Five Herb Growing Quick Tips
Five Helpful Tips for Growing Herbs in Your Backyard
These five tips will help you grow most of the common herb varieties you're likely to fall in love with. They're basic but practical guidelines to get your herbs through the season without mishap.
Sun is important - Many herbs and a majority of garden plants need a reliable source of light for at least six hours a day. Usually that means direct outdoor sunlight, but if you want to grow herbs indoors, a windowsill herb garden is imminently doable if you can offer adequate window light or supplement with grow lights if you need to.
Perform this little test, either indoors or out: Wait till the sun is shining in the spot you have in mind, and then extend your arm. If you can't clearly see your well defined shadow (and all your fingers), the spot is probably too shady.
Give 'em good drainage - Plants need a healthy root system to survive. Kill the roots, and you kill the plant. One of the easiest ways to sabotage your growing efforts is to create a situation where water dwells around a plant's roots long enough to destroy them. When that happens, the plant has no way to absorb minerals and moisture and starves to death.
Take a look at your soil to see if it's the right consistency to absorb moisture and then release it to the water table in short order. If you can't get a trowel into your soil or it's so porous it feels mealy, add a quality top soil (or outdoor potting soil) and soil amendments. If you can't afford to rework a whole flowerbed to make it drain better, just dig a large hole (around three or four times larger than the plant's pot), and amend that smaller area. It's a cheat, but we all know this isn't a perfect world. To learn more about your soil, visit: How to Test Your Soil - a Primer
Give them enough water - Herbs are sturdy little fighters that often come from environs where resources are thin on the ground, literally. One thing they do need consistently, though, is water. This can be a challenge, but if you plant herbs in a spot you view (or walk by) often, you're more likely to remember they're there and give them a revitalizing drink on a regular basis. Plants don't eat dirt to get nutrients. They rely on water to dissolve the minerals they need and then extract the minerals from the moisture around their roots.
The irony here is that too much moisture kills the roots of many plants while too little makes it impossible for them to access nourishment. Plants will often warn you when they aren’t getting enough water. They'll droop, turn yellow or develop brown leaf margins. Watch for clues and you won't go wrong. You can also employ a cheat, like planting water hungry herbs near downspouts where they're more likely to get water when they need it -- whether you're being a good host or not.
Watch the heat - In some areas of the country, the heat can be brutal during high summer, and keeping herbs in very hot, arid conditions is challenging. If a plant's instructions suggest full sun but you know that you could cook an egg on your patio during hot summer afternoons, choose a spot that gets dappled light -- or some welcome afternoon shade. Growing herbs is horticulture in action, but it's also about common sense.
Harvest sparingly - That basil plant may look delicious (especially for pesto), but don't harvest more than a third of the plant at a time (for most herbs), and wait for that much or more to grow back before taking an additional harvest. It's also a good idea to let seedlings grow to eight inches or thereabouts before you begin harvesting your first crop. Plants are processing plants for the leaves, flowers or seeds you want from them, but they're also living things. When you put their needs first, you insure future bounty.
More Herb Hints and Suggestions
A majority of herbs are considered weedy invaders in nature and thrive in barren soils, so the soil your herbs comes with (in) should keep them nourished for a month or more. After that, one or possibly two applications of an all-purpose fertilizer should be plenty for the season.
I'm not mentioning pest control here because many herbs are effective at repelling insects without intervention. That may be because they often have distinctive, strong fragrances too bold for your average bug. If you do start seeing signs of insect activity, spray plants with the least aggressive method first, like a garden soap or homemade preparation (you'll find quite a few around this blog).
Bugs really shouldn't be a problem, though, which is one reason herbs make a great first garden project. It also doesn't hurt that you can eat them, make cunning flower arrangements with them, use them in crafts, give herb projects away as holiday gifts and employ them in many helpful home remedies.
Head out to the nursery this morning and give an herb a home. It'll pay you back tenfold.