Part Three of the Series
It’s been awhile since I continued with this series. There have been blog changes and the blog is including more stuff than just herbs but I promise you I won’t forget to keep the original series going. This is part three in the series. In part one, I discussed how to select the right area of your yard for a Herb garden. In part two, I discussed how to plan and design the garden in the area you have selected. The purpose of the series is to bring you from the idea to the harvest. If you follow the series, you will able to do that.
In this section, I am going to discuss the various herbs you can choose for your garden and what they require for optimum health. This will depend upon your area, the type of soil in your garden and the location you have chosen for the garden. Your garden is meant to last a long time so take your time in putting it together and don’t rush through things. If something seems hard, tiresome or difficult, set it aside, move along and return to it later. If this is not possible in the general order of things, then just rest awhile before returning to the task. It always helps to remain focused on the end result: a fruitful, healthy garden. Imagine the money you will save along with the great foods you will create.
In considering your garden, do not forget the necessities for caring for the herbs as they grow Water should be plentiful, easy to access and supplied on a regular basis. Plan for soaker hoses, air misting, sprinklers, whatever will work with what you have in place and with what you plan for the garden. Consider the size of the garden. If you have a lot of plants then you need a lot of water. The chore of watering itself depends upon the lay of the land. Sandy soil and plants spaced far apart require a lot of watering; daily is best. But if the plants are compactly planted and will hold water among them in pools or if the soil is mucky and water is slow to drain, then less watering is required. Consider the soil drainage and the runoff as well as the type of herbs and what they require when making choices about watering and sources of water in your garden plan.
Feeding should be regular and easily accomplished. You should not have to lean over large walls or scramble among tall bushes to feed the plants. Try to work out a system where food is added to a water bucket or sprinkled about just before the mister starts. Food spikes are great choices because you just put them in place and they last a long time. Slow release vitamins and minerals are excellent choices as well. A well balanced formula such as Peters or Miracle Gro will suffice unless you find that your soil is lacking something specific. If you are unable to test your soil for everything, and most of us have trouble doing this, then you will have to watch your plants closely as they grow. If they get discolored, drop leaves or never have blooms, then the plant is hungry for something that is missing in the soil. Nitrogen is necessary for leaf growth but should be used sparingly when wishing plants to flower and bloom. It will inhibit flowers in most plants; you will end up with a ton of leaves but no blooms. Manure is best added to the soil when preparing the site; just add it to the soil you start the garden with. But if you add it in later it will burn the plants badly.
Being bug-free is huge and will be addressed in the posts to come, but you should think about it at all times. Bugs are the worst destroyers of a beautiful garden. You may already have an idea of what kind of bugs are invading your yard. Keep this in mind when planning the garden and make preparations for the pest controls you will use. Consider a few things: Never cramp plants together in a small space where leaf crawlers can move around undetected. Buy a net to extend overhead when flies, mites and bees are infesting the area. In many other posts on the blog, I discuss environmental and natural controls to aid in the extermination of plant pests and disease.
Basically, you should be concerned with giving the plants the best possible conditions from the start. This lessens the work load later on and gives a rich, rewarding harvest that will make all of this worth your while. Consider climate, moisture, soil conditions and topography. Choose mulches carefully and opt for mulches that can be weeded and replaced easily. You should consider the weed growth in the area you have chosen and consider ways you can destroy or, at least, control it. If you are accustomed to pulling weeds, remember this when you plant. Leave ample room between rows for you to obtain access. Never use poisons on the weeds unless you intend to wait a year or more before planting. If the weeds are really bad, soil removal may be recommended, in which case, weed control will be a factor later on.
Most factors that contribute the the health of your garden will arise during the tending and growing phases and cannot be tackled from the beginning. However, climate is a factor that must always be considered right from the start and may be the single most important element in the potential health or sickness among your plants. Plants are highly temperature dependent and plants that cannot tolerate heat and sun will just fade in the south. Plants that wilt in the slightest frost will fade away in the cold areas of the north. Consider your seasons and the average temperatures within those seasons. If your area gets cold early in the Fall, then consider planting cold loving Herbs in the late summer. If your region stays warm until early in the year, then consider planting cold loving Herbs late in the Winter. If your area is very dry or very wet, very cloudy and rainy or sunny and arid, then these factors must be considered in each individual plant you might choose. Here is a list of available Herbs and their climate preferences:
COOL CLIMATE HERBS:
(temps drop below 10 degrees Farenheit)
Angelica, Anise, Anise Hyssop, Arnica, Barberry, Bearberry, Bee Balm, Betony, Birch, Borage, Burdock, Caraway, Catnip, Roman Chamomile, Chervil, Chicory, Chives, Clary, Comfrey, Costmary, Dandelion, Dill, Dock, Elecampane, Garlic, Goldenrod, Hops, Horseradish, Horsetail, Hyssop, Lady’s Bedstraw, Lemon Balm, Lovage, Marsh Mallow, Mugwort, Mustard, Nasturtium, Nettle, New Jersey Tea, Pipissewa, Plantain, Red Clover, Roses, Saffron, Sassafras, Winter Savory, Soapwort, Sorrel, Sweet Cicely, Sweet Woodruff, Tansy, French Tarragon, Valerian, European Vervain, Wormwood and Yarrow.
