If you’re planning a kitchen herb garden, think about what herbs you like to use. Are you interested in drying herbs for tea—like mint or lemon verbena? Do you cook Italian food (basil, oregano), Mexican food (cilantro), or Asian recipes (Thai basil, lemon grass)?
What is an herb?
Merriam Webster defines an herb as a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities. Here we’re talking about the savory or culinary herbs that you can grow in your home garden. Herbs are generally easy to grow, requiring only plenty of sunshine and well-drained soil. Many are suitable for planting in containers on a deck or patio. Herbs may be annual, perennial, or even biennial (parsley).
Where to grow herbs
What kind of space can you devote to an herb garden—a few pots on a balcony, a small raised bed, or a section of a large vegetable garden? Check out the size and space needs of the herbs you would like to grow. Note: Some herbs—such as mints and lemon balm—need to be contained if you don’t want them to take over your space!
Place herbs in average garden soil (or potting soil if you are using containers) where they will get at least six hours of sun a day. While annual herbs generally need more water than the perennials—which tend to be from the sunny, drier Mediterranean region—all need good drainage. Fertilize only lightly for best flavor and aroma. Grown with enough sun and good air circulation, most herbs are pest and disease free.
How to get started
When you choose seeds or plants, look at the planting times and hardiness zones to determine when to plant and if the varieties you choose will thrive in your location.
Seeds. You can purchase seeds for almost any culinary herb, and some herbs are better planted from seed directly into the garden, such as dill, cilantro, and fennel. Dill and cilantro are both short-lived and usually require plantings every few weeks if you want a continued supply.
Plants. Most perennial herbs, such as mints, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and tarragon, are easier to establish from plants—to ensure you get the correct varieties as well as to have plants large enough to harvest in their first season.
How to harvest
Growing your own herbs means you’ll have fresh herbs to use in season. Once your plants are established, you can start harvesting—just don’t remove more than ¾ of the leaves at once! Pick your herbs early in the day. For annual herbs, harvest before the plants start to flower. Some annual herbs will last until frost. Some perennial herbs may even stay green into winter for occasional harvest! To preserve herbs, they may be dried or for best flavor, frozen. Freeze chopped herbs in a little water in ice cube trays.
The Buncombe County Extension Master Gardeners’ will be staffing an information table at the Asheville Spring Herb Festival at the WNC Farmers Market on May 3, 4, and 5, 2019.
Article by Joyce Weinberg, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer
For more information:
Harvesting and preserving herbs: