Herbs by Pat Abramson
An herb is any plant that has more than one use, according to the Herb Society of America. The list includes, surprisingly, certain trees, shrubs, ferns, mosses and fungi! Many gardeners are delighted to learn they have more herbs in their landscape than they ever thought. Salvias, hackberry and pine trees, garlic, altheas, hibiscus and daylilies are all considered herbs.
Herbs add flavor and zest to creative cooking. Herbs enhance flower beds and are useful in rock gardens as borders or accent plants. Because some herbs are annuals (like nasturtium, dill, and calendula) and some are perennials (like oregano and rosemary), plant the annuals in flower gardens or your vegetable beds. Locate the perennials at the side of the garden where they won’t interfere with next year’s soil preparation. Plant the lovely mints away from the garden so their underground runners won’t travel to all other parts of your garden beds!
A small herb garden, on the other hand, should be planted preferably near the kitchen.
Give herbs a generous half day of light, preferably morning light with some afternoon protection. Many herbs will tolerate light shade; only a few thrive in deep shade. More important is a well-drained location. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers that induce quick, lanky growth more susceptible to insects and diseases. Many of our favorite culinary herbs don’t need as much watering as other plants. Group herbs together according to their watering needs. Mulch conserves moisture, reduces weeds, looks better, and adds nutrients as it decomposes. Be sure to pull the mulch away from the base and stem of your plants so the mulch doesn’t work on decomposing your plant.
Save seeds for next year’s crop by harvesting the entire seed-head after it has dried on the plant. Dry seeds in a cool, dry, dark place. Many perennials (like rosemary, sage, winter savory, and thyme) can be propagated by cuttings or by division. Divide plants (like chives, lovage, and tarragon) every 3 or 4 years in early spring.
The leaves of most herbs are the parts used for cooking (like parsley, chives, oregano), though sometimes the seeds (like flax, dill, anise, caraway, and coriander) and roots (like dandelion) can be used. Basil, fennel, mint, and sage are harvested just before they start to bloom, but keep all your established herbs pruned regularly (no more than 1/3 of the plant) so they will grow fuller, and to prevent the herb from beginning to flower, which will make the herb taste more bitter.
In our area we can plant garlic year-round, though mid-November is ideal. Plant garlic in your rose beds and around fruit trees for better pest protection for those plants. Oregano planted around the base of a tree makes a nice ground-cover and will tolerate some shade. Add chocolate mint leaves (fresh or dried) to the coffee that you brew. Add lemon verbena, pineapple sage, and rose geranium leaves to cakes and cookies. At holiday time, bay leaves and rosemary make lovely large wreaths; you can use thyme and dried basil seed stalks on tiny wreaths, or add fronds and stalks like these on gift-wrapped boxes and bags, too.
Be sure and check out our website at https://huntcountymastergardeners.org for more gardening tips. Happy planting, crafting and cooking with herbs!