The important thing to remember about growing herbs is that they are relatively easy to cultivate and will do well as long as they have good drainage and ample sun. Culinary herbs add great beauty to the landscape and provide variety and flavor to any recipe in which they are used.

Growing Marjoram

MarjoramHerb gardeners growing marjoram (Origanum majoricum) enjoy its fragrant and flavorful leaves, which are highly esteemed for seasoning. The aroma and flavor is similar to mild oregano, but noticeably sweeter. Plants grow 1-2 feet tall and have square stems, gray-green leaves and small white flowers borne in clusters. Perennial, often grown as an annual.

Site Preparation:

May be grown in pots, containers or herb gardens. Plants prefer full sun and will grow in any type of soil and with very little water, however it will thrive in fast draining, sandy soil.

Tip: Sweet marjoram attracts beneficial insects and butterflies to the garden.

How to Plant:

Start indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost. Sow seeds just beneath the surface of the soil. Seeds will germinate in 10 days. Plant out after the danger of frost has past. Space plants 8 inches apart in all directions. Begin harvesting 5-6 weeks after transplanting outdoors, or when plants are growing vigorously. No fertilizer is necessary for this hardy plant. (more…)

Growing Lovage

LovageNative to southern Europe, growing lovage (Levisticum officinale) was very popular during the Middle Ages when it could be found in almost every kitchen garden. The leaves, stems and seeds of the plant all taste like celery. The most popular usage today is in soups and salads. Very hardy and much easier to grow than celery. Perennial with shiny, dark green leaves.

Site Preparation:

Lovage prefers full sun to light shade and a rich, moist, well-drained soil. Before you plant, consider how much space can be devoted to growing this herb. Mature plants will reach 4-6 feet high, which makes it the perfect backdrop for any garden. Grows well in large containers, too!

Tip: Lovage attracts a large number of beneficial insects. (more…)

Growing Hyssop

HyssopNative to Europe, Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) was used as early as the seventh century as a purifying tea and for medicine. The herb is said to cure all manner of ailments from head lice to shortness of breath. Today home gardeners are growing hyssop for its leaves, which are used to flavor green salads, soups, liqueurs and stews. Attractive plants have woody stems, small pointed leaves, and spikes of small pink, red and blue-purple flowers. There also are forms with pink or white flowers. Hardy perennial grows 2-3 feet tall.

Site Preparation:

Hyssop prefers full sun to partial shade and dry, well-drained soil. Prior to planting work in plenty of organic matter, such as compost, or aged animal manure. It is also helpful to add a light application of organic fertilizer to the planting hole. Hyssop grows equally well in containers.

Note: This perennial is often used as a border plant in herb gardens and is extremely attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. (more…)

Growing Dill

DillAttractive and flavorful, home herb gardeners are growing dill (Anethum) for its seeds and feathery foliage commonly used with fish and fowl. Its large fragrant heads are great for making dill pickles, spicing up summer salads or as a unique addition to flower bouquets. Foliage is abundant and long-lasting. Self-seeding annual grows 3-4 feet tall.

Site Preparation:

Prefers full sun, regular water and rich well drained soil. Loosen soil to a depth of 8-12 inches and work in a handful or two of organic fertilizer. Plants grow vigorously and will readily volunteer each year from dropped seeds. Dill is frost-tolerant but will not do well in prolonged freezing temperatures. (more…)

Growing Chives

ChivesA member of the Allium family, most home gardeners are growing chives for the mild, onion-flavored leaves, although the plants also produce attractive and edible purple flowers in the spring. They are easy to plant and make attractive borders around herb gardens. Plants grow to 1-1/2 feet tall and self-sow readily. Perennial in zones 3-9.

Site Preparation:

Each spring, work aged compost into your garden plot. Chives grow well in full sun, ample water and rich, sandy soil. The plant will tolerate frost but not prolonged freezing temperatures. They are frequently grown as annuals in climates with winter temperatures below 32 degrees F.

How to Plant:

Chives grow easily from seed planted directly in the ground or from divisions. Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep in early spring. Seed germinates best at 70 degrees F. with germination usually occurring in 14 days. Chive plants are usually not thinned, but left to grow in bunches. (more…)

Growing Borage

BorageBeautiful blue star-shaped flowers hang in clusters. The leaves are covered with stiff white hairs and appear to be almost woolly. Bees love the bright flowers and rely on borage (Borago officinalis) as a nectar source, literally covering the plants some days. The flowers are great for floating in cool drinks at summer parties. Plants grow 2-3 feet tall and self-sow readily. Annual.

