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All About Herbs  

Growing Herbs Provides You With A Continuing And Satisfying Hobby


Little wonder that herbs have earned a place in American gardens. Freshly harvested herbs have pungent and aromatic qualities that far exceed those of their commercially obtained counterparts - whether fresh or dried.

Even after the outdoor growing season is over, you can still enjoy dried herbs in fragrant potpourris and sachets. You can also grow herbs indoors in pots on sunny windowsills, and use them for culinary purposes, either fresh, dried, or frozen.

You will enjoy growing herbs because their culture is easy. They require little care and space, have very few insect and disease problems, and generally require only moderate fertility levels. Above all, herbs provide you with a continuing and satisfying hobby.

Choosing A Site

Herbs flourish under the same conditions that you provide for your flower or vegetable garden. Although most herbs will grow in partial shade, it is better if the herb garden receives at least 4 to 6 hours of sunlight a day.

A majority of herbs will grow well under a wide range of soil conditions, with the exception of extremely wet, poorly drained soils. Note, however, that sage, rosemary, and thyme require a well-drained but moderately moist soil.

If the garden soil is poorly drained, you can improve the situation by modifying or amending it, building it into a raised bed that will be above the water table. To build a raise bed use about two parts of native topsoil to one part compost soil ammendment such as Clayutter, mushroom compost, or composted cow manure. You can see how to build a raised bed in the Planting an Annual Flowerbed section.

In general, herbs do better in soils of low to medium fertility, so additional fertilizer applications are not needed. With herbs, soils with high fertility tend to produce lots of foliage that is low in flavor.

If your site is well-drained, prepare your garden site in the same manner that you would a vegetable garden, spading it to a depth of 6 to 12 inches. Then level and rake the site to remove any large clods and debris.

Determining The Size Of Your Herb Garden

The size of your garden will depend largely upon the quantity of herbs that you need and want to grow. A dozen annual and/or perennial herbs will provide you with a good variety and should require no more than 20 square feet or so.

Fitting Herbs Into your Landscape

Decide on a type of garden. An herb garden can take any form. They can be planted in a formal garden such as the knot garden pictured below, or informally with flowers, trees, and shrubs; or in theme gardens.

If you have the space and are interested in a garden as pictured above do a Google search using the words 'Knot Gardens'. You'll be sure to find much information and many photos for ideas.

Formal - A formal herb garden generally is composed of a series of beds that are not identical but appear balanced. The herbs are arranged by height, foliage color, and/or use, often in rows. Wide walkways are used to separate the beds and give the garden a sense of spaciousness. Formal gardens of the 16th century were designed as knot gardens. This style uses plants to create intricate, geometric designs within a square or rectangle. The designs were often edged with low-growing hedges of lavender or boxwood that showed off the subtle characteristics of the herbs. When choosing plants for a knot garden, select those that are compact, low-growing, and are manageable. Some suggested herbs are thyme, germander, rue, hyssop, rosemary, and santolina. Avoid invasive herbs such as the mints. In addition to the herbs, statuary, topiaries, and container-grown plants are important features to include in a formal garden.

Kitchen Herb Garden - Kitchen gardens (including thyme, sage, basil, tarragon, dill) make use of the best cullinary herbs.

Single Color Herb Garden - These gardens use a particular color as a theme such as gray-green (including horehound, lavender, artemesia, and wormwood). Of course you can always add plants from other genus to this garden as well. The annuals Dusty Miller and Helichrysum Licorice are wonderful additions.

Scented Herb Garden - The name of this theme says it all and includes mint, scented geraniums, lemon balm, thymes with scent, and rosemary.

Same Genus Garden - These work particularly well in containers and includea different varieties of the same herb species. For example: a sage garden would use common sage, tricolor sage, golden sage, purple sage, clary sage, pineapple sage, and any of the salvias which are actually sages. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.


Other Uses For Herbs in The Landscape or Garden

Don't limit your use of herbs to specific situations. You can use them to enhance most any garden. Of course, some grow better as groundcovers, others as edging plants; still others are best when intermingled with different plants in a mixed border. Most, however, are best used where their fragrance and beauty can be appreciated upclose. Rosemary makes a great hedge around a patio or deck.


Plan Your Herb Garden

Put your ideas on paper. Once you have decided on the type of garden you want, make a rough sketch or drawing on paper. This helps to visualize what the garden will look like and will help in determining the number of plants needed. Think about the staging (shorter plants in front, taller towards the back) as well as succession of flowering.


Consider color schemes and combinations. Use specific plant characteristics when deciding where to locate the plants. Color is one of the most noticeable features of a plant. By choosing a single color scheme, you can create a garden that gives a sense of space, openness, and brightness.

For greatest effect, vary the height, shape, texture, and size of the flowers and tones of the color. Colors can also be used in combination; some colors blend together better than others. For example, a silver-foliaged plant such as horehound enhances a red or pastel foliage or flowers. Yellow and blue is always a good combination. Orange and blue, yellow and violet, and red and green are complementary colors and create a strong effect.

Contrast is another technique to use to make your garden more interesting. By definition, contrast is using opposing elements close together to produce an intense or intriguing effect. You can contrast textures, darks, lights, colors, shapes, flower form....any design element. For example, rounded plant forms look best next to those that are upright; a plant with round flowers is complemented by a plant with spiky flowers and so on. A plant with large leaves will compliment a pplant with very tiny leaves, and so on.

