Herbs are the gateway plants to gardening. There’s no better time to get started with herbs than right now so you will have a summer garden full of flavor and fragrance. Herbs are easy to grow in-ground or in containers, and some can be grown indoors.
Choose Herbs for Your Garden
Let’s start by defining herb. According to the Oxford Dictionary, an herb is “any plant with leaves, seeds or flowers used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume.” If you cook, you’re familiar with the pricey packs of fresh herbs in the produce section, and the jars of dried herbs in the spice section.
In the garden, herbs add fragrance and texture to flower and vegetable beds. Many herbs bring in pollinators like bees, butterflies and other insects that are beneficial to your garden
Popular herbs are basil, thyme, rosemary, mint, tarragon, chives, lavender.
If you’re new to gardening, buy these plants as seedlings and enjoy them all summer, and in many cases, into the next year. If you’re interested in growing herbs from seeds, follow package directions and practice patience. Herbs can be slow to grow from seed.
Try these herbs in your garden this year:
1. Basil. Probably the number one most popular herb to grow. Buy a few seedlings and set them alongside your tomato plants, or in a container set in a sunny spot. Basil has a peppery bite that is an essential summertime flavor. Try fresh basil leaves in a Caprese salad with a fresh, ripe homegrown tomato and a slice of whole milk mozzarella.
Like most herbs, basil likes well-draining soil. It’s also a very thirsty plant. Keep it watered in the hottest days of summer, and harvest frequently.
Basil makes a lovely, fragrant addition to homemade cut flower bouquets, You can also start new basil plants by rooting cuttings in water. Basil will bolt, or flower, when temperatures soar in mid-summer. Pinch off and discard the flower stalks when they emerge to keep the flavor of the leaves the freshest. When you shop for basil plants, keep an eye out for newer, sterile varieties that do not bolt, like ‘Amazel” Basil. Basil is an annual will die with the first frost.
How to Grow Mint Without Regrets
2. Mint is the be-careful-what-you-wish-for herb. It’s incredibly fragrant and can be used in many applications in the kitchen, from sweet to savory. But sometimes it can be too much of a good thing. Mint spreads by underground runners, and when it gets hold of a garden bed, it won’t let go. Plus, it survives our zone 7 winters. Start smart with your mint and plant it in a container first and then set it in the garden, Keep an eye on it, just in case.
Mint makes a refreshing addition to hot or cold drinks. For a summer sipper, try filling a pitcher with ice cold water and add thin slices of peeled cucumber and a few gently crushed mint leaves.
3. Tarragon has a zippy anise or licorice taste. You may not use it very often in the kitchen, but it’s nice to have around when a recipe calls for it. In the garden, it behaves, growing to about 18 inches high. In late summer, tarragon produces sweet yellow flowers that attract pollinators. It’s perennial in our zone 7 gardens.
4. Thyme is a low-growing woody perennial herb that performs well in containers and also at the front of a border. Use whole stems in stews or roasts. Strip leaves from the stems, chop, and add to dishes. Look for lemon thyme for a light citrus flavor.
Wood Perennials Like Rosemary & Lavender
5. Rosemary seedlings start small, but within a few years will grow to about 3 feet tall and wide. It likes well-drained soil and is drought-tolerant. Keep the plant thinned by pruning out whole stems several times a year.
Use piney-scented rosemary leaves to flavor simple syrup and honey. Whole stems flavor cooking roasts and potatoes and can be used as skewers for the grill.
6. Lavender, like rosemary, is a woody perennial, but it doesn’t love our humid summers here in Georgia. Plant lavender in well-draining soil and make sure it gets plenty of air circulation or it will fall victim to mildew. There are several types of lavender available in garden centers and online. Spanish lavenders perform well in our climate, and I like a newer cultivar, ‘Phenomenal’ lavender.
7. Chive is a perennial herb that you will enjoy snipping throughout the seasons. This mild oniony herb earns its keep as an ornamental plant, sending up sweet purple blooms in mid-spring. Plant chives in full sun in well-draining soil and keep trimmed.
Here are Tips for Planting Herbs:
- Choose a full sun site that gets 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day.
- Amend soil with organic compost to improve drainage.
- Plant seedlings according to plant tag instructions, keeping in mind mature size.
- Water herbs after planting.
Try Growing Herbs in Containers:
- Herbs grow best in containers at least 12 inches wide
- Use good quality potting soil or garden soil amended with peat and perlite.
- Water frequently.
This story first appeared in my local newspaper as part of its Ask a Master Gardener series.
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