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Herb Growing Basics

What Do Herbs Need to Grow?

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Herb Growing Basics

Since the plants that are considered "herbs" are such a large and varied lot, there are no hard and fast general rules for growing herbs. Shade lovers, such as mint and sweet woodruff, prefer moist, woodland-like settings. Mediterranean herbs, such as lavender and oregano, thrive in full sun, slightly lean soil and toasty warm temperatures. Annual herbs, like basil, chervil, coriander and dill, also prefer full sunshine. But they’ll need a bit more water or they will simply bolt to seed.

How to grow herbs depends on what herbs you are growing. But with the exception of the handful of shade loving herbs, they all share 3 growing conditions:

  1. Lots of Sunshine: It’s the combination of sun and slightly lean soil that seems to cause the oils, and therefore the fragrance and flavor of the herbs, to intensify. Herbs grown in a rich soil or given an abundance of food will grow lanky and have less scent and taste. However, herbs grown for their flowers should certainly be given plenty of rich soil and water.

  2. Regular Water, But with Good Drainage: Few plants enjoy having their roots in wet or continually damp soil. Wet roots may eventually rot. At the very least, they will weaken the plant and invite disease. This is even more crucial than usual when you plan on using the plants.

  3. Periodic Trimming and Harvesting, to Keep Them Full: Some gardeners find it very hard to cut any of their plants. They don’t cut flowers to bring indoors and don’t even like to prune overgrown plants. Hopefully you are growing your herbs to use, so pruning and trimming won’t be a problem. If you don’t trim and use your herbs, the plants will grow tall and lanky and annual herbs will go to seed quickly. Even woody perennial herbs like rosemary, lavender and sage, will grow fuller and have less weak, dead wood if pruned at least once a year.

As far as the soil herbs are grown in and supplemental fertilizer, you may have read that herbs should be grown lean - not too much water or food. Many herbs from the Mediterranean area, like rosemary, oregano, thyme and lavender, are drought tolerant and, as mentioned, have more intense scent and flavor if they aren’t given too much fertilizer or too rich a soil. But that doesn’t mean you should starve them or allow them to languish in dry heat.

Successful Herb Growing, Requires:

  • Plant your herbs where they will get full sun (6+ hours) per day.
  • Provide a well-drained soil with a good amount of organic matter.
  • Don’t crowd seedlings and provide room for perennial herbs to spread out.
  • Keep your herb plants tidy and sending out new growth by pinching and using them regularly.

For specific growing tips of particular herbs:

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