Please note that most of these will also grow in temperate climates, just be informed that they are best adapted to very cold, snowy climates and can thrive in the worst conditions. Some of these can be container grown in the south as long as their needs are closely attended to. I live in Florida and have had some luck growing Tarragon, Chamomile and Roses. However, Soapwort, Tansy, Dill and Catnip have faded on me many times.
TEMPERATE CLIMATE HERBS
(temps that do not fall below 10 degrees Faranheit)
Agrimony, Sweet Basil, Sweet Bay, Calendula, Casacara Sagrada, Coriander, Eucalyptus, Fennel, Fenugreek, Feverfew, Scented Geranium, Germander, Horehound, English Lavender, Lemon Verbena, Madder, Marjoram, Mint, Oregano, Orris, Curled Parsley, Passionflower, English Pennyroyal, Rosemary, Rue, Safflower, Sage, Santolina, Southernwood, Garden Thyme, Violet and Witch Hazel.
Please note that most of these herbs will grow in tropical climates under certain conditions. They cannot, however, tolerate temps below 10 degrees and will die in areas that frost over frequently. Again, I live in Florida and have grown Fennel, Basil, English Lavender, Mints, Rosemary, Rue, Sage and Thyme with great success. Just allow the plants a few hours of shade on a daily basis and water frequently. Mints and Lavender can take full shade in the south. I currently have enormous Rosemary, Thyme and Rue plants that look like trees. A little care goes a long way.
WARM CLIMATE (TROPICAL) HERBS
(tolerates temps above 90 degrees Faranheit and full sun)
Aloe, Cactus, Cayenne Pepper, Coffee, Ginger, Lemongrass and Madagascar Periwinkle.
Don’t be discouraged by the short list of Herbs that take the heat. You cannot put most herbs out in a sandy soil with continuous high intensity sunlight and the temps up over 90 degrees and expect them not to wilt. In the deep south, the solution is always one of care. Watering, shading, even using overhead nets and obstructive structures are always helpful. Building walls to keep out the sun at rise and fall is also useful. Shading with tall trees is a great idea. When the temps get up in the 90s and over 100, you should turn on a mister and let the plants soak. As a last resort, if you must have a tender Herb for your palate, then pot it and move it inside on arid days.
For those of you in the far North, where temps fall below freezing frequently, you should concentrate on starting annual herbs that can be resown in the spring. Learn how to propagate valued strains of certain plants. Put warm loving Herbs in containers and move them indoors for access during the snowfall. Moderate climate Herbs can be grown in the northern regions but should be harvested by late fall at the latest. The best results can be achieved for the snowy regions by adhering to the list of cold-loving Herbs.
Moisture is another very important consideration in the overall health and prosperity of your plants. Most herbs are thirsty and need lots of water. They give off lots of foliage and this requires water and nitrogen. Feeding while watering is a great combination. You should have a solid handle on exactly where your water will come from and how you will distribute it before you even consider the first shovel. Your Herbs will not absorb nutrients and maintain healthy growth without lots of the wet stuff. They will, in general, require something close to 1 inch of rainfall each and every week, even during a drought. You can keep a bucket near the garden to measure the amount of natural rain they receive and compensate that amount every week with a garden hose until they get that 1 inch or better.
If you are inconsistent in the watering of the plants, damage occurs and it is hard to turn around after it starts. Wilting, drooping, yellowing, losing leaves, curled up edges, burn spots, are all signs of watering mistakes: too much or too little. In considering what is too much, check run off in the area, the topography of the site and how much water appears to pool at the surface of the soil surrounding the plants. Years of experience teach gardeners what works and how to spot problems but you should be able to bypass that long effort with some early thought. The bucket near the garden site is your best measure. You will always know if they have had enough even if you see water pooling on the surface or the soil looks broken and dry. These can be deceiving indicators and may not actually reflect how much water your plants have gotten overall.
