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Herb gardening? Growing your own herbs has many benefits. You'll quickly learn just how great it is to grow your herbs once you start reaping the rewards of your harvest. Most people who grow a few herbs never want to stop, and their herb gardens only seem to expand every year!
Benefits of Growing Your Own Herbs
One significant benefit of growing your own herbs is saving money. Fresh herbs can be costly, with a single small container of fresh herbs sometimes costing $3 to $5 in many supermarkets!
For just a dollar or so, you can buy a big packet of seeds that can grow many plants and keep producing for quite a while. Even when you factor in costs such as tools, fertilizer, and other garden expenses, you should still save a great deal of money if you use fresh herbs often.
Herb gardening is also very relaxing. Many people find that it helps them reduce stress and unwind. All types of gardening can relieve stress, but herb gardening combines the stress-relieving effects of gardening with the natural stress-relief of aromatherapy!
Many herbs are straightforward to grow. A lot of herbs will grow almost anywhere and require very little maintenance. Herbs can be grown in almost any garden location and even in containers where they can be moved around at will. The fact that herbs can easily be located almost anywhere makes them a very good subject for most gardeners.
Herbs can be used as part of your landscape design, as well. Because they are generally lovely, they look perfectly at home in their own garden, tucked among flowers, or even used as ornamental plants along walkways, by porches or steps, or anywhere you need a bit of an accent.
They're great at jazzing up bland dinners. If your family has complained that your cooking is becoming tiresome, try adding some fresh herbs to your food! Once your family has tried spaghetti made with fresh basil, they may never want the stuff in a jar again!
Fresh herbs are also an excellent source of additional nutritional value. Sure, they taste great and can make an excellent garnish for all sorts of dishes, but they're also good for you! Some herbs contain decent levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Fresh herbs are perfect for adding that extra bit of nutrition to your meals.
An attractive herb garden can also increase the value of your home if you decide to sell it. Many people have always wanted to have their own garden, and having a lovely herb garden waiting for them could be a big selling point.
Growing your herbs will also mean you can get varieties that you can't find locally. Most people can find fresh chives and standard basil locally, but can you find garlic chives, purple basil, or fresh chervil in your local grocery store? Most people can't, and the only way they can experience these exotic herbs is to grow them.
Plus, growing herbs can also make you more popular. A lot of people love fresh herbs, and if your neighbors hear you're growing them, they might stop by and ask for some! Your friends and family will be delighted to be given fresh herbs as a gift, and they'll be wanting to hang around you for more handouts as often as they can!
Planning Your Herb Gardening
If you're anything like the average herb gardener, it can be mind-boggling looking through seed catalogs and trying to choose just a few varieties to plant. There are so many types of herbs to grow - you're probably tempted to plant almost all of them! But most of us don't have the space to plant that many or the time or energy to care for them all.
There are three basic types of herbs – herbaceous, evergreen, and annual. The type of herb will depend on how it grows, its type of plant, and its habits. Herbaceous herbs are perennial. They die back during the winter but come back again in the spring.
Some common herbs of this type include oregano, tarragon, bee balm, mint, chives, sweet fennel, and winter savory. They don't need to be pruned; you clip them off at ground level at the end of the season.
They can even be mowed down with a mower. Always be careful with mint. It spreads quickly and can take over an entire garden if you let it. Evergreen herbs are perennial herbs that require pruning if you don't harvest them regularly.
They should be pruned every fall or early in the spring. Evergreen herbs include sage, rosemary, and thyme. When you prune, you should only clip those old branches and don't show any signs of new growth. Any that are broken or lying on other branches should also be pruned.
Annual or Perennial herbs?
When you harvest evergreen herbs, you should be careful to cut only one section of leaves at a time and only cut it back to where new growth is still showing. You don't want to cut too much, or you could discourage further growth.
Annual herbs include basil, cilantro, parsley, dill, and chervil. They must be planted again every year because they won't come back after they die. If you want a continual harvest of annual herbs, you have to keep planting them every four to six weeks during the season.
It would help if you tried to snip off any flower buds you see on annual herb plants because it usually won't continue to produce leaves after plant flowers. After they flower, they go to seed, at which point they're not useful for producing leaves for your kitchen anymore.
