Few plants return more for your gardening effort than growing herbs – that versatile class of plants grouped not because they’re similar botanically but because they’re so useful. Plants sold today as herbs were some of the first our fore-gardeners grew – for good reason. They were used to flavor foods, heal sickness, dye clothes, hide household odors, and even rid bugs from the house and garden.
Although people usually buy commercial products to take care of those needs these days, herbs still offer natural, convenient, and less expensive alternatives. Not to mention, there’s the beauty and satisfaction that comes with growing these functional plants.
Where to Grow Herbs
- The main herbal enemy – as with most garden plants – is poorly drained soil, especially wet clay. Roots rot in that sogginess and cause plants to fail. Overcome the rot threat by planting in raised beds or working a few inches of compost into the loosened top 10 or 12 inches of existing soil.
- Most herbs do very well in pots, hanging baskets, and window boxes, too. That makes them a good choice for those with small yards – or no yards, for that matter.
- Many herbs are good-looking enough to be inserted into the overall landscape. Calendula is one such herb that suits this purpose in a border garden or golden oregano used as a driveway edging.
- Others are at home as vegetable-garden partners. This partnership could mean complementary growing needs or even providing resistance to common pests. For example, basil growing next to tomatoes or dill will help all of the plants to thrive.
- The most popular setup is a dedicated herb garden. Herb gardens are often near the kitchen door or patio. They can be laid out in blocks, a four-square pattern, or in attractive intertwined bands known as a “knot garden.”
Types of Herbs
Annuals. Some herbs are annuals – ones that grow in a single season and die when cold weather arrives. They’re then planted anew the following spring. Examples: basil, chervil, summer savory, cilantro, dill, and marjoram.
Biennials. Another group of herbs are called biennials. These take two growing seasons to complete their life cycle. They die off at the end of the second growing season and will need replanted the next year. Examples: caraway and parsley
Perennials. Other herbs are perennials – ones that return year after year and usually expand with each passing season. Examples: thyme, sage, oregano, lovage, winter savory, rosemary, lavender, Roman chamomile, and mints.
How to Start and Grow Herbs
Herbs happen to be some of the easiest plants to grow. Most don’t run into bug or disease issues (no spraying needed), and fuzzy-leafed, aromatic ones such as sage, lavender and rosemary are especially uninteresting to bunnies, deer and other animal marauders. Just give herbs adequate sunlight and reasonably good soil, and they’ll be fine with just a scattering of granular fertilizer once a year and a bit of water during dry spells.
Some herbs start easily from seeds, either when started inside at winter’s end or direct-seeded into the ground once the soil warms in spring. Examples include basil, calendula, chervil, caraway, dill, cumin, fennel, parsley, and thyme.
Other herbs are best grown from store-bought plants or started from divisions or cuttings from existing “mother” plants. These include oregano, chives, garlic chives, horehound, lovage, marjoram, tansy, hyssop, lavender, sage, and mints.
10 Ways to Use Herbs from the Garden
Try these 10 simple ideas to get started with herbs:
- Dry harvested herbs and use them in arrangements, either as accents to dried flowers or in an entire herbal arrangement. Some of the best herbs for this include sage, dill flowers, rosemary, chamomile, feverfew, lavender, and santolina.
- Twisty-tie twigs of rosemary to a circular wire frame to make an herbal wreath. Rosemary has a nice pine scent in addition to keeping well.
- Place dried bundles of penny-royal, tansy, or wormwood as a natural bug repellent where you’re trying to discourage bugs, such as in the pantry or in stored clothing.
- Dry lavender, lemon verbena, chamomile, santolina, and other fragrant herbs to use in baskets or sachets of potpourri.
- Freeze basil, oil, and seasonings in ice-cube trays to make frozen cubes of pesto that can be stored in a freezer bag and used as needed over winter.
- Brew spearmint, peppermint and other potted mints into a homemade tea or use them to flavor drinks and desserts.
- Grow coriander and use the dried seeds in seasonings, and use snippings from the leaves as cilantro in flavoring salsa and Mexican dishes. This is herb is unique in that it goes by two different names – and uses.
- Indigestion? Try a tea of ginger root or mint. Or if you’re stressed, go with German chamomile or lavender, which are said to have relaxing properties.
- Try your hand at herbal vinegars and oils by steeping different homegrown herbs in them. Some of the best: rosemary, sage, thyme, tarragon, dill, and basil.
- Grow pots of scented geraniums on patio tables or around the patio edges to add fragrance to the sitting/dining area.
Do you have more questions about growing herbs in your garden? Let us know in the comments below. Plus, you can visit us on Facebook to share pictures and tell us your experiences with herb gardening.
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