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HERB GARDENS

Creating an indoor herb garden offers the reward of having fresh herbs within arm's reach during the winter months. Paying close attention to each plant's needs helps ensure healthier, more disease-resistant plants. Good choices for an indoor garden include basil, bay, chives, mint, parsley and thyme.

Soil Requirements Good soil is an essential ingredient for healthy plants. Organic soils are a good choice for herbs and can be enriched by adding compost, worm castings and bone meal.

Containers Heavy clay pots are porous, allowing water and air to pass through and also provide good drainage. Pots which are a minimum of six inches across will ensure adequate growing room. Wash all pots, new or used thoroughly with hot soapy water before using.

A window which has a southern or western exposure will generally provide the four-six hours of light a day which the plants need. Fluorescent lighting is an excellent alternate to natural light.

Geneva Thomas, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


HERB GARDENING
A walk through a garden planted with herbs can be exciting, interesting, and delightful. Each plant has a story to be told of its use.

It is a joy to share the scent of pinched chocolate mint, French lavender, or lemon thyme with a visitor, or to see them discover the fragrance of a rose geranium. Delightfully watch a child find a lamb's ear plant, cupping the leaf in a tiny hand and imagining a soft, cuddly lamb.

Herbs are associated with wonderfully flavored foods, natural scents, gentle healing, peaceful gardens, and useful crafts. More people are turning to growing and using herbs as we become more health conscious. Start your own herb garden with a few basic herbs and soon you will be eager to plant others.

You can use your winter "down time" to learn more about herbs at your library or book store, or ask your local garden professional. When spring planting season comes, you'll be ready to start an exciting, interesting and delightful herb garden of your own.

Doris Peairson, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


THOSE VERSATILE HERBS

Herbs can be grown to perk up food, as attractive additions to landscape planting, and for their fragrance.

Herbs straight from the garden can be washed, chopped and added to enhance meals. One of the many uses for fresh herbs is in spaghetti sauce which becomes more flavorful with the addition of herbs like basil, oregano, tarragon, rosemary. Fresh herbs can be substituted for dry herbs in any dish you prepare. The conversion is: 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs = 1 teaspoon of crumbled dry herbs, or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of ground herbs.

Herbs in the landscape planting can add color - purple basil; attract butterflies - flowering dill and make outstandingly hardy borders - curly parsley.

In a fragrant garden, many herbs can lend their special scent. Rosemary releases a strong fragrance even if gently bumped, lemon basil has a citrus scent, and, of course, lavender has a sweet scent.

The planting of herbs can be a welcome addition to any type of garden whether for the use in cooking, in the landscape or for their fragrance.

Bibi Blonn, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


HERB GARDEN GROWS WONDERS
A walk through a garden planted with herbs can be exciting, interesting and delightful. Each plant has a story to be told of its use.

To share the scent of pinched chocolate mint, French lavender or lemon thyme with a visitor, or see them discover the fragrance of a rose geranium is a joy. Watch a child who has found the lamb's ear and holds a leaf, imagining a soft, cuddly lamb.

More people are returning to growing and using herbs as we become more health conscious and associate them with flavored foods, natural scents, healing and crafts. Start your herb garden with a few basic herbs and soon you will want to try others.

Doris Peairson, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


DESIGNING AN HERB GARDEN

There are no hard-and-fast rules to follow when one is designing a herb garden. It may be as simple as tucking them among the flowers and vegetables in existing beds or grouping them in terra cotta pots on the patio. If you feel you would like to plan a separate area just for herbs, these are a few ideas that will make your garden easier to maintain and enjoy.

Make a list of herbs that you would like to grow, and divide the list into annuals and perennials. The annuals can be further divided into cool-season and warm-season herbs. Some gardeners plant annuals together in one section of the garden and fill in after these have died with annuals for the next season. In this manner, you won't leave empty spaces in the garden.

Herbs need good drainage, and most of them need at least six hours of sunlight daily. A few herbs that can tolerate some shade are lemon balm, mints, tarragon, and parsley. Herbs are quite resistant to insect problems but do require gentle pruning. Cut the growth tips to force growth from the base and to encourage branching.

A simple and classic design is a square plot dissected diagonally by paths with a centered bed containing a bay tree, rosemary, tree rose, or birdbath. To make your garden unique, consider selecting a theme such as a garden for hummingbirds, bees, potpourri, tea, medicinal, or culinary. Keep in mind texture, shapes, and color in your planning. And finally, incorporate a bench nearby so you can enjoy all the fine fragrances from your herb garden.

Debbie Hilliard, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


CONTAINING HERB GROWTH

If your gardening space is limited or if you have problems preventing your herbs from growing into each other's space (such as mints mixing and hybridizing), an easy solution is to partially bury containers in the ground. You may use any sort of container, the least expensive ones being the plastic liners or pots that your plants come in when you buy them from the nursery. You should cut out the bottom of the container and partially bury it, leaving about four inches above ground. Doing so creates a "fence" around the herbs and discourages invasions from weeds or nearby herbs. Fill the container to ground level, and plant your herbs.

Partially burying the container in the ground helps prevent the soil from drying out so quickly as it would in an above-ground pot. The containers may be placed at any distance from each other, and the spaces between them may be utilized for other herbs as well.

Don Gill, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


DRYING HERBS

It's best to pick herbs for preserving when they are at their peak, which is usually just before their flowering cycle begins. Pick them in the morning before the day gets hot.

Some herbs retain flavor best when preserved by freezing. These include basil, cilantro, dill, parsley and tarragon. Wash and drain the herbs. Then dry pack them in plastic bags. Make the bags airtight and freeze immediately. When you're ready to use frozen herbs, let them thaw at room temperature for 30-40 minutes. For best flavor, use thawed herbs immediately, as you would fresh herbs.

Some herbs have good flavor when preserved by drying. These include basil, dill, mint, oregano, rosemary and thyme. Herbs are dry when they are just to the point of crumbling.

You can dry herbs by tying them in bunches and hanging them upside-down over a stretched wire in a dark, airy room. Or spread leaves thinly over a screen to dry. A faster way to dry herbs is in the microwave. Spread the herbs on microwavable paper towels and microwave for two minutes at full power. Continue to microwave the herbs in 30-second intervals until they are just to the point of crumbling. Then let them cool for 10 minutes. Dried herbs should be stored in opaque, airtight containers.

Denice Allen, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


STORING HERBS

You have produced a bumper "crop" of herbs this year, you have used them in your cooking, and you have shared with your friends and neighbors. What do you do now? Four good ways to store your fresh herbs are as follow:

  • REFRIGERATE: Stick stems of fresh herb bunches in water, cover with a plastic bag, and refrigerate.
  • FREEZE: Place fresh herbs in tightly sealed plastic bags and freeze. The color may fade but the flavor remains. You can also mince into ice cube trays and add water to freeze in cubes.
  • DRY: Clean and pat dry fresh basil leaves, then layer with coarse (kosher) salt in a wide-mouth glass jar.
  • MICROWAVE: Place a layer of leaves on paper towels in the microwave. Then place another paper towel on top and microwave on high heat for 1 or 2 minutes. Strip the leaves off the stems and place them in a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store the jar in your spice rack away from light.

Carol Snodgrass Reeves, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


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