Monthly Herb Growing 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.
When the weather has moderated, plant hardy perennial herbs like comfrey, sage, thyme and mints after hardening them off by placing in a protected area outside for a week or so.
Divide other hardy perennials if they have spread too much or weren’t doing well last year because they were older plants and had not been thinned out. This includes French Tarragon, thymes, oregano, yarrow, chives, marshmallow, chamomile, lemon balm, mints, comfrey, tansy, valerian and wormwoods.
Divide plants with your hands, scissors, knives or even a saw. Have more roots than
shoots. Water in dry spells until well established.
Sow basil, marjoram, nasturtiums, calendula, and parsley seeds indoors. NOTE: Pour boiling water over parsley seed to speed up germination and let soak for 24 hrs. Look for herbs which have reseeded and thin or move if desired.
Sow seeds for borage, dill, fennel, calendula, nasturtiums sage, feverfew, garlic chives, and lemon balm outdoors. NOTE: If you want more nasturtium flowers, plant in deficient soil.
Repot herbs you intend to keep in pots, untangling and trimming off excess roots. Divide mints in pots, cutting off roots which will have wrapped around the plant. Pieces of roots can be planted for new plants to share with others.
Prune rue, sage, lavender, southernwood, savory back when new growth begins. Do not cut into old woody areas of plant. For the first three springs, do cut lavender back by 1/3 as the nodes on the stems start to swell. This shapes the plant and prevents the center from dying out.
Plant the calendula, cosmos, coneflower, buckwheat and flax for color and to attract beneficial insects.
5 Best container herbs are mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, chives and basil.
Herbs best for dappled shade are parsley, mints, chives, garlic chives, lemon balm, mint and thyme.
Herbs best for drought are borage, mullein, rosemary, sage, coneflower, lavender, yarrow, calendula and thyme.
Harvest lovage, oregano, thyme, sage, French tarragon, chives or any other herb that has started to return. Parsley that has come back for the second year will not have as good flavor as its goal is to set seed. It will be a host plant for swallowtail butterflies if you keep it until it dies this season. Don’t plant parsley outside until the night time temperature remain above the 40’s most nights. If parsley experiences 3 weeks of 40 degree temperatures or if the root is damaged in planting, it will prematurely go to seed the first year.
Basil will not tolerate cool wet soil. There is no advantage to placing basil plants in the ground until the soil is warm and night time temperatures are consistently in the 60’s.If the soil temperature is 75-80 degrees which can be achieved by using a heat mat, basil seed will germinate in a few days. Basil seed can be planted outdoors when the soil temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees and all danger of frost is past. We’ve had frosts on May 9 in recent years.. We usually put our basils in the ground in mid to late May
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
Plant any remaining herb plants. Direct seed dill, fennel, caraway, sesame, anise, borage, nasturtiums, breadseed poppy seed, calendula, edible gem marigolds, cilantro and basils.
Speed up the germination of parsley and cilantro seeds by pouring boiling water over the seeds and then soaking them for a day or two. Curly parsley takes longer to germinate and grow than Italian flat leafed parsley.
After your basils have at least 3 sets of leaves which includes 2 sets of true leaves, pinch off the first set of leaves to make a bushier plant. Do this again when the new side stems have 3 sets of leaves as well. Continue doing this until the plant is as bushy and full as you want it to be.
Fertilize all herbs in pots with ½ strength fertilizer once monthly. Miracle Gro or any non-organic fertilizers are not recommended since they tend to be higher in nitrogen which gives great growth but sacrifices flavor in herbs.
When oregano gets ready to bloom, cut it back to within 3’’ from the ground and use or dry for winter use. Repeat this one more time with the next bloom and then just harvest what you need thereafter.Thyme is blooming now. Do the same with it as with oregano but only once a season.Trim sage back when it finishes blooming but not into any thick old wood.
Plant cilantro seed in the shade every 3 weeks for a continuous supply and to increase the length of harvest. Remember that cilantro is a 60 day or less crop.
You can plant your Bay trees in the shade and then dig them up before first frost. Their growth often speeds up when in the ground. Remember to water them during dry spell since their leaves will not droop to remind you that they are dry.When chives are done blooming, cut them back to within several inches of the ground.
Torrential rains will kill herbs faster than dry conditions. Protect your sages, rosemaries, lavenders and thymes in pots by moving them to sheltered locations during periods of heavy rain. Harvest mint for drying just as it starts to bloom. The flavor is the strongest then. If you don’t want cross pollination of your mints remove the blooms and trim back to within several inches in height.
Harvest your herbs frequently. The more you use them the more they will produce.
