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||GROWING HERB PLANTS
This section is intended as a guide for anyone wishing to start growing herbs. Most people begin with the basic culinary herbs and so this page deals mainly with herbs for the kitchen and their successful cultivation.
Most herbs can actually be successfully grown in containers and if you have little or no garden space then container growing may be an ideal solution as long as a few basic suggestions are followed. Click here for more information.
How do I start growing herbs?
The best starting point is to buy a small selection of the common herbs that you would like to use. Raising plants from seed can be appropriate (see below) but single plants are really all you need to start with. They will be ready to use almost immediately saving all the bother of sowing seed and waiting for them to develop. The plants should be planted in the garden as soon as possible. Make a small hole with a trowel, watering it if the soil is very dry, remove the pot, place the plant in the hole and firm soil gently around the roots. Keep the plant at the same depth as it was in its pot. Water well with a watering can fitted with a rose. If the weather is dry then a daily watering would be beneficial for the next few days, adding at least 2 pints of water each time.
Where should I grow my herbs if I only have a small garden?
Most herbs prefer a sunny open situation if possible, with well drained soil. This is only a general rule however and most garden soils will grow herbs quite adequately. Herbs are often grown in 'Herb Gardens' but will of course be quite happy growing alongside other plants in beds and borders where space permits. A small sunny corner that is convenient for the kitchen is probably an ideal place to start a few of the basic culinary herbs.
What herbs should I grow?
The simple answer to this question is that you should grow what you would like to use. If you dislike the taste of Coriander there is no point in growing any! Your taste should also dictate the amount of each variety that you grow. Parsley and Chives are two of the most frequently used herbs and so these are best grown in quantity, whereas a single bush of Sage will provide more than enough for most households.
I would like to use fresh herbs but I don't have a garden
It is perfectly possible to grow herbs successfully in pots. These can be sited on balconies, porches or patios. As herbs are mainly outdoor plants, growing them inside is not always successful; it is often too warm and there is not enough light. (see 'Basil' below.) Inside the plants often pick up pests and diseases too easily and tend, therefore to be short lived.
Why do some herbs last longer than others?
Herbs can be divided into three categories, Annual, Biennial and Perennial. These three terms cause confusion and it is important to grasp their correct meaning.
Annual Plants : Borage, Basil, Chervil, Coriander, Dill. Annual means that the plant only lasts one year. Annual plants grow, flower, set seed and die all in one growing season. This is their natural growth pattern and the way you look after the plant can speed up or slow down this process. Further confusion arises because some annuals can produce seeds, these fall on the ground and may germinate and grow the following season giving the impression of being perennial.
Biennial Plants : Angelica, Caraway, Parsley. Biennial plants will grow normally during their first season and then flower, set seed and die during their second season. Like Annuals they will often produce seed that will germinate in the following season.
Perennial Plants : That die down - Chives, Lovage, Mint, Tarragon; evergreen - Marjoram, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme. Perennials will last many years and can be divided into two categories - those that are evergreen and therefore can be used all year round, and those that die down in the winter but will regrow when the warmer weather returns.
I never seem to be able to grow enough Coriander
Both Dill and Coriander (annuals) are difficult to grow successfully. They are often required in quite large quantities and a single plant of each may be unable to fulfill the likely demands. They have a tendency to flower and set seed rather too quickly and therefore produce few leaves. Both are best grown from seed where you sow a small row of seeds every few weeks. The plants should not be allowed to get more than 6" high, removing and using the new growth on a regular basis. This should prevent the plants from flowering and will give you a regular picking.
Basil is so expensive, can I grow it myself?
The main problem with Basil is that it likes a warm even temperature, something that our summer weather seldom provides. It can only be sown successfully between May and August and has to be grown inside if you wish to have Basil available for more than four months of the year. As it is one of the few herbs that can often do better inside than out, try a light windowsill. One plant can grow quite large (18"-24") if put in a good-sized pot. A greenhouse or conservatory is probably the ideal location. Outside, a warm sheltered garden is essential.
What is the secret of growing Parsley?
Parsley is a vigorous fast growing biennial and really thrives when growing in a rich deep fertile soil. The seed can be slow to germinate if planted in the spring when the soil is still cold and damp. In fact the best time to sow Parsley seed is late summer, being a biennial it will then be at its best the following spring and summer. If planting seedlings try to ensure the roots have as little disturbance as possible. If the soil is poor it is worth digging out a planting hole and enriching with compost or peat and fertiliser.