Keep the plants together. It is very important to define the garden. The plant will look better if kept together rather than scattered through the landscape. Edging the herb garden defines the planting area and makes the garden look as though it belongs in the landscape. If the plants are located next to a wall, a sidewalk or path can provide the boundary. If they are located in a lawn area, a permanent edging of brick, rock, or wood can be useful. A defined area looks more "finished" and is easier to maintain.

Create a unified effect. In addition to the plant material, other things to consider are benches, sculptures, bird baths, and other objects that serve as focal points to enhance the planting.

Growing Herbs in Containers

Many herbs can be grown successfully in containers on a patio, balcony, terrace or indoors on a sunny window sill. There are many reasons why you may want to grow herbs in containers rather than in the garden. First, some of them are small and tend to get lost in a landscape; growing them in containers brings them closer to the viewer. This is especially true of ornamental herbs that have unique qualities that should be viewed upclose.

Container growing is especially recommended for herbs that need good drainage and tend to rot in overly wet garden soils, or for tender herbs that need to be overwintered indoors. Containers are easily transported and can be arranged in attractive groupings with containers of flowering plants.

Choosing a container - Any container is suitable for growing herbs as long as it has a drainage hole. Clay pots are often preferred because they are more porous than plastic. Other containers that work well include window boxes, strawberry jars, and hanging baskets.

Soil mix - The soil you use should be loose and well-drained. A professional lightweight potting soil is best. We stock Penningtons Pro Potting soil at the nursery.

Choosing the plants - Small and slow-growing herbs look best in containers. Some examples are variegated sage, purple sage, golden sage, parsley, Greek oregano, rosemary, prostrate rosemary, marjoram, bush basil, thyme, chives, and summer savory. Window boxes, strawberry jars, and large pots can accomodate a combination of several herbs and flowers.

Care of herbs in containers - Watering is the most difficult part of container gardening. Plants growing in containers dry out faster than in the ground. On a hot, sunny day, a container may require water once or twice daily. Of course, the water requirements vary from plant to plant. When the top of the soil feels dry, apply enough water to allow a small amount to come out the drainage holes in the bottom of the container.

Since most herbs do not require high fertility, you should not need to fertilize them as much as you would other container-grown plants such as flowers or houseplants. During the growing season, pinch the plants back to keep them bushy and compact and remove any dead or diseased leaves to keep them healthy.

Growing herbs indoors - Herbs growing in containers can be easily moved indoors for the winter. Before doing so, the plants should be acclimatized in early fall. Gradually move them indoors a few hours at a time over the period of several days so they get adjusted to the differences in temperature and light. Herbs growing indoors should be treated differently than those out-of-doors.

One of the biggest problems indoors is providing sufficient light to keep the plants from getting spindly. Grow them in the sunniest location you have or under fluorescent lights. Since the plants will not be using as much water as they did outdoors, water only when the soil is dry; apply enough water so that some drains out the bottom of the pot. Avoid overwatering which will cause the roots to rot. Check the plants frequently for aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies which are common pests on herbs grown indoors. herbs grown outdoors have very little insect problems.


Availability of Seeds and Plants - At the nursery we offer a wide selection of herbs for growing in our area (zone 8). Seeds and plants of various other herbs can be obtained by mail order or from suppliers on the internet.

Classification Of Herbs - Herbs are classified either as annuals, biennials, or perennials:

  • Annual herbs such as basil grow, flower, and produce seed during one season, and then die.
  • Biennial herbs such as parsely grow for two seasons, flowering the second year only.
  • Perennial herbs, which make of most of what we stock at the nursery, once established, overwinter and flower each season.
  • Some herbs such as some of the sages are tender perennials; these do not survive severe winters and are best grown as annuals or over-wintered indoors.


Summer Care of the Herb Garden - Your herb garden will need attention throughout the growing season. Weed control and provision for adequate moisture are two important cultural necessities. When rainfall is less than 1 inch per week, provide additional moisture.

The use of a mulch is an attractive and effective means of controlling weeds and maintaining constant soil moisture and temperature for the root systems of your herbs. Mulches that you might consider include bark chips or shredded bark. To be effective, the mulch should be applied at least 2 inches deep around the plants.

Winter Protection - Most perennial herbs are hardy plants that are able to survive winter. In Georgia we do have an occasional severe winter. Here are some suggestions to ensure plant survival during such a winter. First, start out with healthy plants and maintain vigor throughout the growing season. Though many herbs tolerate poor or wet soils, the majority prefer to grow in well-drained soils. Plants in overly wet soils will grow poorly and are subject to root rots. Soils that are heavy should be amended with organic matter to loosen the clay structure. Another method of improving drainage is to plant the herbs in raised beds or containers.

Avoid late fertilizing and pruning - Most herbs are more flavorful when the fertility is not too high.

Pruning should be done during spring and summer; avoid excessively cutting the plants back in the fall. The growth serves to catch leaves that help insulate the plants. An additional mulch of evergreen branches or some other materiacan be placed around the plants. Avoid a mulch that packs down and stays too wet during the winter, which would cause the plants to rot. Bark nuggets would be preferable oner shredded mulch.

NOTE: Dills and fennels are host plants for the caterpillar of the monarch butterfly. We allow them to munch on these plants as much as they want. The plants will grow back after having been stripped.


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