Those green and yellow caterpillars on your dill, parsley, fennel, lovage, cilantro, anise will turn into swallowtail butterflies but may decimate your plants.
If oreagano or thyme plants are 3 years old or more and start looking unhealthy, you may want to dig them up, trim them and divide them into several plants before replanting. Sometimes one plant of thyme is actually 30-50 small thyme plants getting crowded out by being too close together.
If your parsley is leftover from last year, it will go to seed and then die this spring or early summer. To save the seeds, let them dry on the plant and then harvest them.
JULY Continue to plant the seeds basil, oregano, marjoram, borage, dill, fennel, chives and parsley either in the ground or in pots if you desire. Seeds other than basil can be slow to germinate in really hot temperatures so you may want to start some indoors.
Obtain cuttings from your favorite rosemary or lavender varieties but they may also be slow to root in hot weather outdoors.
Harvest dill and fennel seed as they ripen.
Lavender stems should be cut when the first flowers start to open if you want dried lavender bouquets. Lavender in full bloom is best cut to be used in sachets or cooking since fully opened flowers tend to fall off the plant when dry. After lavender has finished blooming, trim back your plant by 1/3 but not into any thick old wood.
Harvest your oregano when it gets ready to bloom and trim back to within several inches of the ground. Dry or use the newly cut leaves. Repeat this with the next bloom this summer.
Trim thymes back also after bloom time to within several inches of the ground. They’ll look great within about 3 weeks.
Harvest mint right as it starts to bloom. The flavor is the strongest then and best for drying for winter use. Then cut it back to within a few inches of the ground. If you have more than 2 varieties of mint near each other where cross pollination may occur, trim off flowers or new mints may have no scent or not resemble the parent plant next year.
If you want to save basil seed and have more than 1 variety, only let one type at a time bloom and go to seed or cross pollination may occur and that wonderful Genovese or lemon basil you had this year may not exist next year. For that reason, we only purchase fresh seeds each year.
Bouquet Dill is a smaller variety and more suited for growing in pots.
Plant cilantro seed in the shade every 3 weeks for a continuous supply.
Water newly planted herbs in the ground until they are well established. Older plants should be watered when dry. Remember that heavy rains kill more herbs than very dry warm weather.
Japanese beetle repelling herbs are catnip, lemon catnip, chives, garlic chives, rue, tansy, white blooming geraniums and scented geraniums like Attar of Rose, Pink Capitatum, Lemon Rose and any white blooming scented geraniums.
Mosquito repelling herbs are lemon balm, citronella balm, lemon thyme, catnip, lemongrass, citronella grass, Skeleton Rose and Mosquito Shocker Scented Geraniums.
Horseradish, comfrey, valerian feverfew, marshmallow and wormwoods can be trimmed back if they are getting tall and leggy or not pretty anymore.
Keep weeding as needed and mulch if desired but avoid wood or leaf mulches. They can be too acidic for herbs.
Trim flowering herbs to increase leaf production and shape shrubby plants. Cut chives back to within an inch of the ground at least 4x a season. Trim lavender back by 1/3 after blooming but be careful not to cut into old thick wood. Freeze borage blossoms in ice cube trays and add to summer beverages.
Collect flowers for drying. Lavender is best dried by tying in bundles and hanging upside down or lying flat til dry in a dark cool area. Pick when half of the flowers are open. Some varieties especially the culinary ones do not stay on the stem well when dried. If you haven’t cut your lavender back by 1/3 after blooming, do it now.
Water herbs in pots more often in hot dry weather or provide some afternoon sun if needed. Mulch to conserve moisture. Plant more dill, parsley, lovage, chervil, basil and cilantro if desired.
Take softwood cuttings from rosemary, thyme, sages, lavender and scented geraniums. Keep evenly moist til rooted. May need to keep the cuttings inside until rooting occurs, since very hot temperatures may affect root development.
Dry herbs such as rosemary, oreganos, thymes and mints. Freeze herbs like chives, chervil, summer savory parsley and basil in bags. Basil pesto can be frozen in ice cube trays and then placed in baggies for use in the cooler months.
Harvest leaves in the morning before the heat of the day but after the dew has dried. May dry herbs by hanging them upside down. Can be hung inside brown paper bags with holes punched in the sides to keep dust out and to catch the dried leaves or placed in a low temperature dehydrator.
Start cooking with your fresh herbs, using 2-3 tsp. fresh chopped herbs in place of 1 tsp. of dried herbs.
Take note of plants which are not thriving and their location. It may be that they are in area that is too shady, too sunny, too wet or too dry for their needs and plan on relocating them next spring.
