Herb Basics

Compiled by Kathy Miller

Contents on this page (click on title if you wish to go directly to that subject):

Herbs are among the easiest plants to grow. Most require good drainage, sun, and only modest fertility and moisture. Once you get them off to a good start and meet their minimal needs, they will reward you greatly with their bounty.

Culture

If you are planting your herbs in containers, a good planting mix (with emphasis on GOOD) may be all you need to get started. Be sure your mix is amended with manure, compost or other fertile organic ingredients and isn't too heavy on bark or sawdust (sure sign of a cheap mix). (If you can find it, Whitney Farms makes a wonderful container planting medium called Uncle Malcolm's.)

If you are planting directly into the ground, be sure to remove weeds in your herb bed first. Then improve the soil by sweetening it, if necessary (usually necessary in the Pacific Northwest), by adding a little dolomite lime or wood ashes. The best pH for herbs is between 6.5 and 7.5. Also, work a good organic amendment into the soil, such as composted manure or compost (can be purchased in bags at a nursery). A two-inch layer worked in would be ideal, and one inch may be adequate. You can either plant your herbs from seed in your prepared bed, or purchase plants from the nursery. The latter is good for those who are impatient or don't need a large quantity of plants. Many herbs are easily started from root divisions or cuttings which you can probably obtain from a friend who already has an established planting. Some herbs such as the mints and thymes are legendary in their spreading abilities!

Many herbs can be grown amongst your other plantings. Some evergreens (or maybe "evergrays") such as lavender, sage, and rosemary have shrubby habits and make nice additions to the floral border. Annual herbs lend themselves to being incorporated into the vegetable plot, but some with particularly attractive foliage, such as basil, might also be attractive in the flower bed (watch for slugs!). Ornamental or fragrant plants such as lavender and catmint (smaller relative of catnip) make wonderful edgings for rose gardens. As long as you meet their cultural requirements, you can put your herbs wherever they please your eyes and nose the most.

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Planning Your Herb Garden

[Swallowtail Butterfly on Branch]

When planning an herb garden, keep in mind the following:

Find out what each of your herbs likes, what type it is (annual, biennial, or perennial), and how much space it will need in the garden. A good reference book should provide the information you need on the particular plants you'd like to grow. An abbreviated (extremely!) reference can be found at the end of this handout. Arrange your garden on paper first.

 

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A Few Design Ideas

  • Four square beds divided by two 3 foot paths crossing at midpoint. They may be bordered with brick or stone.

 

 

  • A ladder garden. Lay down a straight wooden ladder and plant different kinds of herbs between the rungs.

 

 

  • A triangle garden with a possible center focal point.

[Square Herb Garden Layout]

Square Herb Bed

  • A kitchen garden situated near to your kitchen door. It will need full sun and good drainage. Plant favorite culinary herbs, such as chives, thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley,basil and mint.

 

 

  • A Wagon wheel design with bricks or stones forming the "spokes" and "rim." Herbs are planted in wedge segments.

[Wagon Wheel Herb Garden Layout]

Wagon Wheel Bed

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Planting in Containers

To ensure good drainage, line bottom of shallow container with clay pot shards or gravel before putting in soil mix and plants.

Be careful when combining spreading plants like mint with less aggressive ones. Mint is better grown in its own container...it's too greedy to share its space! Shrubbier plants like Sage can be used toward the center of your container and trailing plants (prostrate Rosemary or creeping Thyme) are good around the edge. Calendula or Nasturtiums are nice for adding a bright spot of color to your container.

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Herbs for Special Situations:

[Bumblebee]

 

Hot and Dry Areas

Fennel (Foeniculum)
Lavender (Lavandula)
Oregano (Oreganum sp.)
Rose Geranium (Pelargonium)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus)
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Savory (Satureia montana)
Thyme (Thymus sp.)

 

 

Herbs for Moist Soil

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata)

 

Herbs for Full Shade

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lovage (Levisticum)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata)

 

 

Herbs for Partial Shade

Bay Leaf (Laurus nobilis)
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
Fennel (Foeniculum)
Oregano (Oreganum sp.)
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Violets (Viola odorata)

 

Some "Perennial" Herbs
(Will Come Back Next Year)

Chives (bulb) (Allium sp.)
Fennel (Foeniculum)
Garlic (bulb) (Allium sp.)
Lavender (Lavandula)
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lovage (Levisticum)
Mint (Mentha sp.)
Oregano (Oreganum sp.)
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus)
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Winter Savory (Satureia montana)
Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata)
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa)
Thyme (Thymus sp.)

 

 

Herbs with Showy Flowers

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)
Catmint (Nepeta mussinii)
Coneflower (Echinacea)
Lavender (Lavandula)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Sage (Salvia sp.)
Pot Marigold (Calendula)
Yarrow (Achillea sp.)

 

Ornamental Additions

Dusty Miller (Artemisia sp.)
Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis)
Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys)
Hollyhock (Alcea officinalis)
Pinks (Dianthus sp.)
Santolina (S. chamaecyparissus)
Sunflowers (Helianthus sp.)

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Recommended Reading

[Watering Can]

This is certainly not a complete listing. Go to the library and browse their shelves.

Growing Herbs. Mary Preus (owner of Silver Bay Herb Farm in Silverdale...CK graduate and friend of my sister!). Cascadia Gardening Series. Sasquatch Books, 1994.

Herbs. Roger Phillips and Nicky Foy. Random House, 1990.

Herb Gardening. American Garden Guides. Pantheon Books, 1994.

Herbs: Gardens, Decorations, and Recipes. Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead. Clarkson N. Potter, 1985.

The Complete Book of Herbs. Lesley Bremness. Viking Studio Books, 1988.

The Complete Medicinal Herbal. Penelope Ody. Dorling Kindersley, Inc., 1993.

The Scented Room. Barbara Milo Ohrbach. Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1986.

Western Garden Book. Sunset. Any Edition...usually updated every few years.

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 If you have any comments, or if I can be of help with any gardening questions you might have, contact me at CLICK HERE.