I enjoyed teaching a class on how to grow herbs last weekend and promised I would put my notes on the blog this week. If you haven’t started a herb garden, it’s not too late. April is a great month to plant herbs. They are one of the easiest plants to grow. You just need to know a few basics to get started. You can grow herbs in the ground, in containers or mixed in with your vegetables and flowers. The choice is yours. I like to grow my herbs close to the house so I can step outside quickly to grab what I need for meal prep.
If you are planting herbs in containers, be sure to use a container with drainage holes. Herbs like a well-drained soil. You want to use a good potting mix that can be either soil based or peat based. You will find that many of the peat based soil mixes dry out quickly so you will have to water carefully. I use my favourite soil called Dutch Treat. It’s very light and easy to use. Herbs are from the Mediterranean so most of them are the sun-loving plants. Lets look at herbs that like sun.
Sage-Every garden should have sage in it. Not only are they a perennial evergreen, they produce beautiful blue flowers loved by bees. Sage grows up to two feet high and wide and will become shrub like with age. This plant can be harvested year round by picking the leaves as you need them.
You can buy it with a plain green leaf or try the tri-colour sage for a boost in foliage for the garden. Sage does not like wet soils and can suffer from root rot in wet conditions.
Oregano-This herb is a vigorous grower so its best suited to a container. Pick the small leaves as needed for cooking. It dies back to the ground each year but is perennial so it comes back each year. This plant spreads by underground roots.
Dill-I grow this annual herb each year to use with fish , in homemade salad dressings and for pickling. It’s easily started from seed in spring. Dill can grow to 3′-4′ high so it needs some room to grow. Its best grown in the ground where it has room. I like to delegate a corner of the vegetable garden for dill. Dill attracts pollinating insects to the garden. Seeds, leaves and flower heads are all edible. If planting dill in a container, be sure to use Fernleaf dill as it only grows to 18″ high.
Lemon balm-This is a lovely lemon scented plant with white flowers. Its lemon flavour makes it a favourite in cooking. I like to use the leaves for tea and recently heard you can make a lemon balm pesto. Add leaves to salads, drinks, tea or in ice cubes for drinks. It self sows and spreads quickly in the garden. It is perennial so it returns each year.
Chives- Chives have been around for over 4000 years. They like the sun to partial shade. Its one of the easiest herbs to grow producing edible stems and flowers. If using the stems, cut back to 1.5″ from the base of the plant before the flowers bloom and the stems start to get tough. I like to clip as I need them so that the whole plant doesn’t get chopped back. Once cut back, chives will regrow producing a whole new flush of stems. Chives are hardy perennials.
Rosemary- This is a very aromatic herb used in cooking although when in bloom is a great cut flower as well. It is a tender perennial and can suffer in a bad winter. Often winter damage doesn’t show up until March with browning of the leaves. Rosemary grows up to 3′-4′ high and 2′ wide when in the right location. Give it a well-drained soil in a protected location and it will do well. If you want rosemary for containers, try using ‘Foxtail’ as its branches trail over the sides. Cut a few rosemary stems to use in cooking as needed. Use it with roasted potatoes and vegetables to add flavour.
Thyme- There are many different kinds of thyme on the market. I like to grow english thyme and lemon thyme for container use. This plant likes full sun and well-drained soil. Harvest by pinching out the tips or cutting a stem at soil level. Trim off flowers to encourage new growth. Flowers are also edible. In spring, trim back to new growth being careful not to cut back to bare wood as leaves will not regenerate.
Bronze fennel- I like this plant as it attracts beneficial insects to the garden. It’s too large for a container as it grows to over four feet high in the garden. It produces umbel shaped flowers loved by insects. You can collect the seeds from the finished flower heads in late summer. Fennel means strength and was thought to have magical powers in the Middle Ages. Fennel is also sold as a vegetable but it is different from bronze fennel. The fennel we grow as a vegetable is harvested for its roots.
Bay-This is an evergreen shrub and the leaves are used in soups and stews. Be sure to look for Laurel nobilus as this is the edible one. It’s very easy to grow and well suited to containers. It has leathery leaves and they need to be rubbed to get the scent.
Basil-One of the most popular annual herbs for cooking. Basil prefers not to be transplanted so do so with a large handful of soil around the roots. It likes warm weather and is usually planted out at the end of May or early June when nights are around 15C. Harvest the leaves as you need them. Pinch off the flowering stems to encourage leaf production.
Tarragon- Its a tender perennial needing full to part sun. It has long light green narrow leaves with yellowish white flowers. For cooking, french tarragon is best. It has a faint taste of licorice but not as strong as fennel. Tarragon grows to about 18″ high.
Herbs for Part Shade:
Parsley-This biennial herb loves to be in gardens with part shade. In deep shade growth is hampered so try giving it a bit of dappled shade. Biennial means it grows leaves the first year and in the second year it flowers, produces seed and dies. Often it will drop seed and you will see it in the garden once again. It is happy in full sun to part shade in rich well-drained soil. Pick from the outside stems of the plant when harvesting.
Chervil- This annual herb is a must for the garden as it lasts all year round. It needs light shade to do well. The leaves have a slight licorice flavour and are a welcome addition to salads. Use leaves with salmon, sauces, new potatoes and in salads. It prefers a moist soil and shaded roots. It is best grown by direct sowing.
Mint-Everyone loves mint and its one of the most popular herbs. Always plant mint in a container as it is very invasive. Left to ramble in the garden, it will smother plants around it. Use mint in drinks, teas, salads and jellies. Lift and divide mint each year.
I hope this inspires you to plant some herbs this year. There are many more herbs to enjoy that I haven’t covered but this post is already lengthy. Happy herb gardening!