the midst of supper preparations to gather a mixed
handful of nasturtium flowers and leaves, parsley, arugula, cress,
or purslane for the salad. Pick mint or lemon balm for the sun tea
in the morning when you set it out for best infusion or just before
serving for garnish. When you gather the vegetables for supper or
canning, gather the herbs to put with them.
Parsley.. Herbs as
Fresh herbs give the best flavor and texture and take the least
work. Cut stems and heads of seeds when they are almost mature but
before any capsules begin to open. Put these upside down in a paper
bag with the kind and date written on it. Close the top to keep out
insects. When these are completely dry, much of the seed will fall
out on its own. A good pounding will release the rest. Remove any
large pieces of stem by hand.
Harvesting for StorageTop
The leaves of most culinary herbs reach peak flavor when the flower
buds just begin to open. Mint is an exception that is best in full
flower. After this, the leaves become fibrous and their flavor is
not as rich or as sweet.
Gather leaves and flowers in the morning just after the dew has
dried and before the sun dissipates the essential oils. Use a
pruning snips, shears, or scissors or simply pinch brittle stems. If
you want the whole plant, you can cut back annuals to 3 inches above
the ground. Never take more than a third of the perennials so as not
to weaken the plant.
FreezingTop of Page
As with vegetables, frozen fennel, salad burnet, chervil, parsley,
basil, tarragon, sweet cicely, and chives are second only to fresh
as far as flavor and nutrition are concerned. Texture varies with
the kind, but for use in cooked dishes, crispness is not so
important. Crumble still frozen and brittle leaves into salad
dressings. Or puree them, 1 tablespoon leaves to 1 tablespoon of
water and freeze in ice-cube trays. After the cubes freeze solid,
remove them from the tray to a freezer bag or box and label this
with date and kind.
Drying is the most common way of preserving
herbs and home-dried ones have much better quality than most you can
buy. Wash quickly. Remove dead or discolored leaves, and shake,
sling, or pat dry. Leaves can remain on stems.
Use a gas or electric oven on its lowest setting with the door open
a few inches. Turn the leaves frequently. Unfortunately, they often
dry too fast by this method.
To dry in a microwave, spread four or five stems of herbs on a
double thickness of paper towels and cover with a single layer of
toweling. Microwave at full power until the leaves are brittle:
about two minutes for small leaves; three for larger ones. Turn
halfway through. Add 30
Put Herbs Between Paper Towels
When Drying in Microwave Ovens
more if needed. When the leaves are brittle and fragile, but not so
dry that they turn to powder when touched, they are ready for
stems and pack whole leaves loosely in dark, airtight glass bottles.
(Save bottles from prune juice.) Plastic or metal containers may
change the chemistry. Paper or cardboard will absorb the oils. Label
each container with the name and date and plan to use dried herbs
within a year. After that, put any aromatic ones left over into
potpourris or feed them bit by bit onto an open fire or grill.
Check the stored herbs for the first few days and if any
condensation forms on the glass, remove them and dry them further.
Air drying works best for large quantities of herbs.
A closet or attic with the addition of heat or fan if needed,will
give good results. Cut these herbs with longer stems, wash only if
necessary, and tie no more than 10 stems loosely it and hang upside
down. If dust or insects are possible,cover the bunch with a paper
bag. Or spread small quantities on a thin cloth or an open brown
paper bag with many fine holes punched in it. Place this on a wire
rack so air can circulate all around.
Leaves should dry in about four days at optimum temperatures, up to
two weeks if it is cooler. Then store as directed above.
- Pick the
- Select your
- Pots or containers
- Soil or seed
- Rooting hormone
powder for cuttings
- Peat, compost, or
- Tools_spade_hoe_trowel_hose_watering can_pruning shears or scissors
- Extra labels_marking pen_gro-light fixture
Some facts may
vary by region. Please check with your local lawn and garden dealer
if concerned about possible variations.