Plant herbs you know you like
When planning which types of herbs you wish to plant, you should choose only those varieties which you believe you'll use in cooking. It will probably be very tempting to plant at least one of every type of herb you see, but it's not practical.
Plant those herbs which you know you'll use. And keep in mind that some herbs are considered better when dried. Sage, for example, is an herb that many people prefer the flavor of when dried.
It's probably better to purchase those herbs that you already know you like to use fresh, as well as perhaps one or two you've never tried before to test out. Be careful not to plant too many types that you can't take care of them all.
Herbs are Low Maintenance
Although herbs don't generally require a lot of care and maintenance, they will need a bit of work. Don't plant twenty different varieties if you really only have time to care for five or ten!
Finally, be sure to check the zones that various herbs do well in. If your favorite herb doesn't do well in your zone, you should probably skip it or at least grow it indoors in a container. There isn't much use in planting an herb if it will likely die before you harvest it.
Easy Herbs for Beginning Herb Gardening
Beginning herb gardeners may worry about which types of herbs they should grow. There are many different herbs available, and some are more difficult to grow than others. There are a few types of herbs that are especially easy to grow for beginners. These are generally more hardy plants that don't require a lot of fertilizer or particular work.
Parsley – Parsley is a relatively hardy annual in zones 2-11. Both flat-leaf and curly varieties are easy to care for and grow very well without a lot of extra care. It can do well in full sun to light shade and needs rich soil that is well-drained but moist. It doesn't do particularly well in the heat.
Cilantro – Also known as coriander - this annual herb doesn't need exceptionally rich soil and isn't extremely particular about sun and shade. It can do well in full sun or light shade. It is relatively easy to care for and does well in almost all zones.
Chives – Chives are a perennial herb. Chives can grow well in almost any soil and nearly any condition. Chives have been known to be seen growing in old gardens that haven't been tended in many years! It's hardy in zones 3-9 and prefers full sun. It does do better in rich soils but doesn't need it to survive.
Chives have a rich, oniony flavor, and they taste great on baked potatoes.
Oregano – This herb is extremely popular, and it goes well with many different types of foods. It is commonly used in tomato-based pasta dishes, chicken dishes, and pork dishes. Hard in zones 5-9, oregano does well in raised beds, rock gardens, alongside roads or pathways, or just about anywhere! It needs full sun and well-drained soil, but it does better in poor, rocky soil!
Thyme – Thyme is a perennial herb. It is hardy in zones 4-6. It's a small, shrub-like herb that requires full sun and moist, well-drained soil.
It is quite hardy in its standard zones and doesn't require much care at all.
Basil – Basil is a warm-weather annual herb. It is hardy in most zones, but it requires hot, dry conditions to reach peak flavor.
It needs full sun and very rich, moist soil. The only significant issues with growing basil are slugs and cool conditions. As long as basil has enough light and heat and its soil is allowed to dry out between waterings, it usually requires little additional care.
Bay – Although it is a type of shrub, this is an excellent herb for beginners to grow. It's hardy in zones 8-11 and is remarkably hardy in those zones. It needs full sun to light shade and rich, well-drained soil. It will tolerate variations in conditions rather well. Just remember, bay leaves reach their full flavor when dry, so be sure to press them between layers of paper towels inside heavy books for a few weeks before you use them.
Remember to be careful about the zones. Although many of these herbs are hardy, they do much better when kept to their hardiness zones. As long as you grow them in the zones they do best, most of these herbs will be very easy to care for and shouldn't need a lot of extra work to take care of them.
Growing Herbs Organically
Herbs are generally easy to grow organically. As long as you provide excellent soil, growing herbs organically will usually be straightforward. You can plant hers indoors or outdoors, in the garden or containers.
You'll want to start with excellent potting soil. Choose a well-draining potting soil that is very rich in organic material. Using a great organic compost mix is a perfect start for your herbs if you're going to grow them in containers. If not, you can mix it with existing soil to enrich and enliven it.
The healthier the soil is, the better your herbs will be at fighting off diseases and fending off insect attacks. Quality soil is crucial, and it's one place you should never skimp on, even if you aren't gardening organically.