When you are watering, if it is by hand hoses, misting or sprinkling, then watch for windy conditions to affect the process. The only system immune to wind diversion or drying is soaker hoses. Winds will send most of the mist or water from sprinklers into the wind and the plants will not receive as much as you would like. Windy days also tend to dry off the water at the soil level long before it reaches the roots of your plants. Wind and Sun together are most destructive. A good measure under these conditions is a glass or small bucket tucked up under a group of plants and left there. Check it for water level on a regular basis.
Another factor that must be considered in the overall health and prosperity of your garden is the soil. Soil composition must be made up of mineral and organic matter as well as water and air. You should check the composition of your soil before you start the garden and make adjustments as necessary. First, take note of its’ texture and structure. Is it sandy? Or is it mostly clay? Does it clump easily or crumble? Does water drain down through it rapidly or does it pool on the surface? These analysis will tell you what you have to work with. Clay soil needs the addition of more crumbly textures to make it more aerable. The soil needs more air to breathe and absorb water. Add loose potting soils to clay soil but never add clumping materials like moss or manure. For soils that pool on the surface, add moss or sand to allow it to drain. Experiment until you get a balanced composition. You should also learn to test soil for PH and composition. Ideal soil should be 45% mineral matter, 5% organic matter, 25% water and 25% air.
In perfecting the texture of the soil, you might want to add river silt. It is high in natural minerals and organic matter, it is moist and well aerated. It is a perfect balance between sand and clay. Remember if your soil is too sandy the roots of the plants will spread out widely in search of water at the surface. The water will pool at the surface and be accessible only to top growing plants. Plants with deep roots will spread out and then wilt. In clay soils, roots have a hard time penetrating the upper layer and tend to remain near the surface and sprawl. They will become waterlogged in the water that also pools at the surface and does not filter down. Clay soil tends to hog up the water and starve the plants. Remember, sandy soil is loose and clay soil is tight. You need the plants to have just the right amount of room.
To check your soils’ texture, Take a handful of it and squeeze it. If it crumbles when you release your grip then it is fine. If it runs through your fingers, then it is far too sandy. If it forms a sticky lump, you are dealing with too much clay.
Soil structure, another important factor, can change depending upon how you manage the soil. Working the soil when it’s wet is the best way to destroy the current structure and rebuild. Wet the soil thoroughly and then go over it with a hoe or fork. Adding organic matter is an easy and effective way to rebuild the soil and promote a good structure. After hoeing or raking over the soil, then add the organic mulch, top soil or other matter you choose. Organic matter should include an even balance of Nitrogen and Potassium, the two most important constituents of the soil. Adding this matter darkens the color, enriches the basic nutritional value, and opens the soil to aeration and hydration. The best additives to promote long term garden health is compost, animal manure, nitrogen fertilizers and mulch.
The last most important factor to consider is soil PH. If you have the soil tested the results will include PH, which is a measure of acidity and alkalinity. PH influences the overall chemistry of the soil. Even if all of this sounds complicated and difficult, once you consider it carefully you will see that it is easily done. In the chapter about Preparing the Site we will show you how to prepare the soil easily and as a simple part of the overall process.
Before you finish planning, take your soil to a University Lab or call your state’s Cooperative Extension service and they will test it for you. Once you receive the results, sit down with your list of Herbs and consider which ones you want to grow and what soil PH suits which. Try to narrow down your list to Herbs that all enjoy the same PH. If your PH is below 7 then the soil is alkaline. If you pick the right plants, you won’t need to make many changes. If the PH is above 7, then the soil is Acid. If you wish to grow both acid-loving and alkaline plants in the same plot, then you must do the work to acheive the balance. Clay soils are usually more acid and need a dose of limestone. If your PH is very high, at 7 or above, then add Sphagum Moss or Sulfur. There are many products on the market in stores like Walmart and Target that provide all of the nutrients and organic matter you will need. Also, when buying starter Herbs, check with the nursery to see what PH that particular item is growing in. Try to match the PH of the soil.
To continue on to the last segment of this series, please go to Herb Gardening Guide Part 4
UPDATE MARCH 2012:
NOW AVAILABLE!Harmony Green has gathered all of the posts on Herb Gardening and on harvesting and using Herbs and created a single eBook.
How To Create a Gorgeous Herb Garden is now available and has everything you need to both create a gorgeous garden this year and to harvest and use the herbs year round. From articles on choosing the proper site to tending the garden to harvesting, the book also outlines uses for herbs from medicinals to massage oils as well as for cooking and cleaning. Learn to create bee and butterfly gardens, learn the secrets to growing herbs indooors, see how easy it is to propagate herbs of all kinds and create a productive potted or container garden on your patio among many other things. This book has it all. In PDF format, this book can be read on any e-reader or on your desktop. Purchase and upload it here for only $6.99: