Gardening by the Numbers

You probably already know vegetable gardening is on the rise in the U.S., powered by a shift toward non-GMO, organic and just plain, but delicious, vine ripened produce. If you shop for tomatoes, chives or parsley in your backyard instead of at the market, you're not alone. Here's the scoop on what people are growing and enjoying in their gardens. Although these figures were compiled from a number of sources, they typically cover data and projections from 2014.  Enjoy.

Gardening Statistics That May Surprise You

In 2014, nearly 114.6 million people in the U.S. undertook at least some gardening projects. That's up from the 2008 figure of 104.9 million reported by Statista, the Statistical Reporting Portal.

Care to guess whether the average gardener is male or female? If you guessed that the ladies outnumber the men, you're probably right. The National Gardening Association reported that the "average" edible plant gardener is a female who spends five hours a week maintaining a backyard vegetable (herb and fruit) plot.

The average gardener also spends about $70 on prep supplies annually. How much does that investment yield in tomatoes, peppers, blueberries and other produce? That would be about $600 dollars worth.

An average veggie garden size is 575 to 600 square feet or so.  To calculate the size of your own plot, the simple formula is: length x width = area.

Tomatoes are by far the most popular vegetable crop grown in backyard gardens with an 86 percent ranking. They're followed by cucumbers (47 percent) and bell or sweet peppers (46 percent). Other popular crops include: beans, carrots and summer squash.

Vertical gardening is becoming more popular around the country, too. Statistics aren't available, but products designed to help gardeners grow crops up (trellised) instead of out are on the rise. This isn't much of a surprise as a significant number of gardeners are working with a median (not average) space of only around 96 square feet.

One big surprise is that all regions of the country are involved in vegetable or food based gardening. Short season or long season, gardeners are still making the most of their landscapes. The South boasts the largest concentration of gardeners at 29 percent, with Midwest garden enthusiasts coming in at 23 percent.

Research conducted by Michigan State University suggests that updating your landscape can increase your home's value by up to 11 percent. Ancillary data is encouraging, too. It implies that landscaping expenditures (within reason) can yield a 100 percent return on investment (ROI).

A Mother Earth News article concludes that nearly three out of four Americans learn to garden from information on the backs of seed packets. Where did you educate yourself about gardening?

According to the GWAF 2014 October Gardening Trends Research Report, if you grow an edible garden, pest and disease control are your biggest concerns at 39 percent and 38 percent respectively.

About one in every four consumers polled in 2014 planned to grow an edible garden during 2015. It'll be interesting to discover how that falls out when the 2015 figures are in.

According to Mark Bittman, the New York Times food columnist, if one in 10 Americans converted their lawn space to edible garden space, the resulting harvests would supply one third of America's fresh produce needs.

Care to guess the fastest growing food gardening age demographic? According to the National Gardening Association, that would be 18 to 34 year olds (millennials).

Whatever you rage, grab a trowel and get to work! Happy gardening.

Courtesy of Flickr User: Ukgardenphotos


Bittman, Mark. "Lawns Into Gardens."   New York Times. 1/2013.

Elements "15 Gardening Facts and Statistics That Will Blow Your Mind!" 3/2014.

Garden Writers Association. "Garden Trend Survey." 2014. "Food Gardening in the U.S. at the Highest Levels in More Than a Decade According to New Report by the National Gardening Association." 4/2014.

Master of Horticulture. " Home Gardening Statistics." 3/2014.

Mercola. "Who Knew Vegetable Gardens Could Be So Revolutionary?" 4/2014.


Herbs for Forgetfulness -- And Why You May Not Need Them

Have you ever forgotten why you headed into the kitchen or made a beeline for the linen closet? Forgetfulness is usually an inconvenience, but it can also be a symptom of mental decline -- a terrifying prospect for most of us. Lots of herbs and herbal supplements are sold as memory boosters. Research is underway on some, while others may have anecdotal support for their memory enhancing benefits but little or no scientific support -- yet, anyway.

An untested herb can still have great potential, but a healthy dose of skepticism is just common sense, especially in the face of outrageous claims. You know, if something sounds too good to be true. . . .

You might be hearing some of these herb names for the first time, as they hale from across the globe:

I mention these memory enhancing herbs as a group because they represent a place to turn for options, and can be useful resources when researching memory related conditions like Alzheimer's disease. Not all are likely to yield results, but one way to defeat your enemy is to recognize your allies, so why not check out the buzz? WebMd is a good place to start (I've included some links), but don't stop there.

Your Memory May Be Better Than You Think

Happily, sometimes memory problems aren't a sign of big trouble.  For all of us who like to hold onto the good thought, here's a pretty neat example I found reassuring.  It's called the "doorway effect," or the brain's predisposition to deprioritize memory under certain circumstances. This is a real thing, and one you've probably experienced a thousand times:

You find yourself in front of the open refrigerator with your hand actually reaching out, only to discover you've forgotten what you were reaching for; were you lusting after those wholesome celery sticks or that deliciously chilled Snickers bar?

Doorway effect is a specific example of how the brain's short term memory functions. The idea is that walking through a doorway (like into the kitchen) triggers the brain to clear the decks for more important, newer tasks, shelving the older ones. It sees the doorway passage (a between event) as the end of one thing and the beginning of something new.

Think of it like the process of making a recipe: You place an ingredient you need on the kitchen countertop, and put it away after you use it. It's still in the kitchen, just not within easy reach. In responding to certain triggers, like walking through doorways, the brain puts countertop ingredients (thoughts, ideas, objectives) back in the cupboard, so you have a harder time remembering them.

Better example: You're watching television, see a commercial for car wax and decide to wash your vehicle. You walk out of the family room, down the hall and into the garage. Standing next to the nicely coiled garden hose, you suddenly realize you've forgotten what you were going to do -- wash the car. The act of going through the family room doorway triggered your brain to deprioritize the car washing idea. Your body is still physically headed to the garage, though. When you reach your destination and search your short term memory for information about your motivation, it's gone.

This may help explain why you keep forgetting where you put your glasses (thank God!). It's a glitch that happens to completely healthy -- if healthily befuddled -- brains. You can check out a Scientific American article on the subject here: Why Walking through a Doorway Makes You Forget 

Oh, and my advice is to go for the Snickers bar two times out of three.


Brenner, Charles B. and Jeffrey M. Zacks. "Why Walking through a Doorway Makes You Forget." Scientific American. 12/13/2011.

Foster, Steven. "Fresh Clips: Can Ginkgo Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?"

Hill, Maria. "6 Brain Boosting Herbs To Improve Your Productivity."

Jatwa, Vivek, Praveen Khirwadkar, Kamlesh Dashora. "Indian Traditional Memory Enhancing Herbs and Their Medicinal Benefits." " Indian Journal of Research in Pharmacy and Biotechnology." 2014.

Tilson, Ariel. "Memory Boosters: These Herbs Won’t Let You Forget." 2009.

WebMd.  "Maca."

WebMD. "Ashwaghandha."

WebMD. "Brahmi."

WebMD. "Dragon's Blood."

WebMd. "Gotu kula."

WebMd. "Holy Basil."

WebMd. "Huperzine A ."

WebMD. "Rhodiola."


