Herbs offer a major source for seasoning of foods as well as medicinal properties as well. While the growing conditions are similar each herb has its own special requirements that are described in further detail on individual pages. Learn more about growing herbs and learning the differences among them.
Before You Plant
Choose the Right Herbs:
There are several types of herbs available:
- Perennial herbs continue to grow year after year. Some herbs such as rosemary can produce quality leaves for up to 20 years while others have a much shorter lifespan of quality leaves. Some common perennials are catnip, chives, sweet fennel, lavender, lemon balm, sweet marjoram, oregano, mint and sage.
- Biennial herbs grow for two years, producing flowers during the second year of growth. Common biennial herbs are caraway and parsley (although parsley is often planted as an annual because of its weak second year).
- Annual herbs only produce for one year and need to be replanted each spring. Annuals include anise, basil, chervil, coriander, dill, and summer savory.
- Woody perennials do not die to the ground each winter and are typically shrubs or bushes. Rosemary, thyme, winter savory, sage, sweet bay and lemon verbena are woody perennials.
Another factor in choosing which herbs to plant is where you will be planting. Hardy herbs are more set for outdoor plantings and can often withstand the cold winters with little or no protection. These hardy herbs include lavender, mint, lemon balm, angelica and sweet fennel. More tender herbs are best suited for container planting. Basil, bay, chervil, chives, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme all grow very well in container settings.
Find a Suitable Place:
Most herbs are easy to grow, but you need to find a suitable place for them to prosper. Look for an area that:
- Is mostly sunny. While some herbs may still grow in partial shade, for most, their flavor will not be as intense.
- Is free of weeds.
- Has good drainage. Most herbs can tolerate a lack of water more than they can being water-logged. If the area is not well-drained, you will need to modify it by making raised beds or installing an underground drainage tiles.
Prepare the Soil:
- Typically, any good soil is adequate for growing herb plants. Avoid using fertilizer, it creates lots of foliage, but it often lacks flavor.
- Adding adequate amounts of compost provides a richness to the soil that allows for maximum growth.
- The addition of peat moss or compost (several bushels for each 100 square feet) helps the soil retain moisture.
- Generally, a pH level of 6.5 to 7.0 works well for herbs.
What You Will Need:
- Herb seeds or plants
- Prepared soil
- Garden hoe
- Garden spade
- Garden rake
- Organic matter
Steps for Planting:
- Begin by working the soil until loose at least 12-18 inches deep.
- Mix in organic matter and combine well.
- Using the garden rake, rake the area to level.
- Plant seeds according to specific instructions being careful not to sow them too deep, usually twice as deep as their diameter. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the seed, the closer they should be planted to the surface.
- Most herbs can be started indoors during the winter months and transplanted in the spring. The exceptions to this are dill, coriander, fennel and anise because they do not transfer well.
Multiply Plants with Cutting/Division/Layering
New herb plants can be grown from established plants using a variety of methods:
- Cuttings involve removing a small portion of an established plant and using it to grow additional plants. It works well with herbs such as sage, lemon balm, rosemary and lavender.
- Select a well-established plant in late spring or early summer to take a cutting from.
- Carefully cut off a 3-5 inch piece of a tip growth, clipping just below a node. Avoid woody stems and soft shoots as they take longer to develop roots.
- Dip the end of the cutting in rooting powder available at most garden supply stores.
- Place the end of the cutting into a rich soil and firmly secure it in by pressing the soil in place.
- Allow several weeks for the roots to develop.
- It is best to keep new plants indoors over the winter and plant them outdoors in the spring.
- Division involves separating established plants in the early spring before growth has begun, and replanting so each section can develop further. This method works well with herbs such as chives, mints and French tarragon.
- Begin by digging up the established plant.
- Carefully divide the plant into sections by cutting or breaking up the roots.
- Replant each divided section spaced 12-18 inches apart.
- Keep the soil moist until the new plants are thriving.
- Layering is the simplest way to increase the number of plants because you leave the new plant connected to the parent plant until it is established. This method works well with a variety of herbs including rosemary, thyme, winter savory, sage, bay and lemon balm.
- Begin by selecting a long branch that is low to the ground.
- Place the branch close to the soil and bend the last 6-8 inches up to a vertical position. The branch should make a “V” shape.
- Carefully scrape the bottom of the stem and insert it into the ground.
- Support the buried branch using a small stake a wire.
- Keep the plant moist while the roots are growing.
- Layering is best completed from spring to late summer, allowing the plant to remain until the following spring.
- The following spring, cut the new plant free from the parent plant and transplant (if necessary) to the desired location.
Harvesting your herbs is the best reward for all of your efforts. Learning when and how to harvest each herb takes experience, but there are some basic rules that can be applied to all herbs. Here is an overview of the three main types of harvesting.
- The best time to harvest leaves is early in the morning as soon as the dew has dried. This is when the oils in the plant are the strongest.
- Stems are best cut when the flowers are just beginning to bloom.
- If harvesting a large amount of leaves, place them in a container such as an open weave basket that allows for plenty of air circulation. Avoid boxes or plastic bags that can cause early deterioration of the leaves.
- Only pick as many leaves as you are able to process for storage.
- Perennial plants can typically be cut down to about half their original size. Annuals can be trimmed down to a few inches or removed completely at the end of the growing season.
- Rinse all herbs in cold water and pat dry with a towel.
- Allow herbs to dry for 3-4 days or freeze them. If you opt to freeze them, begin by blanching the leaves in boiling water for no more than 50 seconds and immediately transfer them to ice water. Pat dry with a towel to remove water and arrange them in a single layer on a flat pan for the initial freezing.
- Regardless of your method, herbs that have been processed should be stored in air-tight containers.
- Dill, fennel, caraway and anise all have seeds that can be processed at home.
- Begin by removing the seeds from the top of the plant when it begins to yellow in color.
- Allow the seed heads to dry for 5-6 days in a dry, cool, dark place.
- Gently shake the seeds loose and allow them to dry an additional 7 days. Stir the seeds frequently as they are drying for the best results.
- When the seeds are completely dry, store them in an air-tight container.
- Roots are harvested with angelica and lovey.
- Remove the roots in late fall or early spring and wash thoroughly.
- Slice or split the roots to create a thin layer evenly distributed on a sheet of screen.
- Allow the root pieces to partially dry, turning several times each week.
- Complete the drying process by placing them in a warm oven (approx. 125 degrees).
- The entire process can take 6-8 weeks. Roots have achieved the desired level of dryness if they snap when you bend them.
- Store in an air-tight container.
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