More About Your Herb Garden

Last month I defined herbs, why you might consider growing herbs, and a bit about their biology. Letís continue the discussion. If you have previously gardened you probably already have the tools necessary for an herb garden: a spade, rake, trowel, clippers and pruning shears. It is also fun and educational to begin a notebook regarding your herbs. You might note frost dates, when you first are able to work the soil, when a particular herb bloomed, when and if you harvested a certain herb, where you purchased plants or seeds, whether or not the seeds were begun indoors or direct-seeded in the garden, and whether or not you received divisions of herbs from friends.

The soil for your herbs should have been loosed and aerated prior to planting. Although I never have added a fertilizer to any of the herbs growing on our property I give them at least an inch of compost each spring. I noted early on that earthworms and other decomposers gradually take this compost down into the soil. In an established herb garden it is somewhat difficult to dig in the compost but it certainly does get to the roots during weeding, dividing and other garden tasks. If you research the topic of herbs you may read in older literature that herbs should not be fed because this leads to green growth and a lower concentration of oils and other flavenoids they produce. This has not been authenticated by recent research. Many herbs do survive in dry, barren soil but the plants frequently thrive in rich soil and still produce very flavorful leaves or other plant parts good for harvesting. You will need to weed your herb garden; weeds detract from the appearance but more importantly they grab nutrients away from herbs.

When transplanting herbs (or any other plant) soak the plant before planting. Spider the roots. Lightly tap down the soil around the plant with your hands. You may wish to protect the young plant from the sun or wind for a few days until it is established.

Donít be afraid to cut your herbs during the growing season. Pruning improves the shape and strengthens weak plants. If you are harvesting the leaves of a particular herb it is best to harvest before the plant blooms. More oils will be present in the leaves. When flower production begins the plantís energy is given over to reproduction and the flavor will not be as good. Harvest your herbs after the dew has dried and certainly not after a rain. Keep your garden clean and look for disease, insects and slugs &emdash; though you donít usually find too many in an herb garden. In late autumn you can use leaves to even out the soil temperature to prevent perennial herbs from heaving due to alternate freezing and thawing.

I would be happy to discuss herb varieties and care in more detail.

Forever Young Magazine - April 2007