Flubs and Failures - or - 5 Herb Gardening Mistakes You Can Avoid

Herb gardening mistakes, at least a few, are inevitable. Pointing out how we fail rather than how we succeed has always seemed a little counter-productive to me. Better to just be enthusiastic about sound practices that lead to natural rewards like healthy plants and good harvests. If you don't have a decade to learn the ropes by experiencing what works and what doesn't first hand (which can actually be pretty fun and freeing), I have some insights into the most common gotchas in herb gardening.

I know quite a few because I've stepped in them myself -- more than once. What follows is my list of five herb gardening mistakes newbies and even seasoned gardeners make from time to time. If you've fallen victim to a couple, remember the old adage that you don't really know a plant until you've accidentally assassinated at least a couple of specimens. RIP to all those plants that have succumbed to the learning curve. May they become primo compost for a whole new generation.

5 Herb Gardening Mistakes You Can Avoid

False starts and stops

You probably know the Bible quote "To every thing there is a season. . . ." That goes for choosing the right time to install plants in your garden. If you've ever lost a crop to a late spring frost or been surprised by an early fall freeze, you know how depressing it can be to misjudge the weather. I've praised the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the past for providing a network of regional pundits ready to help gardeners become better guessers. For good regional information about weather and other gardening challenges visit the USDA's Cooperative Extension Locator, an interactive map that will lead you to a phone number for local gardening help and insights. You can also visit the First and Last Frost Date Calculator at The Old Farmer's Almanac. Just key in your zip code, and circle the resulting dates on your calendar.

Misplaced generosity

If you have houseplants, you've heard that the biggest killer of indoor plants is overwatering -- or generosity gone wrong. That happens in the garden, too. From over watering to over fertilizing to providing too much sun, sometimes "more" is not a good thing. The best way to know for sure what your plants need is to read up on the varieties you grow. You may think a plant is out to bushwhack you when it gives up and dies for no apparent reason, but plants actually work hard to survive. To give them the best shot at a long life, do your homework. I'd love for you to park on this blog to learn all about your herbs and other plants, but there are lots of wonderful sites on the web you can visit to up your game.

Down time in the garden is prime time for learning about next year's intended crop. Actually, many herbs can thrive without soil amendments or other special accommodations, so when a variety does need a little something extra, most sites are good about mentioning it and offering suggestions. For example: Lavender needs soil that drains well -- very well -- so no wet feet for this flowering beauty.

A little research can go a long way toward making you generous when and where it counts -- which will save your plants and your pocketbook.

Mistaken identity fails

Whether you're growing plants from seed or buying seedlings, mistaking an invited plant for a weed hurts on a number of levels. If you've started plants from seed, you may only get one shot. Destroy what you've nurtured, and you'll have to wait until next year to try again. If you're buying plants, even a few foolish losses can be pricy as well as embarrassing.

Accidentally ripping a plant out of the ground is a surprisingly easy mistake to make. It may be your first experience with a variety you're not all that familiar with. One inattentive weeding session, and that's all she wrote. Or you could have helpers with more enthusiasm than knowledge slaying plants faster than you can shout a warning. However it happens, these types of mistakes can be exasperating. (I mean, what kind of a gardener are you if you mistake your own plants for weeds.) I have to say herbs are particularly at risk, too. They're wonderfully useful, but some herbs are plain Janes that can be mistaken for wild plants. Heck, sometimes they are wild plants.

One way to avoid losses like this is to place markers next to your herbs, especially the new additions. Another is to mulch and weed regularly. This keeps uninvited plants from depleting your soil, and it also helps avoid those slash and burn sessions where you (or others) go on weeding autopilot, yanking everything in sight.

Real estate miscalculations

This is one of my greatest failings -- not leaving enough room for plants to grow to their full potential. The recommendations printed on seed packets and seedling spikes are apparently there for good reason. Eighteen inches isn’t 12 inches, no matter how you measure it. I know it can be almost physically painful to leave all that space between tiny plants, especially when you don't have a roomy garden to begin with. The seedlings of today are the mammoth monster plants of tomorrow, (hopefully, anyway) so work through the pain and give your sprouts the space they need. Plants suffering cramped conditions are often stunted. They produce fewer leaves, flowers and seeds. They are also more susceptible to disease and insect assault.

Taking a wait and see attitude

No one enjoys having sick and failing plants, but it happens. Drooping leaves and yellow spots aren't necessarily portents of disaster, but they are important clues that something's wrong. It's always better to catch problems earlier rather than later. Translated, this means you should keep an eye on your herb garden and respond quickly to signs of trouble. For example, treating with a fungicide early can save a crop. Also, if you get a jump on problems, you have time to research homemade, organic solutions rather than having to rely on chemical overkill approaches to common gardening problems.

It's almost never a good idea to just let nature take its course and destroy a plant. Nature is greedy and usually finds a way to make a mess of your carefully planned garden once a destructive element has been introduced. If you have a plant problem you can't identify, collect a leaf (or bug), place it in a plastic sandwich bag and take it to your local garden center. Those folks have seen it all and can probably offer some good advice. You can also contact your Cooperative Extension Office for suggestions. Take those suggestions and act quickly. Your plants will thank you.  Well, actually they won't, but curing the problem will help your garden and give you more confidence when dealing with the occasional setback in the future.

Photo: Flickr  User: Elliott Brown 
Walled Herb Garden at Houghton Hall


Blue Moon Folklore

I thought I'd drop in and encourage you to take a look at Friday's blue moon. A blue moon is the second full moon in any calendar month. The term has been around for over 400 years, so people have been tracking blue moons, harvest moons and other moon characteristics for a long time.

Moon watchers already know certain moon aspects can be particularly propitious for gardeners and farmers. A harvest moon after the autumnal equinox is considered bright and beneficial for harvesting that last crop before frosty temperatures arrive, for example. Planting crops based on the phases of the moon was the secret weapon of many dedicated old time farming folk, and the practice has adherents even today. You can find out more about the moon and your garden at: Gardening by the Moon

Have you ever wondered about the gibbous moon? It's the moon phase beyond the halfway point, but not completely full. It's characterized by a more rounded aspect (a pouch) along its previous inward curve. Maybe they should call it the "slightly pregnant" moon. 
A Gibbous moon

A blue moon is considered lucky in some cultures, and in others is an indication of increased chance for flooding. Either way, it's an interesting sight, and one that only rolls around once every 33 months or so.

Here's to good weather for an opportunity to see a "once in a blue moon" natural wonder.

Gibbous moon photo: Flickr   User:  Thomas Bresson


Is An Herb or Vegetable Garden Worth the Expense?

Flowering Herbs
By the time high summer arrives, most gardeners have had a chance to reap some of the rewards and contemplate some of the failures of the gardening experience. This is often the time we start tallying up our receipts and scratching our heads. Was all that and fertilizer, mulch and organic pesticide really worth it? Those weekends spent on our knees or stooping over a shovel (rake or hoe) can seem fruitless when our carefully tended blueberry bushes are under siege by relentless waves of Japanese beetles.

Gardening isn't a virtual experience. The results are real and unpredictable, even during good years, years when nature smiles and cooperates. I've discussed some of the challenges and potential disappointments of gardening in previous posts. It's a favorite topic; but this time around, I'd like to present some of the tangible advantages of gardening that you may not have considered.

Gardening Can Save You Money

A 2009 study conducted by the National Gardening Association found that the average backyard gardener pays around $70 a year to produce and maintain a vegetable garden. In turn, that garden generates around $600 worth of produce.  It's true that a new vegetable and herb patch can tax your piggy bank beyond that $70 figure, though.  After you've amended your soil for the first couple of years, you'll be able to plant crops without taking out a small loan or maxing out your credit card. That's when you'll start to see some real financial advantages to this whole gardening for food thing. 

Here's an example: According to the Burpee Seed folks, a $1 investment in potato starts will net you $5 worth of potatoes by the end of the season. You can grow those potatoes in the ground, in a raised bed, trash can, mesh surround, trash bag or even in a bale of straw. That means you can grow potatoes on your patio, deck or just about anywhere else there's plenty of sun and available water. That's pretty flexible and a nice ROI (or Return On Investment for us financial neophytes). You can grow produce in a relatively small space, too, with a projected yield of a half-pound of produce per square foot of area, and more if you grow vertically or hydroponically.

Have you ever wondered which herbs and vegetables are the most space and cost effective to grow?  The top 10 from "The Most Profitable Plants in Your Vegetable Garden," are:

  • Cilantro
  • Arugula
  • Green salad mix
  • Chives
  • Dill
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes, cherry
  • Turnip    
  • Tomatoes, large
  • Winter squash

There are plenty of other candidates, and any vegetables you tend to use in bulk should make your personal "cheaper to grow it" list.

Seeds, the Crops that Keep on Giving

Here's something else to think about. Buying seedlings every spring can get expensive, but you can grow dozens of plants from seed for the price of one garden center seedling. Harvesting seeds one year to use the next is better than double coupon day. It's a season's pass to nearly free plants. Even better, plant varieties that thrive in your garden produce seeds and subsequent generation plants that are slightly more genetically predisposed to prosper for you again -- and again. It's nature's selective breeding program at work making gardening easier and more productive -- if you stick to it.

Preserving Your Yield
Flowering Herbs

A bumper crop of vegetables can sometimes be as daunting as a failed garden: If five tomato plants all ripening at the same time seems like overkill for your family, consider developing a new hobby -- canning.  Canning is more popular today than it has been in the last four decades, and foods canned fresh from your garden will have fewer preservatives and additives than the canned goods on your grocery store shelves. Canning is also an efficient and time honored method of long term storage.

Canning jars can get expensive, it's true, but you'll also use them year after year. Think of it as an investment in the future. That's a future where you don’t' have to worry that the tomato sauce you use in your recipes is tainted with BPA leached from the can's interior lining.

While we're talking about equipment, the Ball canning company has developed a line of products designed to make canning simpler and more fun. If you like the idea of crafting homemade jam from your home grown strawberries, or relish from your jalapenos, these products take some of the stress out of canning. They also make it easier to produce smaller, family sized batches. Here are some examples:

*Ball® FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker (by Jarden Home Brands)
 *Ball FreshTECH Automatic Home Canning System 116852


Home Grown Foods Can Be More Wholesome than Their Store Purchased Counterparts

Produce grown for market is cultivated to meet specific requirements that have little to do with their flavor or nutritional value. Growers want crops that look good, are transport stable and have a long shelf life. Many of these crops are harvested early and then ripened artificially. This can reduce the available vitamins and minerals in the vegetables you buy and can have a negative impact on their flavor and texture, too. 

There is also some concern that big agribusiness uses depleted soils that contain fewer and fewer of the many micronutrients humans need in their diet. That green bean casserole you serve at Thanksgiving contains fewer vitamins and minerals than the same recipe prepared by your mother 20 years ago. That's scary. When you grow your own produce, rotate your crops, plant green manure and compost (even in small ways), you help add nutritional diversity to your diet that may be missing in the foods you eat now -- even when those foods look and seem natural and nutritious.

Home Grown Vegetable Offer Better Variety

If you've ever looked through a vegetable or herb seed catalog, it's easy to see there's a lot more variety out there than you'll find in your market. How about finger sized eggplant for your stir fry, or stuffed round zucchini. How about classic Amish paste tomatoes for spectacular homemade tomato or spaghetti sauce, or home grown paprika peppers perfect for smoking and drying?  There's a vegetable revolution going on, and it starts in your garden.

Just as an example, there are over 7,000 kinds of apples, 400 types of rice and 7,500 cultivar, heirloom and open pollinated tomato varieties grown worldwide. How many types of a particular vegetable or fruit are you likely to find at the store? Fully 30 percent of the apples sold in the U.S. are Red Delicious. It's a great apple, but with so many varieties to choose from, doesn't seeing the same five or six on offer make you feel a little sad?

Many fruits and vegetables available to the casual gardener are sold as: heirlooms, pest or disease resistant strains or interesting cultivars developed for their flavor, aroma, size, texture or color. There are also classics you don't see in stores that may have been popular additions to your grandmother's garden back in the day. Or, what about vegetables from around the world, like Australia's take on spinach or deeply flavored ox heart tomatoes from South Africa?

If you'd like to expand your culinary repertoire with lemon basil or pineapple tomatillo, the world is your garden, but you'll have to grow the plants yourself. 

The Act of Gardening Can Be Good For Your Body and Spirit

Gardening is hard work, but it's also good exercise. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), gardening is a moderate-intensity level activity. A two-and-a- half hour a week commitment (and what garden requires less), can help reduce your risk for: heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke, as well as a host of other conditions. Gardening can help you control your weight, dial back your blood pressure and stave off depression by reducing cortisol levels in your body.  Cortisol is an adrenal hormone that metabolizes carbohydrates and proteins and regulates some stress responses like blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Less cortisol has broad implications for better health.

You burn around 275 calories an hour gardening (yea!), and the plants do most of the hard work. Gardening also gets you outside where you can increase your vitamin D absorption, take advantage of the fresh air and benefit from interacting with the natural world. Some studies suggest that just getting out into nature more -- as opposed to staying in man-made environments like houses, offices and office cubicles (ugh!) -- can help you destress and start tackling that sour attitude you've been meaning to work on. (If you've yelled at the kids lately and regretted it, maybe you need a "green" break.)

So what if this year's roses look forlorn or your grape arbor is listing sideways again. There's always next year to get it right. You've learned a lot, and even if you don't make the cut for premier gardener of the neighborhood, bird watching and bug patrol will keep you busy until the first frost. After that, it'll be time to start planning next year's garden.


Cheap Vegetable Gardener. "The Most Profitable Plants in Your Vegetable Garden." 2009. "The Impact of Home and Community Gardening in America." 2009.

Scientific American. "Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious?" April 27, 2011.

Templin, Neal.  "How Much Green Can Growing a Vegetable Garden Save You?" The Wall Street Journal. April 16, 2009.

The Telegraph. "Gardening Goodness - How to Exercise While Gardening." March 2011.

Van Den Berg, Agnes E.  "Gardening Promotes Neuroendocrine and Affective Restoration from Stress." Journal of Health Psychology." 2014.