Herb plants bought from the Supermarkets don't seem to last very long?
The herb plants now being sold by the leading Supermarkets are grown in massive glasshouses with artificial levels of heat, light and nutrition to stimulate rapid growth. They should be considered as a good alternative to using dried herbs but they are not garden plants and will have only a limited life. Because of the way they are grown their flavour is also far inferior to conventionally grown herbs.
Why do herbs growing abroad smell so much stronger?
The flavour/fragrance of herbs occurs because of the presence of essential oils in the foliage and stems of the plant. The heat of the sun during the day brings these oils to the surface of the leaves, air currents then carry the fragrance away. Essential oils are present throughout the year but their concentrations increase as the weather warms. A warmer drier climate therefore encourages their production and a stronger flavour/scent. Growing aromatic plants in poorer quality soil will have a similar effect, enhancing their scent, keeping them compact and stimulating good flowering. This is especially true of Lavender and Rosemary that do not thrive in rich fertile soil.
When should herbs be picked?
Following on from the above; they should be picked early in the day while the essential oils are still present in their leaves but after any dew has dried. The essential oil concentrations also reach a peak as the plant comes into flower, this would be the optimum moment for picking. Choose this time if picking to preserve whether drying, freezing, in oil or whatever. Similar rules apply if picking aromatic plants (eg Lavender) to preserve its fragrance for lavender bags or pot pourri.
GROWING HERBS IN CONTAINERS
What plants can I use?
There are no hard and fast rules when choosing your herbs, and personal preferences will obviously be taken into account. You may wish to choose herbs that you use in cooking or alternatively, for a more decorative collection, select plants that will complement each other, especially those that have different growing habits.
Some plants have an upright growing habit, others make clumps and some are spreading.
There are some varieties, especially mint and horseradish, that have a very invasive habit and these are actually better grown in a container of their own to prevent them overwhelming other plants.
Thymes are especially suited to smaller containers as they have a low, compact growing habit, similar to alpines. Larger herbs such as Rosemary or Lavender can make a stunning specimen plant when grown alone in larger pots.
Planted herb collections can make a unique and unusual gift idea. For example, planting a pot with golden foliage plants for a Golden Wedding Anniversary (or equally with silver).
Keen cooks may prefer specific varieties relating to special culinary preferences.
What pots should I use?
Almost any container can be planted with herbs, but there are a few basic considerations to be taken into account.
Space is important to ensure that a plant has enough room to develop, so the larger the pot, the better the plants should grow. If however space is limited, then try and cut down the number of plants used.
It is better to use containers that have a hole in the bottom to allow excess water to drain away.
Containers made of porous material (terracotta, wood or peat fibre pots) are preferable as they allow the roots of the plants to breathe.
What compost should I use?
Any herb in a pot is prone to suffer from restricted space for root development so to give your plants the best start, it is important to choose a good quality compost for the container. A compost with a slow release fertiliser is best, such as ĎRBL Professionalí as used at The Herb Farm, as this will ensure feed is available to the plants throughout the growing season.
A fine layer of decorative gravel on the surface of the container will help prevent the compost from drying out in hot weather.
If the plants are not sufficiently nourished by the compost they may deteriorate. If so, a regular feed with a liquid fertiliser will ensure they thrive.
How do I plant the pots?
To start, line the base of the pot with crocks or course gravel to ensure adequate drainage. Then fill the container with good quality compost, placing the plants in a suitable arrangement as you fill the pot so it is level to the rim.
Next, gently firm the compost round the plants and water well with a fine-rose watering can. This will settle the compost round the roots, leaving the final level a little below the rim of the pot.
Try to avoid mounding the compost in the pot as it will cause the water to run off the surface instead of soaking in.
How do I maintain the pots?
During the first few weeks a herb pot will require only occasional watering. The amount required will largely depend on the weather conditions.
It is better to allow a pot to dry out slightly before re-watering rather than watering regularly regardless, as most herbs thrive in dry conditions.
Herbs are generally quick growing and vigorous plants that are really only happy in a small container for one growing season.
In the following year a small pot of herbs should be divided up for planting in the garden, or could be moved into larger individual pots. However if space is limited, a regular liquid feed may allow another season in the original container.