Few things beat a herb garden in the back or even front yard where the cook can just step out of the door and collect the freshest in-season herbs for cooking. Most herbs are easy to grow, for the secret to their success is that a lot of them are weeds that have made themselves useful. Many are perennials that thrive in the climate of Boulder, Lafayette or Louisville, so they come back year after year. Besides freshness and convenience, it is very much cheaper for a gardener to grow their own herbs than to buy them. The price of a regular jar of an herb like tarragon, which can become rampant if it’s allowed to, can be astonishing.
How to Plan an Herb Garden
One thing that most herbs share is that they thrive in full sun. When that requirement is fulfilled, the herb garden can be planted nearly anywhere and can be a variety of shapes, from circles to curves to rows to geometric shapes to free-form beds. Some people start off with herbs in a corner of the vegetable garden or flower bed. Some experts recommend starting off small and expanding the herb garden over the years.
Most herbs aren’t very fussy about soil, but most herbs like the soil a bit on the acidic side. Any soil should be healthy, with nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous and other micronutrients and not overwhelmingly acidic or alkaline. The gardener can test their soil for its nutrients and pH level by sending a soil sample to their local Cooperative Extension Service.
Soil that’s too alkaline can be amended with decomposed pine needles and acidic peat moss. Soil that’s too acidic can be sweetened with lime. Good, rotted compost can correct soil that’s too alkaline or too acidic.
One way to make sure that at least some plants have the perfect soil is to put them in pots and put the pots out as part of the herb garden. Herbs to put in pots include mint, which is notoriously invasive if it’s not controlled.
The growth patterns, textures and colors of mature plants might also be a consideration. Some herbs such as thyme are prostrate while others, such as lemongrass, are tall while others fall between them. If the herb garden is near the flower or vegetable garden, the gardener might plant herbs to complement these other plants as well.
A gardener who’s planning an extensive herb garden might want to work with a landscaping contractor such as Don King Landscaping especially if the garden is part of a large area that involves shrubs, trees and flowers.
There are several ways to start growing herbs in the garden. Some people simply go to their local nursery, pick out a few pots of herbs and put them in the ground. Others sow seeds directly into the ground after the danger of frost is past or start them in pots of vermiculite in a cold frame or a hothouse. The seeds of some herbs are a bit of a challenge to get to germinate. Parsley is notorious when it comes to this, and some gardeners sort of believe the tale that a parsley seed needs to go to hell seven times and back before it germinates. Parsley seeds need stratification, which means they have to be cleaned, soaked for 48 hours and put in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks.
Other seeds won’t germinate until they’re exposed to warm temperatures, cold temperatures then warm temperatures again, and some really hard seeds need to be scarified with a nail file or dropped into a pot of simmering water. There are horticulturists who claim that it’s impossible for a layperson to grow an herb such as French tarragon from seed, so it’s just best to buy some at the nursery.
The seeds of some herbs, such as savory and marjoram, are tiny and should not be covered. They need sunlight to germinate.
Some herbs are fine with being transplanted if they’re started in a cold frame. Basil is one. Other herbs like dill should not be transplanted.
Since a lot of herbs are a bit weedy, they don’t need much pampering. However, the gardener should be aware of pests such as slugs, snails, caterpillars and Japanese beetles. Some herbs are subject to diseases like botrytis rot or dampening off, while others are not bothered by diseases at all. Fennel and dill are fairly disease free.
Fertilizing and watering vary among herbs. Basil, oregano and parsley do well with low levels of water. Tarragon and dill like average levels of water. Parsley does not need much water but is a heavy feeder, while most other common herbs found in the garden such as marjoram, sage and rosemary do not need much fertilizing at all.
Some people plant their seeds by the waxing moon because they believe that the waxing moon draws moisture up through the soil. They also believe herbs are best harvested during the crescent moon, when there’s little light, though more modern botanists recommend harvesting herbs in the morning after the dew has evaporated but before they’re exposed to the full heat of the sun. Generally, the leaves shouldn’t be washed because that will wash away their aromatic oils.
Unless the gardener is going to use an entire plant, no more than one third of the herb should be picked at any one time. It is best to think of this as pruning the plant. Many herbs seem to relish being pruned this way, for they grow with even more vigor than before. If some herbs aren’t pruned regularly, they’ll bolt.
Call Landscaping Contractor for Lawn Care, Yard Maintenance and Tips on Growing an Herb Garden
Having a fresh herb garden is healthy and fun, but we don’t all have time to make soil ammendments, plan the herb garden, and plant and maintain it. Gardeners in the areas of Boulder, Lafayette Louisville should call Don King Landscaping for all their lawn care, yard maintenance and gardening needs, including their herb gardening needs. Our number here is 303-828-3641.