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How to Grow an Herb Garden


Herb Growing Tips
Ground-hugging thyme is a perfect choice for planting between the rocks in a flagstone walk. Tall clumps of angelica or rue provide attractive and dramatic accents in flower borders. Nasturtiums and chives add outstanding floral color to a garden, as well as making attractive cut flowers. The purple-leaf variety of basil is an eye-catching accent in any location. No matter which type of herb you prefer, we can help you design the right plan for your herb garden.

If you want to plant a formal herb garden, consider the knot garden that combines fragrant herbs and shrubs.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This intricate knot garden combines fragrant herbs and shrubs.

Although herbs are often planted in a formal layout separate from the rest of the garden, this is by no means a requirement for success in growing them. Herbs can be mixed into other plantings. The exceptions are those few herbs, such as mint, that will aggressively take over if not curbed. These are best planted in containers or separate beds, where strict control of their spread can be maintained. Most other herbs can be planted along with other row crops in your vegetable garden.

Herbs can be laid out in a very formal or an extremely informal design or anywhere in between. The choice is entirely up to your personal view regarding what will fit best with adjacent garden spaces.

When planning a vegetable garden that includes herbs, the same basic rules of good design apply as when designing any other garden. Tall plants should be located at the rear of side beds, plants of intermediate height in the middle of the bed, and low-growing plants at the front. This way they'll all obtain a maximum share of the available light. In central beds, the tallest plants can be located in the center of the bed, the shortest plants around the outer edge, and the intermediate heights between the two.

The best approach to deciding which herbs to grow is to make a list of herbs you're most likely to use. Write down their soil, light, and water needs; their height and spread; and any special notes such as unusual growth habit. Make a secondary list of plants you might enjoy having if there's any room left.

Sketch the herb garden area to scale (for example, 1 inch on the sketch equals 1 foot on the ground), decide on the size and shape of the planting beds, and determine which of the herbs on your list will be located where. Fill in any empty spots with appropriate species from your secondary list.

Formal Herb Garden Designs

Format balanced geometric layouts usually revolve around some sort of special garden feature, such as a fountain, sundial, garden seat, statue, an unusual feature plant, or birdbath.

When planting a formal herb garden, a circular design plan centers around a monument.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This formal herb garden layout centers around a monument.

All paths and attention lead to this feature, whether it's in the center of the garden or along one edge.

Informal Herb Garden Layouts

Here are two informal layouts. One backs a wall or fence and the other stands as an island in the middle of a lawn area.

Key
The colors in the photos to the left represent the following items:

Blue = Monument

Grey = Wall / Fence

Beige = Low-growing herbs

Green = Medium-growing herbs

Brown = Tall-growing herbs

When creating an informal herb garden, the design plan should incorporate herb height.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This informal layout stands as an island.

When planting an informal herb garden, note where herbs will be planted.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This informal layout backs against a fence.

Harvesting

As a general rule of thumb, herbs have the highest level of flavor in their leaves just before they bloom. Harvesting is best done at this time. In the directory of vegetable and herb plants, you'll find notes regarding the best time to harvest each herb as well as the best methods of preservation.
Harvesting of herbs for fresh use can be done throughout the growing season. Thyme, sage, rosemary, and many other perennials need their active growing shoots snipped in 4- to 6-inch lengths. For annuals collect a few leaves as needed.

When harvesting herbs to preserve for future use, wait until the plant is at its aromatic peak as noted in the directory. Pick it early in the morning when aromatics are at their highest level of the day. Discard any diseased or insect-infested portions. If there is dust present, wash the plant thoroughly and shake off as much of the excess water as possible before processing. If possible, wash the plant a day before harvesting.

Be especially careful when harvesting seeds. The timing must be precise enough to allow the seeds to ripen completely, but they must be caught before they disperse. One way to solve this problem is to keep watch on a daily basis and harvest as soon as the seeds begin to dry. Carefully snip off the heads over a large paper bag, allowing the seeds to fall directly into the bag. Keep them in the bag to complete the drying process. Be careful not to compact the seed heads; air circulation in and around the seed heads is needed to cut down on the possibility of the growth of undesirable molds.

If you cannot keep such close track of the maturation process, another alternative is to enclose each seed head while still on the plant in a small paper or mesh bag once all flowering has ended and the green seeds become obvious. Then, when the heads dry, any seeds that fall out will be captured in the bag. Once you notice that seeds are being released, snip off the heads, bag and all, and dry them indoors.

The most common method of herb preservation is by hang drying. Another good way to preserve many herbs is by freezing them. This method is quick and easy, and the flavor is usually closer to fresh than dried. If you have the freezer space available, freezing is probably the most desirable choice for cooking herbs. Some herbs lose flavor when exposed to air, but they will retain it if stored in oil or liquor. Some herbs don't retain as much flavor when preserved by any means -- they can only be used fresh. You can, however, extend their season by growing them indoors as pot plants during the winter months.

The herb chart below will help you quickly identify those plants best suited to your site. It also notes whether plants are annuals, biennials, or perennials, and how large you can expect each herb to be at maturity. Especially attractive landscape varieties are also identified.

Herb Chart
Key:
Plant: A= Annual, B= Biennial, P= Perennial
Light: FS= Full Sun, PS= Partial Shade, S= Shade
Soil: P= Poor, A= Average, R= Rich, S= Sandy, M= Moist, D= Dry
Culture: E= Easy to Grow, A= Average, D= Difficult, R= Rampant Grower/ Keep Restricted
Height and Spread is in inches.
Name Plant
Landscape
Light
Soil
Height
Spread
Culture
Angelica B

FS, PS
A, M
60-72
36
E
Anise A

FS
A, D
18-24
4-8
E
Basil A

FS R, M
18 10
E
Chervil A

PS
A, M
18
4-8
A-D
Chives P

FS, PS A-R, M
8-12 8
E
Coriander A

FS
R
24-36
6
E
Costmary P

FS, PS
R
30-36
24
E
Dill A

FS
A-S, M
24-36
6
E
Fennel P

FS
R
50-72
18-36
E
Garlic P

FS
A-P
18
8
E
Geraniums, scented
P

FS A-R
Varies
Varies
A
Horehound P

FS A-P
30
12
E
Marjoram P, A

FS
R
8-12
12-18
E
Nasturtium
A

FS, PS
A-P, M
12-72
18
E
Oregano P

FS
A-S
18
12
E
Parsley B

FS, PS R, M
12
8
E
Peppermint P

FS, PS
R, M
24-30
12
E, R
Rosemary P

FS S
48-72
18-24
A
Rue P

FS
P, S
24
18
A
Sage P

FS S
20
24
E
Savory, Summer A

FS
R-A
18
8
E
Sorrel, French P

FS, PS
R, M
18
10
E
Southernwood P

FS Any
30
24
E
Spearmint P

FS, PS
R, M
20
12
E, R
Sweet, Woodruff
P

S R, M
6-8
6-8
D
Tansy P

FS, PS
A-P
40
12-18
E, R
Tarragon, French P

FS, PS S-R
24
24
A
Thyme P

FS, PS P-A
1-10
12-18
E, R
Wormwood P

FS Any
30-48
15-20
A

There are so many different varieties of herbs that we can't begin to describe them all. Instead we've chosen a few of the tried and true varieties to help you as start to grow your herb garden.

©Publications International, Ltd.

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