Why plant an herb garden? There are many good reasons to plant an herb garden that include using them fresh to enhance the natural flavor of foods, to beautify the landscape, and to add fragrance to your garden and home. You can add harvested herbs to potpourris, butters, vinegars, and oils for charming and practical gifts from your garden.
Most gardeners divide herbs into two major categories - culinary and ornamental (some serve both functions). The two other recognized categories of herbs, medicinal and cosmetic, are not dealt with here. Culinary or edible herbs such as basil, oregano, thyme and others add interest to our favorite foods and make them taste just right. Culinary herbs are also used by health-conscious cooks as flavor boosters when preparing low-calorie or low-sodium meals. Once you have cooked with fresh herbs, you won't want to use the processed ones off your grocer's shelf.
Ornamental herbs add color, height, fragrance, and texture to a garden. Use ornamental herbs in flower arrangements and wreaths; plant them along paths for color and fragrance or for use in essential oils such as lavender and spearmint for aromatherapy.
So, what is an herb? The term herb is more descriptive than scientific and loosely refers to plants that have practical applications. Historically, herbs have been used for medicines, dyes, teas, seasonings, crafts, fragrances, botanical pesticides and landscaping.
Most herbs are perennials, plants that go dormant or die back in winter and grow again in the spring. For outdoor herb gardens select an area to plant such favorites as chives, lavender, oregano, thyme, rosemary and sage for a permanent place in your garden year after year.
Other herbs such as basil, dill, parsley, cilantro, and sweet marjoram are annuals, living only one season. Annuals are planted and harvested in the same year and must be replanted every year.
Most herbs thrive in full sun to partial shade and in a well-drained soil or soilless medium. They need only a little fertilizer, watering, weeding, and regular harvesting or clipping during the growing season, which is why fresh herbs appeal to busy cooks and weekend gardeners.
The model site for an herb garden will incorporate the following: at least six hours of sunlight, good drainage, loose soil or soilless medium, neutral pH, a nearby source of water, convenience to the kitchen, proximity to compost and fertilizer, good air circulation to discourage leaf disease, freedom from underground tree roots or lines, and protection from the wind.
One advantage an herb garden has over most other types of gardens is that it can be planted and maintained just about anywhere; directly in your garden or greenhouse, along pathways and walks, in containers on your porch or deck, in raised beds, in flower beds, and even indoors.
There are three important "do not's" to remember when you mix and match herbs and flowers. First of all, do not plant invasive mints in a flower bed or you may spend more time digging them out than enjoying them. Secondly, do not spray pesticides meant for flowers on or near herbs used in food unless the product is also approved for food crops. Lastly, do not let flowers from prolific producers (such as chives, and lemon balm) go to seed or you will have bumper crops in your flower bed.
Propagating or starting your own herbs from seed can be a simple task .You can start your herbs from seed indoors or directly in the garden. Most herb seeds germinate within two weeks and then need another two to four weeks to grow into plants large enough to transplant to the garden. You should start your seeds approximately six weeks before you plan to set them outdoors.
Two other ways to start new herb plants are to take stem cuttings (clones) or division of underground shoots that sprout up a short distance from the main plant.
Whether you're a novice or a seasoned gardener, an herb garden has many benefits to offer you from tastes that spice up bland foods, essential oils that affect your mood, to the admiration of the beauty of the plant. Go plant your herb garden now and start enjoying the benefits that herbs have to offer.
Don and Sandy Landers are owners of Dream Garden Hydroponics, LLC.