This information was gathered at a class on Growing Herbs class that I attended at the Master Gardener plant sale. It was presented by Master Gardener Mary Thompson.
For all of my flowers and exotic plants, for all of my containers and vegetable beds, I have found that over the years the part of my garden that impresses people (especially non-gardeners) the most is my herb garden.
I don’t have a fancy herb bed. I tend to plop new herb plants in where ever they will fit and the lemon balm and epazote have written ransom letters telling me to cough up more space or they will kill each of the other herb bed residents one by one until I do. S.W.A.T. (Serious Weed Attack Team) is dealing with that issue right now, but the point is, from a gardener’s perspective, this bed has a few problems.
But still, so many people are impressed with it. Normally, they are impressed with it right after I leave the kitchen barefoot with a pair of scissors and return with a fistful of fresh and colorful herbs. They are then even more impressed when they sit down to dinner with me and take that first mouthful of food.
Herbs were one of the first plants I grew in my original container garden. This was after I discovered that it costs the same to buy a plant as it does to buy a package of fresh herb. As a poor but food dedicated college student, I had seen the light my mother had been trying to show me all those years. I have been a dedicated herb grower since.
But as always, there is more to learn. At the Growing Herbs class, I learned a few things that I did not know.
- Avoid clay soil – Okay, I knew this one but only because of the school of hard knocks, which is why I am putting it here. When I first moved to my house here in Cleveland, I put the herb bed straight into the ground. The herb plants languished (or just plain died) for a year and then I dug them all up and amended the soil. Growing herbs in Ohio means that you will need to amend the the soil.
- No fertilizer – As mentioned in the Container 101 class, herbs like less than perfect soil and develop their best flavor if they are grown in this kind of soil. Avoid fertilizing after your initial amending of the bed.
- Harvest early in the morning but after the dew has dried – An herb’s flavor is most concentrated in the leaves in the morning. But picking herbs while they are still damp can promote disease.
- Disbud when the herbs start to flower – I knew that herbs lose their flavor and stop producing leaves when they start to flower but I had always thought that once this flowering process starts, there is no going back. But, apparently, you can just nip the buds off, wait for a few days and the flavor and leaf growth will return.
- Stop harvesting a month before first frost – If you are growing herbs that are perennial, you need to stop harvesting a month before first frost. This gives any new growth time to harden off. Harvesting later than that will cause the plant to put out tender growth and will make the plant vulnerable to the winter cold.
Mary also told us that the Herb of Year for 2006 was the scented geranium. I love scented geraniums. And I am not the only one. There is a whole blog dedicated to scented geraniums located at http://geraniums.momcom.net.
The thing to remember about herbs is that if food is the way to a person’s heart then an herb garden is a veritable pharmacy of aphrodisiacs.