By Robert R. Westerfield
University of Georgia
Herb flowers and foliage provide a beautiful palette of color and great variation in texture and form. Herbs lend themselves well to small containers, too, such as window boxes or whisky barrels.
Herbs do well in average soil but prefer well-drained, loamy or sandy soils. Choose a place for your herbs with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day.
Best soilA soil pH range of 6 to 7.5 is just fine for most herbs. Some, such as rosemary or lavender, prefer the pH slightly higher. Test the soil before you plant to see the actual pH of your soil. Then add the right amount of dolomitic lime to adjust it.
Most herbs aren't heavy feeders. A moderate amount of fertilizer will provide all the nutrition they need. Some herbs, such as basil, chives and parsley, may need more since they're often heavily harvested.
When you prepare the herb bed, work in generous amounts of compost or rotted manure. Till it into the native soil to 12 inches deep.
Planting on raised beds is a great idea, especially if drainage is of any concern. You can build raised beds of rocks, landscape timbers, railroad ties, old tires or other materials.
More tipsMulch around your herbs with pine straw or bark. This will help maintain even moisture around the root system. It discourages weeds, too, and provides a layer of protection from temperature extremes.
Most herbs are fairly drought-tolerant. They require water only during drier times. Herbs grown in containers and raised planters will meed more irrigation than those grown in the ground.
Herbs can be grown from seeds, cuttings or plant divisions. If you're new to gardening, you may want to skip propagation and just buy container plants from a local nursery. Later on, you may want to start new plants from seeds or cuttings.
You can harvest the herbs grown for foliage anytime, although the essential oils are most concentrated just before they bloom.
Collect the seedheads of herbs grown for their seeds, such as fennel and dill, soon after the seeds have matured. Herbs are best collected in late morning, rinsed quickly and air-dried. Drying or freezing will preserve them.
Seven for startersThe list of herbs you can plant is long. But the following short list will help the beginner get started.
These seven herbs do well in the South. They're easy to grow. As you get more confidence, you can add other. (The first one is an annual, but the other six are perennials. The last two aren't used for cooking.)
Basil requires sun and moderate moisture. Clip flowers to encourage bushiness and prolong the life of the plant. Use in tomato sauce and pesto.
Mint does well in sun or partial shade and semimoist soil. Plant it in a container to keep it from spreading out of control. Use it in desserts and tea and as a garnish.
Oregano likes full sun and moderate moisture. Use it in meats and vegetables.
Sage does best in the sun with moderate moisture. Trim it to promote bushiness. Use it in meat, cheese and potpourri.
Chives thrive in full sun or partial shade with moderate moisture. Use in eggs, meats and vegetables.
Yarrow needs full sun and moderate moisture. It may need staking. Use it in fresh and dried arrangements.
Scented geranium does well in full sun or partial shade with moderate moisture. Move it indoors for the winter. Use it in potpourri.
(Bob Westerfield is the Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)