A Guide To Spice Up Your Garden

An herb is a plant used to add flavorful, scent-filled and medicinal qualities to those who consume them. Herbs are used in culinary, medicinal, and spiritual applications. Over the years, people have made distinctions between culinary and medicinal herbs. Medicinal and spiritual herb use may include parts of the plant that may be undesirable for culinary purposes, such as the leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, bark, berries, and resin. With the rise of modern medicine, humans have lost touch with the rhythm of nature, and ultimately resorted to chemical medicines, instead of organic compounds. Ancient medicinal systems, such as Ayurveda, homeopathic, naturopathy, Native American and Oriental medicines, all used herbs and other alternative therapies for thousands of years to treat all sorts of ailments. In fact, peer-reviewed studies have shown that roughly 25 percent of prescription drugs distributed in the United States consists of at least one active ingredient directly derived from a herbal compound. It goes without saying that growing your own herbs can help prevent and treat common illnesses without the mind-boggling prescription drug bills.

Growing your own herbs can prove beneficial in many ways. For instance, the abundant variety and availability of planting, sprouting, and harvesting fresh herbs can really create delicious meals for the family. The dynamic taste of dinner recipes are only as diverse as the herbs used during preparation. Additionally, adding fresh herbs to meals will increase the vitamin and mineral count within each edible dish. Gardening has been regarded as a form of therapeutic exercise. In fact, studies have shown that men show an increase in testosterone production through weekly gardening ventures due to vitamin D production through sun exposure. Grocers have adjusted their food prices with rising inflation rates, which may prompt shoppers to learn gardening techniques. Moreover, not all grocers offer a wide selection of herbs. The learning experience will place more control over what you can and can not eat. Cosmetically, a small herb bedding area introduces an eye-appealing look for neighbors and onlookers to enjoy while bypassing on a walk toward their destination. Finally, herb gardening adds flavor to the mundane repetition of life by mixing up activities and food selection.

How to Grow Herbs in Containers

Beginner gardeners should attempt to grow herbs in containers before advancing to more complex systems. Container gardening requires the appropriate design to accommodate the plants while they grow. Most herb varieties require fast draining soil. Selecting a Terracotta, wood, or cement container with adequate drainage holes should suffice. Try to learn about the herbs before purchasing any supplies. Using small containers for large herb varieties will cause the plants to become root bound. Conversely, large containers will cause the plants to spend their energy on root production, rather than growing naturally.

An important aspect to container gardening involves the grade of soil used for the herb varieties planned for growth. A high-quality soil or soil-less mix, such as Pro-Mix or Light Warrior, will provide the necessary nutrients the plant needs to fully mature. Ordinary garden soil dries out quickly for budding plants. Choose a loose and well-drained quality potting soil, preferably organic. A popular mix may combine equal parts of peat moss, vermiculite, and potting soil.

Container-grown herbs require less fertilizer; however, this requires the gardener to pay closer attention to the plants as they grow. The limited amount of potting soil around the plant may cause it to dry out faster, which may require more nutrients than ordinary garden soil. Generally, herbs only need a high-quality organic fertilizer mixed in with the combined potting mix prior to planting. Organic fertilizers, such as fish emulsion, should be applied to plants at half the recommendation every few weeks, especially if the plants show signs of losing their color or looking peaked before their time. Refrain from heavy applications of organic fertilizers. Applying too much fertilizer will cause the plants to overgrow, greatly reducing the essential oils that produce their flavor and aroma.

Garden containers dry out faster than backyard gardens. There are several factors to consider before watering garden containers, such as the type of soil use, the degree of elemental exposure, average temperature, and the overall plant size of each herb grown. Garden containers may require multiple watering sessions a day if temperatures are warm. Be sure to water the container garden when the potting mix appears dry and losing its color. Conduct a finger test of the soil to determine if the soil feels moist enough. Do not drown the plants while watering. Be sure to check the watering requirements for individual herbs to ensure that you neither under-water or over-water the plants. Optionally, many commercial drip irrigation systems exist to minimize the need for constant in-person monitoring.