Site Preparation:

Container gardens, herb gardens and organic gardens all work well for growing borage. It prefers full sun, but will tolerate partial shade, and rich, moist soil. Choose a site that is well protected from wind as it is easily blown over and work in plenty of organic matter prior to planting.

How to Plant:

Easily grown from seed. Borage can be started indoors 3-4 weeks before the last frost or direct seeded just after the danger of frost has passed. Plant seeds just beneath the surface of the soil and thin seedlings to at least one foot apart. Trim back occasionally to keep them tidy and more upright. (more…)

Growing Basil

BasilNative to Mediterranean climates, home herb gardeners are growing basil (Ocimum basilicum) for its luscious flavor and wonderful aroma. Excellent fresh or dried, the classic large-leaved variety is a favorite in Asian and Italian cuisine. Fragrant plants grow 18-24 inches and are very productive. Annual.

Site Preparation:

Basil thrives in soil gardens or containers and prefers full sun, regular water and fast draining, rich soil. Work in plenty of aged animal manure or compost prior to planting.

How to Plant:

Sow seeds outdoors when the soil is warm and the temperature does not drop below 65 degrees F. Can be started indoors 4-6 weeks before planting out. Space plants 4-6 inches apart in all directions. Plant seeds just beneath the surface. Seeds germinate in 5-30 days, so keep moist. An application of organic fertilizer once or twice during the growing season will help promote sturdy growth. At the end of summer, allow the plants to go to seed to attract beneficial insects and bees. (more…)

Rosemary In Winter

Rosemary GardenIt’s been over a year since I moved from Montana to the sunny and somewhat warmer (or considerably, depending on the day) climes of Northern New Mexico. Despite the passing of those 13 months, I still mourn the loss of my rosemary. After all, we’d grown close considering all the time I’d spent moving them around, indoors and out, to avoid the coldest weather but to guarantee they had enough sun. They provided many a sprig or just a flat leaf or three (rosemary, as all cooks know, is strongly flavored) to slide in under the skin of chicken or to flavor a pork roast stew.

I carefully packed my two deeply-potted plants when we left and tucked them into the back of the hatchback with the dog for the long trip. They survived it just fine (the dog, too). I had the perfect new home for them, a sun porch with southwest exposure. They seemed happy enough for a while but then started to wilt. I figured the sun was drying them out and gave them more water. Big mistake. (more…)

Drying Herbs

Drying HerbsIn many parts of the country, the beginning of August is the time to harvest and dry herbs. Many leafy herbs have budded and are ready to flower… the perfect time to harvest for drying. Herbs at this stage — just ahead of flowering — have the most flavorful, aromatic oils. Some herbs — basil, rosemary, lemon balm, parsley and rosemary — can be harvested multiple times over the course of the summer. It’s best to harvest in the morning after the dew has dried. Inspect your pickings carefully for dead or diseased leaves or signs of mold. Most herbalists recommend rinsing herbs and gently shaking them dry. We’ve always felt that rinsing removes valuable oils and try to keep it at a minimum, especially after a previous day’s rain.

Herbs with a lower moisture content — oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, savory, dill, sage — do well with hanging and air drying. They may be simply inverted, the stems bound together by string, and hung from a rafter or any overhang that allows circulation around the entire bunch. Keep your herbs from exposure to sunlight. Check frequently for signs of mold or mildew. (more…)

Oh, Oregano

OreganoWhen the abundant moisture of spring has given way to drier summer conditions, it’s time to plant oregano. Both culinary and decorative — it’s delicate blossoms will attract pollinators to your garden as well as make for attractive additions to salads — oregano is one of the most rewarding herbs to grow. It can be started from seed, but buying plants is the easiest way to get them started (they can also be propagated from cuttings or from root divisions). Oregano is hardy to zone 5 and can be overwintered in zone 4 with a thick covering of straw or mulch. It’s a perennial and will provide tasty leaves and flowers for years before it becomes too woody and sharply flavored. To encourage longevity, cut plants back almost to the ground at the end of the growing season. Often grown in containers, oregano also grows well in terraces and rock gardens. A Mediterranean plant, it likes full sun but will tolerate some shade, as I found out growing it in an old tub under a pear tree in the Pacific Northwest. Oregano isn’t fussy about soil conditions but does require good drainage. It needs little water and is perfect for moisture-sensitive xeriscapes. (more…)

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