The faint scent of lavender that lingers on your clothes, the mouthwatering smell of basil from a simmering pot of spaghetti sauce, the tingling sensation of a rosemary facial scrub – herbs are multi-tasking plants. Their uses include aromatics for the home, healthy and flavorful additions to cuisine, health and beauty products, homeopathic medicines, and mild pesticides.
Herbs grow in all different climates and at different times of the year, so it is important to know each plant’s growing requirements. Don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to grow parsley – a cool season herb – in the summer heat of the tropics or rosemary in an area with wet soils. The parsley will wither and die. The rosemary will rot away.
Once you know the growing requirements, herbs are enjoyable and easy to grow. Basil, chives, coriander, mint, oregano, parsley, and rosemary are herbs anyone can grow.
Basil is a very popular herb in home gardens. It’s pungent scent and strong flavor make Italian dishes come alive, complement the flavors of tomatoes, watermelon, and strawberries, and add a spicy touch to cocktails. You can choose from a variety of cultivars whose differences include plant habit, color, aroma, and foliage size. For high color contrast, try ‘Purple Ruffles’ or ‘Dark Opal’. For small gardens, ‘Bush Basil’ is a compact plant that grows well in containers.
Basil thrives in hot, sunny conditions – USDA plant hardiness zones 4 – 10 – and likes rich soil with a neutral pH. She is a thirsty herb, so be sure to keep the soil moist.
Best planted in early spring, chives are a dependable perennial herb that grows 6″ – 12″ tall, perfect for the front of a flower or vegetable border. Chives grow best in zones 3 – 9 and full sun. As with many vegetables and herbs, chives prefer a rich, moist soil with a neutral pH.
Also called Cilantro, Coriander is one of a handful of herbs that can tolerate some shade. It is a cool season herb, so plant in early spring. If you garden in a very mild climate, you may be able to grow Coriander, with minimal protection, throughout the winter months. Coriander is easily grown from seed. Be sure to thin seedlings and keep the planting area free of competing weeds.
The name ‘Coriander’ actually refers to the seeds of the plant that, when ground up, make a wonderful addition to chicken and fish dishes. ‘Cilantro’ refers to the leaves and stems of the plant, which add a fresh punch to Mexican dishes.
Mint is a lush, low-growing perennial that thrives just about anywhere, except really wet areas. Gardeners beware – Mint is a rapid spreader and will take over other areas of your garden. The best way to keep mint from becoming invasive is to grow it in pots. Cut often, as mint can become woody. It is best grown in zones 5 – 9, full sun or light shade, and moist, well-drained soil.
Mint adds a fresh, zesty touch to salads and side dishes and is used in many international cuisines. And a mint julep would not be complete without it.
Oregano prefers a well-drained, sandy soil with a pH of 6 – 7. A tender perennial, oregano makes a great ground cover if pruned regularly. Use it fresh in salads, fresh or dried in sauces or with chicken, fish, or pork. Plant seeds in early spring or seedlings in spring or fall.
Because so many recipes call for parsley, it has become a staple in the kitchen garden. Grow parsley in zones 5 – 9, full sun to partial shade, and well-drained soil. Soak seeds overnight and plant outdoors in early spring. Seeds germinate slowly, so if you prefer not to wait, plants are readily available at most garden centers. Be careful not to disturb the taproot when transplanting.
Rosemary is a tender perennial whose woody habit – 3 feet tall and wide – is a perfect choice for low-growing borders or accent shrubs. Above zone 8, rosemary is not cold hardy, so plan on overwintering in a garage by a sunny window or in a greenhouse. Grow rosemary in well-drained, sandy soil with a neutral or slightly alkaline soil.