Next, be sure to plant your herbs in the right spot. Many herbs need full sun, but a few can tolerate partial shade. Some even prefer it to be a bit shady. So it would help if you made sure you're planting your herbs in a spot where they'll be happiest.
It's essential to be sure you're selecting herbs that will grow in the zone in which you live. Find out which hardiness zone you live in, and be sure to choose only varieties that are hardy where you live. Otherwise, you could be wasting your time growing herbs that won't survive.
Choose very high-quality seedlings if you're buying your herb plants. If you choose to start your own seedlings, be sure to thin them carefully, so they don't choke each other out. Seedlings should be thick and dark, not spindly and pale.
Organic Herb Gardening
You can use mulch to control weeds. Use good organic mulch to cover the soil's top to prevent weeds from peeking up through the ground. It will also help keep moisture in the soil and help keep the soil at an even temperature.
You can control pests with the use of organic pesticides and companion planting. There are many types of plants that go well together to help deter common pests. Garlic and marigolds are two plants that are often used with other plants to discourage insects.
There are also many organic pesticides available that you can use to help control insects. Some of them make your plants inhospitable to insects, and others can kill them. You should choose varieties of herbs that are disease-resistant and pest-resistant, if possible.
Although these plants may still have problems, they don't typically have as many issues as their standard counterparts. This is especially important when you intend not to use a lot of chemical treatments to control problems.
Rotate your plantings each year. Move your herb garden to different spots of your yard if you can. Also, rotate the varieties of the herbs you grow. If you grow purple basil one year, you might grow Thai basil next year.
This helps prevent pests from learning where your garden is and where they can find the tastiest plants each year. If you keep rotating your plantings, you'll be able to discourage some pests.
Herb Gardening for Kids
Gardening is a great educational experience for children, and herb gardening is perfect for kids because most herbs are very easy to grow. They generally require very little maintenance and can survive through a bit of abuse and neglect.
Nature is a favorite subject for many children. They love to learn and explore topics that have to do with nature, so gardening is an excellent learning experience that they'll enjoy. They will be really excited to know that they're growing something they can actually eat later!
Your children may not even know about all of the wonderful herbs out there, so it's great to teach them about all of the different types. They can learn what each herb looks like when it's fresh, what the herbs smell like, and the various uses for each type.
Don't overwhelm your child.
Children should start with very small herb gardens. Just three to five plants are probably enough to get started. You want the herb garden to be a fun learning experience for the child, not a back-breaking chore!
You might want to start kids out with a "pizza garden." You'll help your child grow some of the herbs that are commonly used on pizza. Since children really love pizza, they should relate to this type of garden very well. They'll also have fun knowing what goes into one of their favorite foods.
A typical "pizza garden" will contain basil and oregano, and perhaps thyme and parsley. You could also let the child grow some of the other things that often go into pizza sauce, like garlic and Roma tomatoes. If you want to make the garden larger by helping, you can also add some typical pizza toppings like peppers and onions.
Think with the nose!
Children will also enjoy growing specially-scented herbs. You can get all kinds of excellent herbs that smell like different scents. Flowers can also go well in this type of garden. For example, some geraniums are scented like orange, strawberry, lime, and apricot!
Different mint types are also favorites with children, and they often enjoy chewing the leaves of plants like spearmint. Just be sure to tell your children they should never eat any plant without asking you first!
Herb gardening with kids can be educational
You can also use herb gardening to teach children about the differences between varieties of the same type of plant. For example, planting several different basil varieties can help kids understand that there can be many types of the same animal or plant.
You could plant globe basil, Thai basil, lemon basil, and purple basil. Your child can learn the difference and similarities to see that things can be similar yet very different. An herb garden is an excellent way to teach children responsibility.
They'll learn that they have to take care of their garden regularly. If they don't, they'll see that there are consequences to shirking duties. When some of their plants start to wither and die, they'll see how important it is to keep up with their tasks.
Perhaps most importantly, herb gardens can give kids something to be proud of. They'll get a big boost to their self-esteem when they successfully grow something that you're able to use in a meal, and they'll enjoy learning!