Herbs retain the most flavor and aroma when they receive plenty of sunlight. Most herb varieties require six hours of sunlight per day. Indoor garden containers should face the south-side windowsill to receive the most sunlight. Optionally, many commercial vendors offer fluorescent lights that may come in handy, especially during the winter months. Grow lights will maintain herb sufficiency all year long, even during the harshest of weather conditions. Read the lighting requirements on the herbs seed packets and plant labels. Do not mix plants with different lighting requirements in the same garden containers. Monitor the plants to ensure they are getting adequate sunlight. If not, move them to a location with more sun exposure. Shifting garden container locations according to the seasonal changes will also help your plants fully mature.

How to Grow Herbs Inside

Beginning gardeners should use the same concepts and methods applied in growing garden containers for their specific herbs. There are specific herb varieties that pose less trouble to grow than others. For instance, bay tree, chive, kaffir lime tree, lemongrass, mint, parsley, and Vietnamese coriander, are all easier herbal varieties that require less intensive methods to maintain. Bay tree mainly needs monitoring for excessive dryness, which can be curtailed by applying a little dish-washing detergent to the leaves and then washing them thoroughly with clean water. Chive does not require as much sunlight as other varieties, which makes it an ideal indoor herbal plant for starters. Lemongrass requires no soil at all. Place a store-bought stalk into a garden container with a couple of inches of water and cut off the new stalks as they grow. Parsley does not need a lot of sun; however, it may not yield a lot of leaves due to its slow growing ability. Vietnamese coriander is a very reliable indoor plant that should produce a significant amount of seeds for consumption.

Other varieties, such as oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil, cilantro and sage, require more intensive methods for the plants to fully mature. For instance, oregano needs a lot of sunlight. This may require consistent rotation throughout the day if grown indoors (PDF). Place rosemary in a sunny windowsill and use a grow light at night to keep the plant dry. Over-watering will kill the plant. Likewise, thyme will need a grow light to maintain its maturity. Plant basil during the warm, and bright summer months. Cilantro requires a plastic tray for sprouting near a window sill. Only allow the plant to grow four to five inches before plucking them for consumption. Be careful while growing sage. Sage has a tendency to grow mildew due to its sensitivity to over-watering. Try dwarf sage as an introduction to this herb.

How to Grow Herbs Outside

Determine the size of the herb garden you want designated outside. This will depend on the variety of plants you want. Generally, kitchen gardens have an average area of 20 x 4 feet. Gardeners should place frequently consumed plants along the borders of an outside plot. Remove annual and perennial herbs from these designated areas. Use an area diagram and properly label the plants for better planning. Select the appropriate site for the outside herb garden, and consider drainage and soil fertility. None of the herb varieties will grow in wet soils. Soil modification is the only chance of saving existing herbs from over-watering. In order to improve drainage in garden plot, remove the soil until reaching a depth of 15 to 18 inches. Position a 3-inch layer of crush stone or other material on the bottom of the garden plot after removing the soil. Mix compost and sand with the previously removed soil to tighten the plot's texture. Refill the garden plots higher than the original potting level to allow the soil to settle.

While it is possible to grow some herbs directly in the soil, using a garden container to sprout those herbs and then transplanting them to the outside garden plot will likely save them from harsh conditions. Some herbs, such as mints, may overtake a garden plot if not contained in window boxes or hanging baskets. Sow anise, dill, and fennel directly into the garden plot since they do not easily transplant. Most biennials should be sown directly into the ground during the late spring, early summer months. Use cutting and division techniques when propagating certain herbs.

Only harvest fresh leaves from the plant if it has enough foliage to maintain growth. Pick leaves or seeds after the morning dew has disappeared and before the sun becomes too hot. Harvest all leaves before the flower buds blossom. Pick the seedlings as the color changes. Wash all dirty leaves and seed heads in cold water. Drain all plants thoroughly before drying (PDF).

Use winter protection methods for all perennial and biennial plants. Shallow-rooted herbs are susceptible to heaving during spring thaws. Use mulch with straw, oak leaves, and evergreen boughs up to four inches deep to protect the plants during these months. Apply the mulch once the ground has frozen for the winter. Do not remove the much until the plants show signs of growth during the early spring months. Removing the herb plants too early could result in frost damage.