Herb Gardening 101
Gardening can be a great way to relieve stress, spend time outdoors, add beauty and utility to your environment, even burn calories. Many homeowners would like to plant a garden, but don’t know where to start. A small, yet satisfying way to begin your gardening career can be with an herbal garden.
An herb garden may be a good option if any of the following apply to you:
l you have limited space
l you don’t have a lot of time to devote to gardening
l you’re unable, for physical reasons, to spend a lot of time on your hands and knees
l your garden conditions are less than ideal: poor soil, bad drainage, too much shade or sun (this would require the use of a container garden)
If you want to start small, a container herb garden is the way to go. There is a great variety of containers to choose from – terra cotta pots, plastic containers, wire or hanging baskets, concrete planters, planter boxes, whiskey barrels, 5-gallon buckets, tubs and bushel baskets. Since basically anything that can hold soil can be used to plant in, you can even get a little creative – shoes, glass aquariums, tea kettles.
A few essential elements – the container must have a hole for adequate drainage and be large enough to hold enough soil for mature plants to achieve full growth in. Avoid using black containers in full sun. And remember that terra cotta and other porous containers wick water away from plants. Before using the containers, be sure to clean them using a 10 percent bleach solution to kill any pests and to remove fertilizer salts. Soak porous containers in water to season them before planting and don’t allow them to dry out.
Any old dirt will not do for herb gardening. You must select a soil mixture that drains well but also keeps plants from drying out between waterings. This is the key to successful container gardening. Soilless growing media are available at garden centers and are an excellent choice, as they are free of disease, insects and weed seeds. Or you can mix your own blend of soil with peat moss, vermiculite or perlite, sterile potting soil or composted soil mix, and coarse sand. The pH level for your mixture should be in the 6.0 to 6.8 range, and if it’s not, you will need to add lime to the mix. To determine the pH level, you can send a sample of your mixture to a soil-testing laboratory. Regardless of what mixture you use, it will become compacted and root-bound over time, so it’s best to repot your herbs at least once a year.
After you select your herbs, it’s time to plant! First decide how the plants will be arranged – it doesn’t hurt to make a little sketch to go by. Always remove plants from the container they have been growing in before planting them in your garden. Cover the drainage hole in the container, using pieces of broken pottery or some mesh screen to prevent the soil mix from clogging the hole. Fill the container about three-fourths full with soil mix. Moisten the soil mixture thoroughly. Allow the mix to settle, and then add more soil mix to again fill the container to about three-fourths full.
Some of the more popular and easy to grow herbs are listed below along with information about each.
Basil: An annual plant, these will need to be replanted each year in the early spring or fall. Germination usually occurs in 7 to 10 days. Has deep red or green foliage and pink flowers. Basil grows well in the garden or as a potted plant. Tastes fantastic in fresh homemade sauce
Chives: This perennial is easy to grow from seed. Germination occurs in about 10 days. When transplanted they wilt slightly. Mature plants grow to 12, inches; space 6 inches apart. Leaves are topped with pink flowers in early spring. Established clumps can be divided and transplanted.
Dill: The seeds as well as leaves are used for flavoring food. Easily grown annual with feathery foliage and small pale yellow blossoms. Grows to 2 ½ feet and germinates in 7 to 10 days. Resents transplanting. May be spaced as close as 4 inches apart. Self-sows readily.
Lavender: This hardy perennial has grayish foliage and fragrant lavender flowers. Germinates in about 14 days. Place a satchel of fresh lavender in your dresser drawer to keep things smelling fresh.
Mint: A hardy perennial, mint is probably the easiest herb to grow in almost any climate. Sown indoors seed germinates in 10 to 15 days. Space 12 inches apart. They grow profusely in sun or shade. A sprig of mint adds a certain zest to a cup of brewed tea... soothing for your stomach as well.
Sage: This herb is another hardy perennial with beautiful foliage and blue flowers. Germinates in 14 days. Grows to 2 feet and should be spaced 12 inches apart.
Thyme: Leaves are cut for drying before purple blossoms open, otherwise the flavor is changed. This is a hardy perennial being of somewhat shrubby growth. Germination occurs in 21 to 30 days. Grows to 12 inches. Space 8 inches apart. It needs rich soil.
Herb gardens are a great way to ease into gardening and get your hands dirty. Whether you do it inside or outside, the result will be fresh seasoning for your food, beautiful foliage and it might even lower your blood pressure.