The fundamentals of growing annual and perennial herbs
If you love fresh herbs, you can plant a productive herb garden in minutes and enjoy it all summer long. Herbs are easy to grow, don’t need a lot of space, thrive in just about any type of soil, and many are cold hardy. Herbs can be used for cooking, fragrance and landscaping. They grow well in containers, too, making them ideal for patios, decks and balconies.
You can buy herbs as seeds or as small transplants. Annual herbs can easily be started from seed because they germinate and grow quickly. Some perennials — thyme, chives and oregano — can be started from seed, but if you need only a few plants, it’s easier to simply buy the plants, especially for planting in containers.
Annual herbs can be planted each spring for fresh herbs throughout the summer.
- Sweet basil is enjoyed for its mild peppery flavor, with a hint of mint and clove. A staple in Italian, Mediterranean and Thai cooking, basil can also be used in flower gardens, as border plants and in hanging baskets.
- Cilantro (also called coriander) is a leafy herb with a sharp, aromatic flavor. It’s popular in Latin American and Asian cuisines.
- Dill, often associated with pickling cucumbers, is delicious with salmon or potatoes.
Common perennial herbs grow all summer and die back to the ground in fall. If they’re hardy in your area, their root systems are still alive and they will return year after year.
- Common thyme grows up to a foot tall and spreads wider. It has a distinctive, spicy scent and can be used as a salad garnish or to flavor cooked vegetables. Some people believe that putting a sprig of it underneath your pillow helps you fall asleep more quickly. Hardy in Zones 5-9. Lemon thyme is a branchy trailing plant that forms mats of aromatic, lemon-scented foliage.
- Oregano is one of the several species of wild marjoram that can grow up to two feet tall. It’s a great herb for seasoning tomato dishes and meats. Hardy in Zones 5-9.
- Sage is an attractive garden plant, and some varieties have variegated leaves. Sage is traditionally used in breads and dressings that accompany turkey and pork. Hardy in Zones 4-8.
- Chives have a mild onion flavor that enhances salads, egg dishes, soups and vegetables. The clover-like purple flowers that bloom in spring are also edible and make a colorful addition to salads. Hardy in Zones 3-9.
- Lemon balm has a strong, heady citrus scent. Hardy in Zones 4-9.
- Mints are a family of plants known for their aromatic oils. A few leaves adds refreshing zest to a glass of lemonade or iced tea adds. Hardy in Zones 4-10.
- Spearmint is a tough perennial that thrives almost anywhere in the United States. The bright green leaves are attractive in a flower arrangement, and this mint, too, is good for flavoring beverages.
- Lavender is well known for its aroma. It grows into a bush with purple flower spikes that attract bees and butterflies. The dried flowers make lovely sachets for closets and drawers. Hardy in Zones 5-8.
- Rosemary, another member of the mint family, is one of the oldest herbs known to humankind. Through the ages it has been credited with healing wounds, alleviating headaches and improving memory. It is a strong, pungent herb, and a few leaves add a distinctive flavor to breads, poultry and vegetables. It becomes bushy and shrub-like in a few years. Hardy in Zones 4-8.
- Parsley is biennial, which means that it grows for two seasons and then dies and needs to be replaced. It is often used as a garnish and makes a nice addition to soups.
Gardeners love growing fresh herbs for the wonderful flavors they add to food and for the beauty and fragrance they add to the garden. A good way to get ideas and information about herbs is to visit your local public garden or arboretum.