Nothing can compare to the taste of freshly picked herbs to add that extra dimension to home cooked food. The beauty of cultivating them lies in the fact they can be grown almost anywhere; they require minimal space and virtually no maintenance. Some types will even thrive indoors on a sunny windowsill. Thus, with a little effort you can begin growing herbs indoors and easily have access to fresh herbs throughout the year.
Soil, Sun and Shelter
While most herbs are quite hardy plants, they do benefit from being grown in an area that has some shelter. You do not need a dedicated herb garden to achieve this; herbs can be used to complement flower borders, planted in window boxes, or even grown in free-standing pots on your patio.
However, if you plan to keep potted herbs, know that they require a little extra attention compared to those grown in a flowerbed. While many of these plants occur in nutrient-poor soils in the wild, and can grow rampant when placed in the comparatively rich garden environment, potted herbs still require occasional feeding to ensure they get everything they need. Be sparing; overfeeding can cause the leaves to lose their pungency and flavor.
Although common advice states that herbs prefer a lot of sun and well-drained soil, some species do in fact enjoy partial shade. Herbs that do better in moist, cooler conditions include parsley, mint and chives, so if you have a garden that does not receive much sun, these would be ideal. Conversely, plants like basil prefer full sun, and will not do well without it.
Lastly, you cannot overrule the importance of soil. Herbs prefer well-draining ground, so it may be necessary to incorporate a good organic compost and coarse grit if your garden is mostly comprised of heavy clay. Alternatively, consider planting herbs in raised beds, and if you intend to grow herbs in window boxes or pots, ensure you only water them in the morning.
Yearly Growth Cycle, Planting and Care
Like most plants, herbs can be annual, biennial or perennial. The first two types grow rapidly with a short lifespan, and will require reseeding throughout the spring and summer. This ensures you have a constant and steady supply of leaves. By contrast, perennial herbs take longer to become established, but once they seeded they will not need replanting. For this reason, perennial herbs require a more permanent home in your garden, whereas annual or biennial herbs can be switched and changed around to suit your needs.
With potted herbs, especially the perennial varieties, you may notice that after a couple of years they become bedraggled and tired looking. This is usually because the plant has become pot bound. However, the solution is simple. First remove the plant from its pot, gently tease apart the roots removing the old soil, and replant with fresh soil and a little compost.
In especially cold weather, potted plants should be placed against the side of your house, with an insulating layer of bubble wrap around the pot itself. This will help prevent the soil from freezing, which could potentially kill your herbs. Herbs kept in raised beds can be protected with a cloche.
Some Common Herbs to Consider:
- Basil: enjoys full sun and well drained soils. Regular sowing throughout the growing season is required to ensure a constant supply of basil leaves.
- Bay: particularly suited to pots, Bay requires partial shade and a well-drained soil.
- Chives: tolerant of wet, heavy soil. Cut down to ground level after flowering to ensure the production of new leaves.
- Coriander: give this herb partial shade to increase leaf production, needs a well-drained soil.
- Mint: may become invasive, therefore is best confined to a pot. Tolerant of heavy soils and shade.
- Rosemary: also does well in pots, though will require full sun and a light soil.
- Sage: to encourage new growth, prune hard during early spring. This herb requires a lot of sun and dry conditions to do well.
- Thyme: another herb that does better when pruned. Thyme can grow in poor, stony soils, but needs sun to thrive.
For more information on growing your own herbs, check out these articles:
Basil photo by Beth Coll.