October is the last month for digging up and potting tender perennial herbs which may need to come indoors for the winter. It’s best to not wait (like we often do) until they predict a heavy frost and then frantically rush to dig pot and move them indoors. Usually it doesn’t frost, we’re out in the cold and dark, tired and asking why did we wait til now? The plants do not adapt as well if they have not had time to acclimate.
So the best thing to do is to identify now what you want to bring inside and which plants you are willing to risk because they have survived several of our milder winters. Dig up your plant, pot it up and fertilize with ½ strength fertilizer of your choice. Place in a shaded area outside and water sparingly. If frost is not imminent, leave them outside for several days and then move indoors.
Place plants in a cool sunny porch if you have one. Lavender prefers temps in the 50’s and often will not do well indoors. Decrease your watering until spring. If you put your finger into the soil up to the second knuckle and the soil is dry, water til water runs out of the pot but make sure your drainage hole is not plugged up by roots or hard soil. Herbs like some increased humidity so either place gravel with some water over it in the saucer, run a humidifier occ. or place in the bathroom with the shower on occasionally .for the same effect.
Collect dried seeds from plants now. Remove the chaff and place in containers or envelopes, label and keep in a cool, dry dark space. Mine are usually in envelopes in a cookie tin in the closet of our coolest room. Some herb seeds will keep for years while others only last for a season. If you planted several types of basil and they all bloomed at the same time, you may have developed new varieties of basil not true to the mother plant.
Some herbs should be cut to the ground after a freeze; others will be damaged by doing that so check a good reference book or reputable web site for specifics.
Start planning for next year. Decide what perennials you want to relocate in the spring. If your oregano or thymes are more than 3 years old and did not look well, they probably need to be divided next spring.
A good source for growing herb questions is the Richters nursery site. There is a section in which the answers to hundreds of herb related questions are given. In fact, many herb nurseries post all kinds of helpful info and recipes.
If the weather is still mild, herbaceous and clump forming herbs such as lemon balm oregano, thyme and mints, can be divided to make more plants. The new plants can be placed in the garden or potted up to give away, or use elsewhere in the spring.
Sow seed of plants which require stratification.
Reduce watering of plants in pots and other containers.
Lemon balm, feverfew and garlic chives spread easily from seed. Cut back after flowering in the autumn and remove any remaining seed heads now to prevent it spreading all over the garden.
Protect non-hardy herbs such as lemon verbena, Vietnamese cilantro, bay trees, rosemary, pineapples sage and scented geraniums from winter frosts by bringing indoors into a frost-free greenhouse or sunroom.
Pot up culinary herbs, such as chives and mint in well-drained compost to keep on your kitchen windowsill for using throughout the winter. However, do be aware that this exhausts the plants and they will only be good for the compost bin by spring, so be sure to leave some dormant in the garden.
The following herbs can provide fresh flavors all through the winter if brought indoors.
Sweet Bay--An evergreen tree. Leaves can be picked and used fresh throughout the year, to flavor stocks, stews, soups, Cajun recipes, sauces and marinades, or in bouquet garni.
Rosemary—An evergreen shrub. Leaves can be picked all year round. Use when roasting meat, potatoes or other vegetables. It can be added to a wood fire to give off a lovely aroma. Do not overwater but increase humidity around the plant. Prefers a room with 50-60 degree temps.
Chives-- Lift clumps of chives and pot up for use throughout the winter. Place in a warm spot with lots of light, such as a kitchen windowsill.
Mints-- Lift clumps of mint and pot up for use throughout the winter. There are so many different species of mint available, with flavors ranging from chocolate to pineapple. It is a very versatile herb, suitable for use in drinks, salads and many other dishes. If the plant starts to look sick, pull out of pot, remove excess roots and repot. Mint gets root bound in pots after 3-4 months. It prefers to be in a shallow bowl shaped or oblong pot to allow room for roots to spread.
Parsley-- Will grow well in lower light areas.
Save seeds from garlic chives, dill, fennel, calendulas, nasturtiums, feverfew and basil if you have just one variety. Place seed into a jar or envelope out of the light and high humidity and don’t forget to label. Hybrids will not come back as the same plant but will resemble one of its parent plants or in the case of more than two varieties of basil, cross pollination may occur.
Remove dead annuals after frosts or leave for good garden insects to winter over with some protection.
Do not prune anything back at this time of the year. The plant may not recover before our first freeze. On lavenders which bloomed late or weren’t trimmed back earlier, only remove the spent blooms, making sure not to cut into old thick wood.
Perennial herbs in pots should not be fertilized until the days are longer in the spring and new growth is noted unless the plant looks deficient. Then only use ½ strength fertilizer.