Growing Herbs

The majority of herbs originally came from the Mediterranean and have been used for their medicinal purposes as well as culinary flavours and aromatic odours for thousands of years. They are trouble-free, attractive, easy to manage and ideal for low maintenance gardens. A large number of herbs prefer full sun and on the whole they like poor soil, so they should be planted in a sunny south facing position with plenty of protection. They like still, warm air and are happiest if sheltered by a hedge of lavender or box, or protected from the breeze by other plants. They will not do well if planted in an exposed position.

Soft herbs such as mint, chives, chervil, basil, dill, parsley, tarragon, angelica, sorrel, lemon mint, yellow-leaved feverfew, double-flowered feverfew and the regular feverfew grow happily in raised planters, troughs, window boxes, tubs and terracotta pots where they can dry out quickly between watering, but feverfew needs to be watched as it seeds itself and can quickly land up growing everywhere.

If the soil is too heavy, peat and compost can be added to lighten it. I have even found mixing in a couple of handfuls of sand and shingle or grit makes the soil more porous and helps recreate Mediterranean soil conditions for such herbs as rosemary, rue, hyssop, thyme, lavender and savory.

But the most effective way of improving heavy soil conditions for herbs is to build up the height of the bed at least 6 in (15 cm) by adding soil plus a mixture of sharp sand and/or grit to the top of the bed. This mound will help the bed to drain more easily.

Herbs like rosemary, bay, sage, thyme and marjoram also prefer full sun and indifferent soil, but as they need more space they should be planted in the beds. Most herbs do not need feeding: the exceptions are chives, parsley, basil and comfrey. Use only organic fertiliser, otherwise you’ll be eating chemicals.

Herb Calendar

In March chives can be separated. Dig the clumps out of the soil with a trowel and tease them in half by hand, then replant. It is useful to have the second clump growing on the kitchen window sill, particularly in the winter.

April is the best time to sow dill and fennel and layer the thyme by pinning down the sprawling growth with a stone. Once it has grown shoots, the stem can be cut off and transplanted in shallow soil.

In May basil seedlings should be planted and in September you should sow parsley for the spring. Parsley takes six weeks to germinate, so be patient. Your own fresh seed sown in early autumn will germinate quickly and overwinter safely.

But all of these herbs need not be grown from seed as the plants are readily available in health shops, greengrocers and garden centres, and it goes without saying that buying them in pots is far less trouble even though it is more expensive.

Before September herbs should be pruned. Try to time the cutting back to as soon after the plant has flowered as possible, so as to preserve the plant’s energy from trying to make seeds. The advantage of cutting back is that it prevents the plant from becoming too woody. Straggly lengths of hard herbs can be cut back in the spring. Try not to cut old wood as it is on this wood the new growth is produced, and never cut old wood of lavender.

Keeping Herbs under Control

Many herbs (like mint) grow pretty vigorously and need a little controlling otherwise they tend to run wild. But herbs can be planted in such a way as to create a very attractive feature while still keeping them in check.

A popular method of managing herbs in a small garden is planting them between the segments of an old cartwheel. If you can’t get hold of a cartwheel you can set out a cartwheel design with bricks. Another alternative is to put down runs of bricks or large stones between the plants to stop them getting out of hand. In a large garden a chess board pattern with paving slab squares is very decorative. The vigorous nature of soft herbs is one of the reasons why they are such a success in terracotta pots. This confines their roots and keeps maintenance down to a minimum.

Basil

If you want an excellent basil crop, it needs to be given rather different attention than the other herbs. Half an hour of your time is all that is needed to have a splendid basil plant flourishing from late May right through to December. But bring basil inside in October and put it on a sunny window sill. Basil is said to be very calming, as is mint.

To plant, empty one basil plant, which is usually made up of six or eight small basil shoots growing together, on to a newspaper and tease the individual plants apart. Once separated, plant each plant in a large pot filled with compost — preferably terracotta (not plastic as it doesn’t dry out or retain moisture in the same way as terracotta does). Make holes for the roots by pushing a pencil or small stick into the soil, then lower the plant’s roots into the hole and firm it round with your fingers. You should have about six or eight separate plants spaced round the 10 in or 12 in (25 or 30 cm) pot. This individual planting enables the plants to fill out into a bushy plant and give much better value. Place in a sunny sheltered spot, or warm window sill. Water freely only when the soil has dried out.

When picking basil nip off the leaf only with your nails or scissors. Do not remove whole head of the plant as you would with parsley or mint as it will not grow again.

Some herbs should be replaced every four to five years but mostly they just need to be divided and replanted every three or four years. Even if you only buy them in pots and keep them on a warm window sill, they are a healthy and worthwhile addition to any household, not to be overlooked.

19. June 2013 by admin
Categories: Gardening Ideas, Herb Garden, Types of Gardens | Tags: , | Comments Off on Growing Herbs

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