Did you know when you squeeze pineapple sage it really does smell like pineapple? Ahh, the wonderful smells, flavors and usefulness of herbs! You can use the snippets of culinary herbs in cooking, to make bouquets and teas, or even for a delightful herbal bath.
Ever wanted to try your hand at growing your own herbs? Maybe you thought about adding herbs to your garden or to your landscape but you didn’t know how or where to begin. Even if you don’t have a vegetable garden, or you have limited space, then containers are perfect for growing many types of herbs. Plus most herbs are beautiful, so feel free to mix them in containers along with your ornamental plants.
What Herbs to Plant?
Plant selection is dependent upon the season since certain herbs cannot withstand our Texas summers while others will die with exposure to cold. For example:
- Cilantro is a cool weather annual that should be planted in the fall. Whereas Basil is a warm-season annual that should be planted in the Spring. Annual means it needs to be planted each year, unless you let some of it go to seed so it can come back each year.
- But herbs like thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary and chives are evergreen perennials (recurring), which thrive in our hot, humid climate from spring until the first frost. They will even fair well throughout the Texas winter unless there is a hard freeze.
*For beginners it may be best to purchase small transplants at your local nursery, and they will stock what's in season. Or schedule a consultation with Living Expression Landscapesfor more specific, expert advice.
Where to Plant Herbs?
A sunny location close to your kitchen for easy harvesting is ideal for herbs. But remember - don't be afraid to experiment or be whimsical when planting an herb garden (throughout landscape, in porch containers, mixed in with ornamentals, etc.).
In any case, it will be necessary to have well-draining soiland full sun (at least six hours a day). There are a few herbs that will tolerate shadier spots, such as mint and lemon balm, which preform great in a shade garden. But keep in mind they can spread aggressively in the shady landscape, so planting it in containers is often a better choice.
If you plant herb seeds vs. transplants, bury them about 1/4 inch into fertile soil with good drainage. For the most part, herbs are low-maintenance plants, but be sure to water every few days, especially in the heat and during a shortage of rainfall. If you don't have an automatic irrigation system but would like one, that is one of Living Expression Landscapes'specialties as well.
Most herbs thrive when trimmed back as it encourages branching and new growth. Use the fresh trimmings for seasoning, as garnish for your cooking and salads, or dry them for later use. This will reduce the need for those expensive little jars of dried herbs from the grocery store.
• Gather herbs early in the day, after the dew has dried but before the sun bakes the plants' essential oils.
• Generally, cut no more than one-third of the stem's length. Exceptions include chives and lavender: harvest the flowering stems at ground level when they bloom.
The traditional way to preserve herbs entails gathering small bunches of 10 to 15 stems and hanging them in a warm, airy place to dry....
• Wrap stems tightly with a rubber band or tie them with twine.
• Hang the bunches on a drying rack, on a hanger, or from a nail. Drying can take up to three weeks, depending on the plant and its moisture content.
• Strip crisp-dry leaves off stems before storing them.
• Dryseed heads by placing a paper bag over them and tying it shut around the stems. Place only one type of herb in each bag and label it. The seeds will drop into the bag as they dry. Let seeds dry for several weeks before storing them properly.
*Stevia is a sweet herb when you dry it. You can put a couple of leaves in your tea and it sweetens the whole pot. It adds no calories and it's not hazardous to one's health!
Proper Storage for Dried Herbs:
•Store dried herbs in airtight glass or ceramic containers away from light and heat (never on or near the stove) to protect their flavor and fragrance.
•Keep the leaves whole until used (crushing leaves releases their flavor).
•Use dried herbs within a year of harvesting.
Want to see a local Herb Garden for inspiration?
•South County Branch of the Montgomery County Library in The Woodlands (2101 Lake Robbins Dr, The Woodlands, TX 77380). Just steps away from the library's front entrance, the herb garden is full of aromas and textures. Just some of the herbs featured in the organic garden include lemon balm, a variety of basils, a bay tree, lemon grass, Mexican mint marigold, oregano, rosemary and more.
•Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service - Harris County. (3033 Bear Creek Dr, Houston, TX 77084). Construction was started on the present herb area at the AgriLife Extension over two years ago. It was designed to be welcoming, educational, and accessible to all. There are many designated "open days" where the public can visit the gardens.
•Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Gardens (22306 Aldine Westfield Road in Humble). They are open daily, and admission is free. There is a large area devoted to herbs within 200-plus acres.
•The Madalene Hill Herb Garden within The Arbor Gate Nursery (15635 FM 2920, Tomball, TX) is a great place to learn about and buy herbs that are native to Texas.