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Herbal highs!12 April 2011
Kris, from Amateur Gardening Magazine offers tips for successful herb growing
Think of herbs and you might come up with a list of a dozen plants or so that improve the flavour of our favourite dishes. But the term ‘herb’ refers to a wide range of plants, from tender annuals such as basil, up to long-lived shrubs like rosemary, back down to minute mosses and even algae.
There use extends far beyond the kitchen, with many grown for their scent, medicinal properties, value as pest control and industrial use such as colour dyes.
In the garden they can be used to create both formal and informal herb-only displays, but they also lend themselves to a range of planting styles including permanent mixed borders and seasonal summer bedding. If you have an awkward shady spot or a dry, sun-baked site there are herbs to suit.
They are also a boon for the organic gardener as many have properties that make them great for companion planting. Basil can help ward off pests from tomato crops for example, while borage planted close to strawberries will help fight off disease problems and is said to improve fruit size and taste.
Pinch out growing tips regularly to keep plants producing flavour-filled new growth
Herbs in the ground
Not many of us have the space to lay out formal herb schemes using traditional patterns of geometric symmetry still seen in the kitchen gardens of stately homes and country piles. For the average gardener it is best to dedicate a single bed or border to herb growing or to add plants to gaps in established plantings. Where space is tight grow herbs in containers on the patio or on the windowsill.
When planting up a new herb bed, spend time clearing weeds. Once cleared improve soils by digging in fresh compost and rake level. Improve heavy soils to accommodate Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary and thyme by adding grit and sand. Container-grown perennial herbs can be planted year round but planting in spring allows new plants to benefit from spring rainfall during establishment.
Water plants before planting and add a general fertiliser to planting holes before setting plants.
Containing invasive roots
Mint species are renowned for invasive root systems. To contain plants to their allotted space first sink a larger pot into the bed so it is level with the surrounding soil. The take your mint plant and pot it up into the larger sunk container using a mix of garden soil and fresh potting compost.
Herbs grown from seed
Sowing seed is the most economical way of growing tender annual herbs such as basil, coriander and dill. Most herb seeds will germinate at a temperature between 10-15C though some, including the more unsual varieties of basil such as ‘Siam Queen’ need a higher temperature of around 25C to germinate successfully. Those needing more heat should be placed in heated porpagator after sowing, those with cooler requirements will do fine, covered in clear polythene or an unheated propagator on the windowsill. Once threat of frost has passed all herbs can be hardened off and moved outside, kept either in their pots or planted out a sowing can be made outside
Quick tip Basil foliage make a nice contrast when planted out among summer bedding
Top 5 Herbs for….
Dry, sunny spots
There is of course cross-over and most herbs tolerate conditions in between the two extremes