* I may be compensated for product link activity in this article. If you find this inappropriate but want more information about these products, please copy and paste the descriptions into your browser and follow the results to other sites for expanded retail options and more information. You can also visit the Ball site for product information, recipes and tips. This is not a sponsored post.  If the idea of canning your harvest has captured your imagination, you can find more information by visiting the National Center for Home Food Preservation funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  \

Canning photo from Flickr, User: Chiot's Run

10 Best Flowering Herbs

Flowering Herbs Like Lavender Can Brighten Up Any Landscape
I like flowers, but I love herbs. I've always felt that way. I was chatting with a work friend years ago when she asked if I gardened. When I said I did, she started asking about my experience with favorites like irises, rhododendrons, dahlias, begonias, peonies, tulips and a number of other flowers I'd never heard of. I was impressed. There was the liberal use of Latin names (if you know 'em, use 'em), and talk of flower size (it was apparent bigger was better), color intensity and the benefits of hybrids. There may even have been some talk of grafting.

She was clearly earnest in her love of flowering plants, and I was a little embarrassed and stymied by her knowledge and obvious enthusiasm. I didn't know much -- well, anything -- about the plants she was rhapsodizing over. I probably couldn't have picked one out of a lineup, and I certainly didn't know anything about their care. Plant names with three syllables or more taxed my vocabulary beyond its Anglo-German limits.

 Flowering Herbs are the Best of Both Worlds


Our chat was a revelation. People garden for lots of different reasons. She was a flower person, studiously polite but unimpressed by my description of a garden bed full of common sage, mint and thyme -- none of which produce flowers worthy of a photo op. When it became painfully clear I was ignorant about even the most basic aspects of growing landscape flowers, she gave me a suspicious look -- like I wasn't a real gardener after all -- and went on her way.

My fascination with herbs was a head scratcher for sure. I wasn't even much of a cook. In those early years, I collected different herbs the way people collect postage stamps, with avid glee but no plans for pursuing their practical applications. This was in California where I had over 100 varieties growing in uncontrolled profusion in a ramshackle garden on the outskirts of a eucalyptus grove. It was heaven. The smell of all those scented geraniums (and their small but worthy flowers), mixed mints and the citrusy artemisias (I forget the variety) were heady enough to threaten olfactory overload when the afternoon sun hit them. It was the best perfume, and worth every inch of garden space those plants appropriated from their flower festooned cousins.

Today, I know a lot more about herbs as well as flowers, vegetables and landscape plants than I did then. In fact, I know enough to add a few flowering herbs to my landscape to satisfy myself as well as those naysayers that claim herbs are just weeds with benefits -- the unlovely mongrels of the garden.

To heck with that! Here are 10 herbs that are as pretty as they are useful. You'll buy them for their herby benefits, but enjoy them for their beauty, too.

Lavender (Lavandula, various)
White Lavender

This one tops our list because lavender is widely considered one of the most attractive, aromatic and, well, romantic herbs around. Although you may be familiar with its distinctive purple flowering spikes, lavender is also available in white and yellow varieties. They're not as dramatic, but if you enjoy unusual specimen plants, give one a try. Easy to grow in (very) well-draining soil, lavender can hold its own in a cutting garden and in a place of honor around showier plants. Lavender is also considered good luck, and who couldn't use a little more of that.

Planting Lavender

Lemon Scented Geranium

Scented Geranium (Pelargonium, various)

You're probably familiar with geraniums. They crowd garden center shelves every spring in reds, pinks and that electric peach color that almost defies description. There are also scented geranium varieties that have smaller, often variegated flowers in scents from lime to rose. The leaves are usually small as well, and may be dappled green to brown. The specifics vary based on the variety you choose, and I admit the scent is the big selling point for these plants. Scented geranium flowers are also captivating, though, and come in white, pink, lavender and purple. They can look so delicate they appear almost artificial.

Scented geraniums may be dried and added to potpourri, and when picked fresh, make pretty, long lasting members of spring flower arrangements. In the garden, they are an easy care option that somehow looks more sophisticated than the geraniums you're used to. Think of them as a 21st century take on a classic.

Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)
Evening Primrose

Evening primrose shows to best advantage when the sun is sinking toward the horizon. This wonderful herb also solves the problem of what to plant in a shady garden spot denuded by previous colonization failures. Growing to 5 feet or taller, evening primrose needs space, but will reward you with many yellow flowers from June to September or thereabouts.

The oil extracted from evening primrose seed is currently being study for the treatment of conditions as diverse as heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis. If you're into herbal remedies -- and pretty flowers -- give evening primrose a try.

Herbs That Grow in the Shade

Bee Balm

Bee Balm (Monarda)

Honey bees have faced challenges from pests and pesticides in recent years. Planting a little bee balm in your garden is a vote of confidence for these industrious pollinators. The bright red flowers of bee balm attract plenty of bees, but they also entice hummingbirds and butterflies. If you like natural garden entertainments, bee balm will bring your flowerbeds to life with lots of visitors.

Give bee balm full sun and dappled afternoon shade in areas that experience punishing heat. Like lavender, bee balm needs well drained soil. Add this plant to your edible flower list, too. Dried bee balm also makes a refreshing tea, and the aromatic leaves and dried flowers can spice up potpourri. Don't expect high performance right away. Bee balm usually starts blooming the second year. Be patient. It's worth it.

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)

From a distance, feverfew looks like a fern that's sprouted petite daisies (or chamomile clones). It's an attractive shrub best known for stopping migraines before they take hold, and for helping to control toothache pain.

Feverfew grows to a height of around 20 inches and is not persnickety about accommodations. It can be invasive, though, so keep an eye on it.

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)


It's easy to please this flowering vine. Passionflower will tolerate poor soil, partial shade (although it prefers sun) and benign neglect. It doesn't like drought conditions, though. In return for a little attention, it will reward you with large, purple blossoms that look like they belong in a tropical paradise. Passionflower will thrive in an arbor, along a deck or fence, or twined around a mail box post. As an added incentive for growing this exceptional plant, the leaves of the passiflora incarnata passionflower make a relaxing, sleep inducing tea.

How to Grow Passionflower

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)
Pineapple Sage

This elegant member of the sage family is a pretty adorable garden plant. It produces jade green leaves and small, deep red, trumpet shaped flowers. Together, they will make you nostalgic for Christmas. For total irresistibility, pineapple sage really does smell like pineapple. Although the fragrance dissipates when the leaves are cooked, stems from this plant make a beautiful garnish and an appealing ingredient in fruit salad.

How to Grow Pineapple Sage

Pot Marigold (Calendula)

Pot Marigold (Calendula)

Marigold creates some confusion because there are two distinct plant varieties with the same common name. The garden center marigold you know and admire is probably French marigold, a useful border plant with interesting yellow to orange or russet flowers. Pot marigold, or calendula, looks similar to some French marigold cultivars, but has antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal medicinal properties. Calendula can be  used to make soothing lip balms and skin creams, for instance.

Dried calendula petals can produce a serviceable dye for fabrics -- or Easter eggs -- and fresh calendula petals look lovely when added to salads or tossed into fresh vegetable dishes. For two plants that look pretty similar, why not choose the one that does triple duty in the garden, kitchen and craft room? Calendula may be hard to find in your garden center, but it's easily propagated from seed.

Different Marigold Varieties

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

You probably already know rosemary has a resinous, piney aroma that can enhance the flavor of lamb and pork dishes. It makes a nice shrub, and can be trained into a hedge, too. This evergreen has needle like leaves, and is predominantly a deep green in color. There are creeping rosemary varieties, and some newer cultivars are hardy to zones 6 or possibly even 5 in sheltered areas.

