This year, as you make your way to the greenhouse for plants and seeds, why not check out the herb section? Here are some things to keep in mind before picking your plants. Most herbs are unfastidious and some of the most useful herbs, such as sages and thymes, grow naturally in poor or shallow soils that are often dry and impoverished. Therefore, be careful where you put them as they may overtake other more tender plants. On the other hand, seldom does one have to abandon growing a particular herb because of soil conditions. Best results are achieved if given the kind of soil conditions suggested.
When grown in containers, soil quality is not an issue. Other advantages of growing herbs in containers are they can be taken indoors when the weather turns cold -- adding color and fragrance to the indoors; the crowding of other plants is not a problem; and cultivation is easier. If they are getting too much sun or not enough, they can be easily moved without disturbing a settled plant in the heat of the summer.
One of the most ingenious, yet small, contained herb gardens I have ever seen was done with an old wooden wagon wheel. Each pie shaped section of the wheel contained a different herb. It was easy and very attractive.
Herbs are a great friend to your vegetable and flower gardens. So if you are planting herbs, flowers and vegetables together, be sure to take some time to read briefly on companion planting. Traditionally, some herbs have been grown with other plants to the benefit of all. They are powerful deterrents to pests and diseases and can enhance the health and beauty of your plants. Chives are said to prevent Black spot on roses, and garlic to encourage more prolific flowering. Rosemary and sage are thought to be ideal companions and of mutual benefit. Pennyroyal and Nasturtiums are known to repel ants, rosemary to repel carrot fly, and basil, sage, and chamomile (known to herbalists as the plant's physician) to keep harmful insects at bay. Mint discourages flies, and chives will help prevent scab on apple trees. Some fragrant herbs such as chives, hyssop, marjoram, parsley, sage and thyme are believed to improve the production of vegetables. Tarragon is held to strengthen the growth of all vegetables and flowering plants in its vicinity.
Aphids tend to be the herb's worst pest. To keep them at bay, clean the garden regularly. Transplant some lady bugs before resorting to sprays, they love aphids. Spray the plants, if necessary, with an organic pesticide made from elder tea or Yucca root.
Many herbs have powerful bee and butterfly attracting properties such as lavender, yarrow, catnip, chives and anise. Not only do these herbs attract beneficial pollinators, many of them sweeten the air and improve the quality of the environment, indoors as well as outdoors. Choose from anise, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, pineapple sage, rose, sweet violet and wormwood to create an open-air potpourri.
Herbs are naturally prolific and have many uses, culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, perfumes, dyes and decorative. Whatever your desire, the lowly herb will not disappoint your creative green thumb. Happy gardening!
Till next time, Rebecca.