Monthly Herb Gardening Tips
January and February
Plan your herb garden on paper if you are starting from scratch or changing an existing one. Draw a diagram to the scale of your garden, keeping in mind the shady or sunny spots once the trees are leafed out again. Then fill in the herbs you want to grow, also keeping in mind their light, height and drainage requirements. You may want to group moisture loving herbs and drought tolerant ones together. Plan on some raised beds for rosemary, sage, thyme and lavender. Add paths or room for stepping stones. Think about adding a bench or seat or trellis if you have room. Solar lights will let you enjoy your garden at night. On warmer days, clean out the garden. Lay down mulched leaves under thick layers of black and white newsprint covered with mulch or compost to get a headstart on weed control.
If your mint has gone dormant, dig up a few roots and place in a shallow round or oblong container in your kitchen window for some fresh mint in a few weeks. Continue to water plants left outdoors if there is an absence of rainfall.
Order seeds soon. Some herbs are so difficult to grow from seed that it might be worth it to purchase small plants in the spring. Good herb seed catalogs are Companion Plants in Athens, Ohio, Richters in Canada, Johnnys’ Seeds, The Thyme Garden and Nichols Nursery both in in Oregon, Bakers’ Creek in Mansfield, Mo, Pinetree Gardens, Seeds from Italy and Evergreen Seeds for Asian Herbs. Some will have sales this month. Many had specials before the end of the year.
Plant chives, parsley, leeks, oregano and thyme now. In February plant slower growing herbs like hyssop, lovage, stevia, anise hyssop, valerian, marjoram. garlic chives, lavender and winter savory now. They take a long time to grow big enough for table use. Keep the soil in seed flats or small pots moist but not saturated and cover with a clear dome or plastic wrap til seeds have germinated in a 60-70 degree room. Heat mats will speed up germination but should be discontinued after germination or the roots will be cooked.
Make a list of the herbs you wish to grow. Check on the ease of germination before you order seeds. Most reputable herb nurseries will rate seeds according to germination difficulty. Sometimes it’s more economical to purchase the plant. Not all varieties of certain herbs will grow from seeds such as lavenders, sages, thymes.
Many nurseries will not ship herb plants until they are certain that the weather at shipping time is warm enough to prevent damaging the plants.
Parsley, thyme, Greek or Syrian oregano, sage, chives, winter savory, lavender, valerian, comfrey, dill, fennel, cilantro and other seeds can be planted now in seeds flats. Dill and fennel could actually be direct seeded to the garden when you plant potatoes in mid March.Basil seed could be planted now but realize that the plant should not be placed in the soil til you plant peppers. with soil temps in the 60’s and air temps in the 70’s.Basil planted in cool wet soil will develop a wilt or just turn black and rot. Basil seedlings will also grow much faster in warmer weather.
Curly parsley grows much more slowly than does Italian. Germination can take up to 28 days for parsley seed but can be speeded up by pouring boiling water over the seeds and then draining the water off the next day. Let the seeds dry and then plant them.
Grow lights will greatly benefit your plants unless you have plenty of sunlight in your indoor growing area.
Transfer into pots when 2 sets of true leaves have appeared. The first set of leaves that appear are not the true leaves. Always pot up 3-4 thyme seedlings together. They will be more likely to survive.
Fertilize with ½ strength solution every 2-3 weeks. Avoid products like Miracle Grow. They have too much nitrogen and you’ll sacrifice flavor for growth.
Plant annual outdoors after danger of frost has passed. Some perennials can be planted in mid April. We’ve had frosts that have damaged our herb plants as late as May 9.Some perennial will do okay with a late frost but delicate smaller plants may not do as well.
Most herbs need 4-6 hours of full sun a day; preferably between 10am and 4pm. Mints, parsley, Bay trees, lemon balm, chives and Roman chamomile will tolerate shade.
Remove the dead wood on oreganos and thymes or any herb that is greening up at ground level and not on what looks like dead wood. Savories will leaf out on the old stems usually. Divide plants like oregano, chives, garlic chives and thyme if they’ve been in the same area for 3 or 4 years. Move plants if they would thrive in a different microclimate or didn’t fit into the area you placed them in last year.
Plant hardy perennial herbs such as sage, chives, thyme, oregano, parsley, mint, French tarragon, lavender, catnip in early May.
Plant Scented Geraniums, rosemary, pineapple sage, Sweet Bay trees, stevia and any tropical or tender perennial herbs outdoors after the last frost .
Plant Basil seeds or plants when the soil temperature is at least 60 degrees and night time temperatures are consistently in the 70’s.
Plant seeds like summer savory, calendula, nasturtiums, borage, thyme, fennel, dill, Greek oregano or sage if you didn’t plant them earlier in the spring.
Move herbs that were wintered over indoors in pots outside into a sheltered area at first to acclimate them and then either into the ground or a sunny area if they are a sun loving herb.
Plant cilantro every 2 weeks in shade for a continuous supply. Do water and fertilize this herb.
When oregano and thymes are ready to bloom near the end of May, harvest their leaves and cut them back to within several inches from the ground. After chives have bloomed, remove the blooms and cut the entire plant back to an inch or so from the ground. The blossoms in full bloom can be used in salads.
After lavenders have bloomed, cut them back by 1/3 but not onto any thick old wood.
Mulch but keep the mulch away from the base of plants. Water as needed perhaps daily for herbs in pots and when herbs are drooping in they are in the ground.
Fertilize with ½ strength organic fertilizers for potted herbs but only if necessary for those in the ground. Too much fertilizer leads to lush growth and decreased flavor.
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