It may surprise you to discover that blooming rosemary can be a riot of color in shades as pale as cream and as vivid as deep blue. Its flowers are tiny, but there are so many of them that a rosemary bush in bloom can look positively bejeweled. Add a little dew for sparkle, and flower power doesn't get much better anywhere.

Growing Rosemary


Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

Meadowsweet produces clusters of milky white flowers that have a sweet but not overpowering almond scent. Blooming from June to September, this plant will give you your money's worth in the garden and in cut flower arrangements that smell as good as they look. Meadowsweet likes moist conditions and can grow to over four feet, so position it at the back of your flowerbed and give it room to spread.This charming herb has numerous aromatic, culinary, curative and craft applications. If you want to take your gardening hobby in new directions, it's definitely a candidate for further study.

Flowering herbs offer color, curb appeal, scent and extras like flavor and medicinal value. Try one or two in a flowerbed and you'll see just how beautiful a "weed" can be.


Lavender Plant- Flickr
User: Duncan (Lavender at Kensington sunken garden)

White Lavender - Flickr
User: FarOutFlora

Scented Geranium - Flickr
User: Melanie J Watts

Evening Primrose
Yellow Evening Primrose - Flickr
User: Maia C

User: Brewbooks

Bee Balm
Bee Balm Flower - Flickr
User: Audrey

Feverfew - Flickr
User: Melanie Shaw

Passionflower - Flickr
User: Sarowen

Pineapple Sage - Flickr
User: Marie Shallcross

Marigold (calendula) - Flickr
User: Fluffymuppet

Rosemary - Flickr
User: Georgie Sharp

Meadowsweet Spray - Flickr
User: Gailhampshire

Garden Disasters -- or -- Earning Your Stripes

Sure, everything looks great in the beginning. . .

I have lots of gardening stratagems and a freight of old and new superstitions that seem to bubble up during the winter months when I least expect them, only to glom onto my outdoor plans like ceremonial entreaties to the sleeping garden gods. I have a favorite shovel and sun hat, and a lucky spring trowel, too. I also like to plant even numbered tomato plants - two by two, like my own botanical ark.

I like to explore new growing techniques -- or very old ones.  I maintain a garden journal, making blocky, dirt smudged notes that are hard if not impossible to decipher later (is that a 2 or a 7?). I also plot big gardening weekends the way I imagine defensive sports coordinators formulate their tactics, with astute observations (if I say so myself), stark but useful diagrams and cunning.

In the end, though, it's all puny compared to the vagaries of nature. Whether it's baking heat, unrelenting downpours (the problem du jour is over a month of almost constant rain), pest invasions or diseases that seem to spring up overnight, there are always new and unexpected challenges when you're a gardener.

No matter what or how carefully I plan, the reality of each summer season is a stunning surprise.  The good or bad of it is important, well, because I love garden fresh tomatoes and ground cherry jam and baby okra -- and losing those plants sucks. The part that always gets me, thankfully before I throw up my hands up in disgust,  is how beautifully the garden as a whole adapts.

Sure, my tomatoes are slowly succumbing to blight (a total tragedy as I planted 12 varieties and really wanted to see them thrive),  but the peppermint is waist high and about as happy as I've ever seen it.  There's catnip everywhere, and the lemon balm is ambling across the driveway, traveling sunward at a truly impressive rate. The lavender is suffering, as are the roses, but there's a bumper crop of cucumbers coming along and the passionflower is a tropical wilderness taking over the deck. It isn't the garden I'd planned, but it's deeply verdant in a way I've never seen, may never see again and could never have expected.  I'll take what I can get. The plusses are worth mentioning, even -- and maybe especially -- amidst the disappointments. There are plenty of weeds, but they come up easily.

This has put me in mind of predictable garden problems. (Most beetles varieties are under control so far, but the mosquitoes are fierce and terrible.) I've listed some past posts below that may help with garden challenges you might be facing this weekend and beyond. Here's to fighting the good fight.

Beating the Heat in the Garden

Zucchini Problems - Beating the Bugs

What You Need to Know About Getting Rid of Japanese Beetles

How to Keep Herbs from Bolting

Battling Earwigs

Marigold Bug Spray


From Flicker By User: PurpleLorikeet  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

The 10 Best Fragrant Herbs for Your Garden

You want herbs for your garden that look good, and taste good, and have extra medicinal benefits -- but what about smell? Herbal fragrances have enriched perfumes, cosmetics and comestibles for centuries, and choosing herbs that smell swell has unexpected benefits.  The right herb fragrances can attract bees -- or repel insects. They can enhance a garden's ambience by making it feel welcoming, exotic, delicious or just unique. Some can have calming or soothing characteristics, while others are known to invigorate. 

In many cases, herbs release their aromas when you brush up against them, so you can enjoy the benefits with very little effort. Here's a tip: Plant aromatic herbs close to a gate or walkway for a regular reminder that garden fresh fragrances are the best around. In fact, many aromatherapy scents are based on herb fragrances, and you can have that bounty growing in your backyard for the cost of a little soil improvement and periodic watering.

The ten herbs below are widely known for their distinctive and pleasant aromas. If you aren't growing a few, consider this a wake up call. Making your garden an olfactory as well as a visual delight works indoors and out. Most of these herbs can be used in teas, cooking, crafts and herbal remedies. They can stand in as air fresheners and make attractive live flower (or plant) bouquets. They can also be welcome ingredients in potpourris and sachets.

Grab a spade and some seeds. In a great herb garden, you don't need signs for direction. Just follow your nose:

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm

For an easy care plant that's famous for its lemony scent, try lemon balm. A member of the mint family, this herb has a bright green color and a creeping habit that will fill a vacant corner in no time. Lemon balm is known as herbal valium. A tea made from it can be a reliable sleep aid. Lemon balm also makes a tasty addition to fruit salad, works well as a garnish and as part of a casual table arrangement of flowers and herbs. Lemon balm jelly is a personal favorite served with warm muffins.

Lemony fragrances always smell fresh and clean, making them popular in household cleansers and other products.  If you've never smelled lemon balm, it has the same general scent notes as lemon furniture polish.  Nice. If you really adore that fragrance, and many do, try other herbs with similar lemony goodness. They include: lemon verbena, lemon thyme, lemon eucalyptus and lemon grass.

How to Grow Lemon Balm  


Peppermint (Mentha × piperita)

There are many different types of mint, including closely related plants like lemon balm and catnip. I enjoy peppermint the most because, to me, it has the strongest aroma and flavor. It's a perky little plant, too, with dark green leaves that have mauve to purple undersides. The smell of peppermint is always cheering. This plant is one of the last to go dormant in fall and among the first to start showing signs of life in spring. If you like mint jelly, enjoy mint tea (which is great for stomach upsets), or make the occasional mint julep, this little plant can be your best friend.  You can propagate it in a glass of water, and maintain it that way indoors over the winter months. 

Note: Although peppermint is my go-to mint buddy, spearmint and apple mint both have strong, pleasant fragrances. Other fun options include: chocolate mint and orange min.)

Homemade Peppermint Extract 

Scented Geranium (Pelargonium, various)
Lime Scented Geranium

You see geraniums for sale every spring at the large nurseries, but these large leaf varieties are very different from the hundreds of scented geraniums available through specialty herb outlets. For one, scented geraniums are usually built on a much smaller scale, with delicately shaped leaves and daintier flowers overall. The big surprise isn't that scented geraniums look like flowers fit for a pixie's lawn, though. It's their various fragrances that are so remarkable: From chocolate to orange blossom to cinnamon (apple, attar of roses or mimosa), wonderful rich deep scents are available with these plants. If you try a few, you'll want them all, and there are dozens to choose from. Although scented geraniums aren't frost tolerant, they can be overwintered indoors.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

You may think of rosemary as an herb often used with roasted meats, or in Greek or Italian cooking. In warmer climates, it's often employed as a hedge or ground cover, though.  If you explore professional landscaping in California, Nevada or other warm weather locations, you'll likely see plenty of rosemary.  With its deep green coloration and delicate white, lavender or blue flowers, it’s a pretty plant. What isn't immediately apparent is that rosemary has a strong and wonderfully piney fragrance -- with a little something extra. Think of it as Christmas tree meets the robust pepperiness of a quality olive oil.

Newer rosemary cultivars are pushing the boundary for cold tolerance, so you may be able to cultivate this plant in protected areas as low as Hardiness Zone 5 or so. If not, it works as a commuter plant -- outdoors in summer and indoors in winter.

Rosemary Christmas Tree Maintenance
Rosemary Quotes from Literature 

Lavender (Lavandula, various)

Without a doubt, lavender is the reigning monarch of fragrance herbs. It's used in everything from shampoo to carpet cleaner, and that's no accident. Lavender has a  universal appeal. It's popular with both men and women, and even though the cliché about "old ladies" smelling of lavender is alive and well, this scent is still one of the most beloved, recognizable and in-demand flower based aromas on the market.

Lavender also happens to be an aromatherapy superstar. It's a natural muscle relaxer, even when inhaled. In fact, relaxing those tight shoulder and neck muscles will help you go to sleep faster, and sleep longer, too.

You can add a sachet of fresh lavender to your bath water, or tuck it under your pillow instead. You can even toss dried lavender buds on your rugs for an instant carpet deodorizer with benefits.

Understanding Different Types of Lavender
Lavender Quotes from Literature 


Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe)

There's a good chance you have powdered ginger in your spice cabinet right now. If not, you may have a hunk of ginger root in your vegetable drawer. Ginger is an essential herb in Asian cooking, and it also makes a soothing tea. What's somewhat less well-known is that ginger leaves produce a  milder version of that peppery, floral ginger fragrance we all know and love. Those same leaves can be used to make a milder but still refreshing tea with antioxidant properties.

You can even start a ginger plant from that vegetable drawer root -- if it's still in good shape. After the growing season winds down, harvest and dry the leaves and place the pot in a protected indoor location until next spring. The plant will revive and sprout again like magic.

Growing and Harvesting Ginger 


Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

What can you say about the main ingredient in the  most popular herb based pasta dishes on the planet -- pesto. This annual is one of the most common herbs grown in the home garden every year. It attracts bees, and is an almost perfect accompaniment to fresh tomatoes. A classic Italian dish, insalata caprese or caprese salad, combines fresh basil, tomatoes and mozzarella. Do try it.

Basil has a mild licorice flavor with slightly sweet notes and an elegant subtlety you won't find in other licorice style offerings like fennel.  When the sun is shining on a mature, leafy plant, it's easy to fall in love with this Mediterranean import (that actually originated in India). It smells like a banquet.  If you love Italian dining, the garden doesn't get much better than this.

Growing Basil

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)
Pineapple sage

Yes, pineapple sage actually does smell like pineapple -- in the most delicate, appealing way. It smells almost too good to be true. No wonder bees and hummingbirds love it.  Pineapple sage produces deep green leaves and lush growth all summer long, as well as attractive slender, red flowers. Unfortunately, the fragrance doesn't last well when the plant is either dried or cooked, but it is evident when pineapple sage is used as a garnish or added to cold dishes like salad or gelatin. Think of this one as a gardener's secret pleasure. One whiff and you'll be a pineapple sage lover for life.

How to Grow Pineapple Sage

Lime thyme

Lime Thyme (a cultivar of Thymus citriodorus)

There are a number of thyme varieties, including the lemon thyme mentioned above. The lime scented cultivar of this plant has a, well, more limey aroma than the lemon forms out there. It's actually very refreshing. Lime thyme makes for an interesting specimen plant, and adds a nice touch to grilled fish. If you can only grow a few herb varieties for scent, there are others you may want to try first. If you're looking for something a little different, though, lime thyme is worth the space in your garden.

Growing Thyme

Curry Plant (Helichrysum italicum)
Curry plant

You probably already know traditional curry is a blend of different spices. There are actually hundreds of curry variations. If you think you can produce a nice curried lamb using curry plant, you're in for a disappointment. To add to the confusion, there are actually two very different plants commonly referred to as "curry plant." (This is an excellent reason to rely on scientific plant names whenever possible).

We are referring to Helichrysum italicum, a tender perennial that looks a little like a small, gray rosemary plant.  The description doesn't really do it justice, though.  This little herb has one of the most unusual fragrances you're likely to run across in your explorations. Even though it's marketed as smelling like a curry blend, it can morph into something else sometimes.  Actually, my husband and others think it smells like maple syrup, and I do too -- at least occasionally.  Other times, I agree it has the spicy, earthy aroma associated with some curries. Hard to imagine? Give it a try and see for yourself.

Curry plant can be used in cooking, but it is more well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Want to savor its wonderful fragrance? Use it as a garnish with egg and mildly seasoned rice and pasta dishes.

How to Grow Curry Plant  


Main Photo
Source: Flickr  User name: Suzette

Lemon balm
Source: Flickr  User name: hitomi

Source: Flickr  User name: Hidetsugu Tonomura

Scented Geranium -
Source: Flickr  User name: Tracy27  Lme Geranium

Rosemary -
Source: Flickr  User name: Paul Sullivan

Lavender -
Source: Flickr  User name: Karen Roe

Source: Flickr  User name: Ahmad Fuad Morad

Basil -
Source: Flickr  User name: zoyachubby

Pineapple Sage -
Source: Flickr  User name: Marie Shallcross

Lime Thyme -
Source: Flickr  User name: John Vonderlin

Curry Plant -
Source: Flickr  User name: Thistle-Garden

List of Herbs You Can Root in Water -- with Instructions

Rosemary rooted over the winter in a sunny window.
Propagating herbs from cuttings is part of the fun of growing them in the first place, and many herbs are very easy to reproduce. Most articles on herb propagation recommend placing cuttings in an inert, loose growing medium like sand,  vermiculite, perlite, coconut coir or likely a combination of the three, and then letting the plants root over a period of weeks or months -- depending on the herb or plant variety involved.

This is usually the most reliable and sensible way to exactly reproduce a plant, because cuttings are clones, or mini-me duplicates.  Some of the plants sold in large garden centers every spring are produced this way rather than from seed. Using a gentle growing medium helps encourage strong roots, and some growers hedge their bets by dipping the cut stems in a rooting hormone to enhance root development.  You can use this classic method with a setup as simple as:

Classic Bag and Media Plant Propagation Method - What You'll Need

  • Cuttings - Prefer new growth around 6 inches long. Cut stems on a slight diagonal and remove three quarters of the leaves from the lower portion of the cutting.  Cuttings may require scoring, depending on the variety.
  • Potting mix - Prepared potting mix, plant starter or a mixture of the media above to a depth of three to four inches.
  • A plastic freezer bag - Medium to large
  • Enough water to keep the media moist -- replenished every week or so
  • Rooting hormone (optional) - There are DIY options like willow water, pure honey and powdered cinnamon. If using hormone, roll the stems in the mixture before planting.


  1. Add soil to the bag.
  2. Prepare the stems.
  3. Add the stems and firm the top of the soil gently. I usually add no more than three cuttings per bag.
  4. Blow into the bag and seal it.
  5. Open the bag once every few days for a few hours and water slightly if the soil looks dry.
  6. Avoid jostling the bag as this will disturb the roots and may create fissures.
  7. Check for rooting after a few weeks by tugging gently on the cutting. Some herbs like rosemary may take 8 weeks or more to root, so be patient.
  8. Transplant new herbs to three inch pots when their roots are an inch or so long. You can often discern root development by inspecting the soil through the transparent plastic.

Herbs You can Root in Water

There are actually a number of ways to root cuttings successfully, including using hydroponic or aeroponic cloners.  A very simple method, which can be used on some but not all herbs, is to simply place the cuttings in a glass of water and wait for something good to happen. Consider this the minimalist approach. If you want to play with propagating cuttings, this is the easiest way to start.

A word of warning: This is not a popular option among experienced gardeners. It is widely believed roots grown this way are weak and the subsequent plants less robust.  I've had success growing plants in water, though, and it’s a lot of fun. The resulting transplants have been pretty successful for me, too. I've always made water rooting a three step project, though. More on this in a minute.

List of Herbs You Can Root in Water

 Here are some herbs that can be rooted in water:
  • Basil
  • Lavender
  • Lemon balm
  • Lemon verbena
  • Marjoram
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Pineapple sage
  • Rosemary  
  • Sage (common)
  • Scented geranium
  • Stevia
  • Thyme
You may also have luck with:

Savory (summer and winter)
Bay laurel  (This one is a two step process. Soaking in water encourages bumps or nodes on the underwater portion of the stem that will then make a bay cutting easier to propagate in soil. If you've had bad luck cloning bay, give it a try.)

Prepped cuttings from left to right: oregano, rosemary, lavender
I've typically started herbs in water from spring to late summer with the idea of maintaining them indoors until fall or, more likely, the following spring. Although I started out using a sunny window, the volume of plants increased so much that I eventually invested in a fluorescent grow light setup, which works well. I concern myself less with the type of cutting (softwood or semi-hard) than I do with choosing a stem that hasn't flowered but is growing well. This shows me it is robust and can produce roots. If I'm trying to propagate a houseplant, say, I put it outdoors early in spring to try and give it some extra energy that will then enhance root development in cuttings harvested from that plant.

This works for me:
  1. Choose 4 to 6 inch non-blooming stem cuttings on healthy plants that are not currently dormant (not yet actively in a growth phase).
  2. Cut each stem on a slight diagonal with a sharp knife. (A sharp knife will help reduce damage to the stem. Avoid using scissors, which tend to crush stems. For plants, crushed, compressed or damaged stems are a little like trying to suck soda from a bent straw. You wouldn't wish that on any seedling in training. Oh, craft knives, razor blades and box cutters also work well.)
  3. Remove leaves from about two thirds of the cutting.
  4. Place the cutting in water in a small glass, cup or jar with the water topping out just below the lowest leaf on the stem. If possible, some of the leafy top of the seedling should peek over the top of the container. This isn't essential, but helps with airflow.
  5. Prefer one cutting per cup as this will avoid the problem of tangled roots later . . . . Okay, so three stems at most.
  6. Place the cup in a window that receives at least four hours of light, but no direct sunlight, a day.
  7. Change the water in the cup EVERY day. This is the most important rule in the process.  Changing the water frequently helps control the growth of bacteria and algae. The cleaner the water, the more likely your cutting will root and thrive.
  8. Once roots have developed on the cutting and grown to about a half-inch to an inch, transplant it to a three inch pot that contains a 50/50 mixture of potting soil and perlite or something similar. 
  9. Maintain the pot indoors or in a greenhouse for at least a month before acclimating it to the outdoors.
  10. The three steps above are: rooting, potting and transplanting. With seasonal limitations, this can sometimes end up being a long process -- but not always. Fast rooting herbs can sometimes take as little as two weeks, while slow rooting varieties like rosemary and lavender can take two months or more.


Rooting times vary from herb to herb. Even cultivars within an herb family will respond differently.

For the best results, start with a number of cuttings of the same plant variety -- just in case.

I don't cover the glass with a plastic bag (like a mini-greenhouse) because I think good air flow is important, but if the air in your home is dry, you may want to consider it. If you do use a top covering for your cuttings, make sure it doesn't actually touch the leaves. An inverted sandwich bag taped to the glass (dome like) works well for this.

If your goal is to transplant water rooted cuttings directly into the garden, alter the rooting setup somewhat: Place a layer of gravel on the bottom of the cup before you add the water and cutting(s). The gravel layer should be just below the base of the stem.  The cutting will root directly into the gravel (or coarse sand), which will help encourage branching roots and stronger root development overall. This can be useful for fast rooting plants like those in the mint family that can be rooted and planted over the course of a single season.

Rooting plants in water is fun and doesn't require any special equipment, accessories or supplies. All it takes is a sunny window, a vow to change the water daily and some patience.  Try both techniques and see which you prefer.


DeBaggio, Thomas.  "Water Works: Rooting Cuttings in Water." 1994.

Juniper Moon Farm. "Propagating Lavender."

Plant Village. "Marjoram."

Photo 1 - Water Rooted Ficus Cutting
By Biusch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Other photos by author


Preserving Herbs - What You Need to Know Now

In spring, the first questions readers ask are about how to plant herbs in the garden or cultivate seeds and seedlings. After those carefully pampered herbs are up and growing, the next group questions involve methods of preservation. It's a process. It doesn't take too many seasons growing herbs and vegetables to realize it's either feast or famine in the garden. Those lush cilantro or dill stems bolt quickly when the warm weather sets in. Flower production can spell the end of leaf development in some plants, and if leaves are what you're after, hustle outside to harvest while you can. You can delay that a bit by pinching back blossoms. You can also stagger plantings, but it's inevitable that heat, cold or dry weather will put a wrench into your ongoing harvesting strategies sooner or later. 

Whether you're after leaves, flowers or fruits, a day will probably come when you're standing with an overflowing bag or basket from the garden wondering how the heck you'll make use of all that produce before it becomes compost fodder. The trick to making the most of your herb gardening efforts is in finding creative ways to preserve fresh herbs and vegetables so you can use them in some form or another come late fall and winter.  Let's take a look at a few of these strategies to see what's worth the time and storage space.

Drying Herbs

I'm a big advocate of drying herbs and even some vegetables like sliced tomatoes and zucchini. Drying is a space saver, and a dehydrator, oven or warm spot on your patio does most of the hard work. The result is often less appealing than fresh, though. There are exceptions: Bay leaf is actually better after a little aging, and rosemary, oregano, thyme and sage are nearly as good dried as they are fresh. On the other hand, cilantro, ginger and others don't dry particularly well. What's the solution? Choose preservation methods that will complement specific crops. With a little planning, this is easier to do than it sounds. There is more information about drying at the bottom of this post.

Freezing Herbs

 I don't love the idea of freezing herbs, but it's better than going without. Some, like cilantro, work pretty well and can be frozen a couple of ways: Prep herbs for freezing by washing and drying them, removing the stems and then placing them in freezer bags from which you can vent as much air as possible. This allows you to store bags flat or on end and saves a lot of space. If you don’t' have a vacuum sealer, use a straw (and your lips, of course) to extract air from the bag. A zipper storage bag works well for this. It's a fast and cheap cheat.

The second method is to make a slurry (water and chopped herb mixture) and freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, the cubes can be removed from the trays and stored in freezer bags or plastic containers. This is actually pretty nice if you make a lot of sauces, soups and stews over the winter. Just pop a cube's worth of parsley into your minestrone a half hour before serving time and your set. I use a 50/50 mixture of herbs to water -- which works well.

I've also frozen herbs in broth, like canned beef broth, or vegetable juice. I make soups and pasta sauce all the time in winter, so it's worth the extra effort. For this, I blend herbs I know I'll use together. An example is oregano, thyme, parsley and rosemary, which I use in pasta sauce. The problem with herbed ice cubes is that they take up quite a bit of room, so you have to be pretty dedicated to this method of using herbs in cooking or you'll be losing valuable freezer space for nothing. Frozen herbs don't stay fresh tasting forever, either. Four to six months is about it for them. If you freeze a batch in September, though, it should take you through the holidays. Another challenge is getting the proportions right for your recipes. That 50/50 proportion rule is helpful, but otherwise, it's mostly trial and error. One way you can make absolutely sure you have the right amount of frozen herbs is to defrost, drain and measure them before adding them to your recipes. Use proportions as you would for fresh. I usually wing it. It works.

Herb Infusions 

You can extract the essential properties of an herb, like flavor and healthful benefits, by infusing it in a liquid like oil, alcohol or vinegar. It's a traditional way to preserve the best features of an herb for future use. Infusions can enhance your crafting, home remedies or cooking efforts. Candle making, potpourri, flavored sugars, flavored vinegars, ointments and other projects come to mind.

One of my culinary favorites is to mix fresh herbs with sweet creamery butter, place the butter in a single serving mold (or wax paper log) and freeze it.  The proportions are roughly a quarter-cup of herbs per stick (half-cup) of butter. Yes, margarine works too.

Recipe Storage

You can go the "whole hog" route, too. Instead of just freezing your herbs and vegetables, take a weekend to make complete dishes and freeze or can them. This is pretty efficient and labor saving, especially if your family enjoys the same dishes over and over again. You can make a big batch of salsa, spaghetti sauce, stew or chili, use your herbs and veggies, and can or freeze the mega-recipe for winter use.

This is actually one of the reasons I got into canning. If you visit the USDA's home canning site, The National Center for Food Preservation, you can review hundreds of safe canning recipes. There is quite a bit of latitude for adding different herbs to canning projects without altering their chemical makeup, too. It's a win, win -- and canning is pretty addictive once you get started. It has been growing in popularity over the last decade, so give it a try.

If you elect to freeze your recipes instead of canning them, freezer bags have come a long way in the last few years, so your efforts won't be wasted.

Salting Herbs

This one isn't very common these days.  Still, you can create herb flavored salts from most of the herbs you grow in the garden, and even create herb blends. The proportions are typically a cup of sea salt to a half cup of fresh herbs. Place both ingredients in a blender and pulse until you achieve a powdery texture. Spread the somewhat damp mixture on a cookie sheet and place it in a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven for a couple of hours (or until completely dry). Stir once or twice during drying. The result will be clumpy, so blend it again to smooth it out.

Using sea salt adds a lot to the mixture. Ocean salts contain a freight of minerals that really do enhance flavor.  You can add spices to the mixture, and even include citrus zest like orange, lime or lemon, or other herbs like ginger or horseradish. Place the prepared flavored salt recipe in an air tight container. It should last three to six months. I've done this with a mixture of rosemary and orange (three tablespoons of rosemary and the zest of 2 oranges) and the results were delicious.  I've used it to season the interiors of whole roasting chickens and to create a dry rubs for pork tenderloin. Yum.

Drying Herbs - The Possibilities

There are quite a few ways to dry herbs effectively:

Dehydrator -
I like using a dehydrator because it's an easy method that always works. Layer herbs on dehydrator trays and let the low heat do the rest. With some dehydrators, you may need to rotate or turn trays for more even drying, and it's always a good idea to check progress every few hours to avoid unintentional scorching.

Oven - You can also dry herbs on cookie sheets in your oven. This is best with a gas stove where you can just crack the door and let the low heat from the pilot light do the honors. If you have an electric oven, use the warm or lowest setting and leave the door partially open. When processing wet herbs like catnip, turn them once or twice during drying.

Attic - You can go old school and dry herbs in an attic or warm room. Tie them in small bunches and hang them upside down in a dark location where there's plenty of air flow. I like using rubber bands because they shrink to hold the bundle as the herbs lose moisture. That means fewer herbs littering the floor.

Paper bags - Another option is to dry herbs in large paper bags in the garden on a hot, dry day. Remove the bottoms of the bags to create a kind of shaded tunnel. Good air flow is important. Place loose bunches of herbs in the bags and check them for doneness every few hours. If you use the paper bag or attic method, that could translate to a couple of days drying time if not longer. When drying large batches, try breaking them into smaller bunches to discourage the growth of mildew.

Hot Car - A more modern take on this classic theme is to dry herbs in the backseat of a hot automobile. I've actually tried this, and it works surprisingly well. I don't know who came up with the idea originally, but it's a keeper.

Is It Done Yet 

You'll know your herbs or dry when they're stiff enough to shatter when pressed. You don't want to burn the leaves, but when in doubt about doneness, dryer is better. It's sad to open a tin of rose petals or sage leaves only to discover they're moldy because of too much trapped moisture.


Store herbs in air tight, dark containers. (After drying, sunlight and moisture are enemies of herb preservation.) If possible, keep them in a dark location that is somewhat cool.  This is precautionary.

Herbs will last from six months to 2 years depending on the variety and how effectively they've been dried. This is also true of commercially prepared herbs.

Moisture Control

To help hedge your bets moisture wise, you can add dried rice to the bottom of the herb container to absorb any ambient moisture. Those little desiccant packets that come inside aspirin and other products will work too -- just don't eat what's inside. Other homemade desiccants include powdered milk and kitty litter (non-scented and non-clumping). Reserve the kitty litter for non-edible herbs you may be preserving like eucalyptus for flea control or bay leaf to deter grain weevils.


Another option is to make craft projects from fresh herbs that will dry naturally as the project "cures." Herb wreaths, swags, lavender wands and other herb related crafts make nice gifts. Preparing them in batches always feels like a job well done, too.These posts will get you started:

How to Make an Herb Wreath - Part 1  
How to Make an Herb Wreath - Putting it all Together
How to Make a Lavender Wand


1 - By Alexander Baxevanis (Flickr: Spices & Herbs) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

2 - By Zak Greant from Vancouver, Canada (Spices, seasoning, herbs and vegetables) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons