How to Help Your Herbs Beat the Heat

How to Help Your Herbs Beat the Heat

The “dog days of summer” are upon us! Grab the pool noodles, sangria popsicles, and floppy hats. Even on the hottest days, it’s not too difficult for us to find relief (if all else fails, retreat to the A/C!), but what about your outdoor garden? The sun is beating down on your herbs harder than ever! How can you help them beat the heat?

All Herbs Love the Heat, Right?

Wrong. Not all herbs are natural summer lovers. In fact, several types enjoy cooler temperatures, such as:

  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Chives
  • Chervil
  • Sorrel

So, which herbs enjoy the heat?

  • Lemongrass
  • Basil (Everyone’s favorite!)
  • Rosemary
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme
  • Dill
  • Borage
  • Bay
  • Mint
  • Oregano

It’s important to note that even summer-loving herbs will need extra TLC to get them through the hottest months. Without the proper care, your herbs could be left sunburnt, taste-deficient, and withering. How can you make a success of it?

A Pre-Summer Precaution

Your goal: Keep the roots cool. So, avoid planting your precious herbs in dark or metal containers. Why? Dark colors absorb the sun’s rays, heating up the soil. And, if you’ve ever leaned against a hot car while in your “Daisy Duke’s,” you can guess what damage a metal pot can do!

Watering Your Herbs in the Summer

Adjusting your watering routine to fit warmer temperatures can be an adventure. You may think hotter temperatures = a thirstier plant. And, while that may be the case, keeping that theory too close in mind can also contribute to overwatering. Two rules for summer watering: Always check the soil’s moisture level and water deep.

If you frequently give your herbs a quick, daily spray-down (surface watering), you’re encouraging them to develop shallow roots. What’s the problem with that? When the heat of summer comes, a plant needs deep roots to keep cool and remain hydrated. How do you “water deep”?

  • Container gardens: Drench the soil until water drains from the bottom for 2 minutes.
  • In-ground gardens: Drench for 15 minutes.

While watering deeply takes more time, you don’t have to water as frequently and achieve healthier (tastier) herbs. What’s not to love?

When to Water

We love taking a midday dip in the pool, right? So our plants must love a mid-day spray-down! Nope, think again. Water droplets on your herb’s leaves act as mini magnifying glasses, amplifying the sun’s rays (making your wilty plant even “wilty-er”). Solution? Do your deep watering at the end of the day, when the sun is setting, and temperatures are cooler.

Preparing for a Heatwave

Sudden, shockingly hot temperatures can send some plants into a type of survival-mode-hibernation, where they temporarily stop absorbing moisture and nutrients through their roots. What can you do?

Watch the weather and thoroughly water your garden before the heatwave hits. This will give your herbs what they need to see them through! (Who wants to hibernate on an ‘empty stomach,’ right?) Rewater your plant friend when the soil exhibits the proper signs, remembering that this could happen more slowly than you expect.

Ways to Keep it Cool!

Container Gardens

One of the many perks of container gardens: If a location proves to be too hot or sunny, you can quickly relocate your herbs! Are some of your cool-weather herbs suffering? You can

opt to bring them indoors for the hottest part of the summer. How? Taking plants directly from the midday sun to an air-conditioned house is shocking, to say the least! So, prepare your plant by first placing it in a shady location. In a few days, when temperatures have cooled at night, bring your herb indoors.

One of the downsides: if your container is too small, your plant’s root system isn’t very well insulated from the heat. What can you do? Before the hottest days of summer arrive, make sure your plant isn’t rootbound. If it is, give it a pot upgrade!

In-Ground Gardens

The bad news: your herbs are pretty much stuck with their location. But, there are a few things you can do to help your plants thrive in the heat. Give your herbs a thick layer of mulch to provide added insulation to the soil. Remember, cool roots contribute to a happy plant!

Consider providing your herbs with some much-needed shade, especially from the afternoon sun! How can you do this? There are several ways, ranging from “bootleg” ideas to more polished looks. You can simply move your patio umbrella to the garden. You could rig up one of those (million) Amazon boxes you have. Or you can invest in some shade cloth.

If you’re opting for shade cloth, here are a few things to keep in mind: (1) You need 30% to 40% shade, (2) Dark colors absorb heat, so you’ll need to keep black shade cloths several inches from your herb’s foliage.

Keep Pruning

Warm temperatures give many herbs the “green-light” to flower and bolt. What’s the big deal about that? Bolting negatively impacts the flavor and texture of some herbs. And, let’s admit it, bolted Cilantro is just sad. Prevent your plant from bolting by regularly pruning new growth and removing any flowers ASAP.

Are you at a loss about what to do with all these extra herbs? Keep your eyes peeled for more of our articles with herb-ilicious recipes. And save some of this summer-freshness for the upcoming winter months by making “herbal ice cubes.” Simply fill the bottom of an ice cube tray with your minced herb of choice, top with some olive oil, and stick it in the freezer!

Whatever temperatures this summer brings, by using these helpful tips, we trust that you and your herbs will be able to “beat the heat!” Happy Growing!

How to Extend the Life of Annual Herbs & When to Call It Quits

How to Extend the Life of Annual Herbs & When to Call It Quits

We love our herbs, and at the height of summer, we are in prime herb-eating season… But your plant has the nerve to flower, produce seeds, and die! That’s disappointing, to say the least. How can you extend the life of your happy garden?

Annuals, Biennials, and Perennials: Oh My!

Who knew there were so many herb life expectancies? What do they all mean?

Annuals: They last for one full year, right? Wrong. The life expectancy is one season, which can range from 1-4 months.

Biennials: Never heard of these? Well, you probably aren’t alone. These herbs live for about two years.

Perennials: Ah, finally something familiar. These herbs last for more than two years, even indefinitely!

Examples of Annuals

  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Cilantro
  • Summer Savory
  • Watercress
  • Borage
  • Calendula
  • Chamomile
  • Caraway

Don’t Just Listen to the Label

While an herb may be labeled “perennial” or “biennial,” there are no guarantees it will last that long. Why? Your climate. If you’re in a frosty-freezy part of the country, you will want to investigate what herbs are suitable for prolonged life in your hardiness zone. You may be surprised: herbs that grow as perennials in warmer climates may be annuals in your area. Don’t despair, though; you can extend their life too! (Keep reading.)

The Annual Herb’s Nemesis: Bolting

First off, what exactly is bolting? When your herb decides that it can’t deal with its harsh environment anymore, and goes on a suicide mission to pass on its genetic lineage by making seeds. (Seriously, here’s the science behind it!) Sad for us, many herbs lose their tasty flavor and texture during this process. 

Preventing your annual from bolting will prolong its natural life (and preserve those alluring flavors)! How can you do it? Control your plant’s environment:

Temperatures

Warm temperatures encourage herbs to bolt and can even make a biennial plant seed and die within a few months. How can you remedy the situation? If you planted your herbs in containers, move them to a cooler location, possibly even indoors during the hottest part of the season. Did you opt for an in-ground garden? Mulch helps to keep your plant’s roots cool.

Sun

Many herb varieties require 6-8 hours of direct sun a day. Is yours receiving more? That may be what’s behind your herb’s decision to bolt! Move your plants to a shadier location, if possible. Shade cloth is also another excellent option for providing some mid-afternoon shade!

Pruning

Continue with your diligent pruning! Regularly pinching back new growth encourages your herb to produce a growth hormone instead of the hormone that causes bolting.

Watering

Do you regularly allow your herbs to go to the ‘brink of death’ before watering? Stress-related to a haphazard watering routine will leave your plant wondering if it can survive, triggering it to bolt. Research your specific herb’s water requirements and check the soil’s moisture level regularly.

Nutrients

Off-kilter nutrients will also cause your herb’s deadly growth spurt. Especially when it comes to annuals (1-4 month lifespan!), remember that many potting mixes have sufficient fertilizer for at least six months. Continuing to pile on the fertilizer will not benefit your plant. For in-ground gardens, a lack of nutrients is also dangerous. So, research your herb’s specific needs and come up with a plan!

Do Flowers Always = Bolting?

Not always. Some herbs are meant to flower! Chamomile, calendula, and borage are all flowering herbs. And while it’s not ideal, basil and chives can also bloom and still survive with their flavor intact.

Removing the Problem

If you wake up one morning to discover that your herb has suddenly bolted or flowered, what can you do? Cut the “bolt” off, all the way back to the top-most set of leaves. Make adjustments in your plant’s environment so that it hopefully won’t happen again. What about cilantro? Once it’s bolted, it’s gone. Get your little cilantro tombstone ready, and say goodbye.

Every Herb’s Challenge: Climate

Whether you’re trying to extend your herb’s life by shielding annuals from a sultry summer or protecting perennials from sub-zero temperatures, the climate is a challenge! Often, there’s only one solution: bring your herbs indoors. But, indoor living poses its own unique set of challenges.

For example, your herb’s light requirements don’t change. Finding an indoor location that receives 6-8 hours of direct sunlight can prove to be daunting (or impossible, if you haven’t been blessed with a sunroom). The solution? Grow lights, which you can learn more about here. The good news? With the right grow-light setup, your container garden can continue growing anywhere, even in the dingy basement. The bad news? If you want a full herb-growing operation, the proper grow lights will cost you a pretty penny!

Another challenge: watering needs, which are different indoors. Humidity levels and ventilation change drastically as soon as you enter your threshold, altering the amount of moisture your herbs need. You’ll need to monitor the moisture levels in the soil carefully, and lean on the drier side.

The verdict? Bringing a small pot or two of herbs indoors to over-summer or over-winter in the windowsill is simple enough. Anything more than that, and you could wind up with a headache. And annuals still have an unavoidable problem: Try as you might, eventually they will just die.

When to Call it Quits

In case you need to hear this: Replacing your plant does not mean you are a plant parent failure. No gardener likes to admit defeat, but you can only escape the inevitable for a few months at best. Despite your best efforts, your basil, dill, cilantro (or other annual herbs) is going to look raggedy and exhausted. That’s when it’s time to call it quits and head over to the herb shop for next year’s successor!

The Understandable Guide to Companion Planting: How to Find Soil-Mates in the Garden

The Understandable Guide to Companion Planting: How to Find Soil-Mates in the Garden

The ABC’s of Companion Planting

Selecting the proper companions for your herbs will take a fair amount of forethought.

Firstly, consider the growing conditions each plant requires.

Are their soil and moisture needs compatible? In this case, you must choose plants that match. If you put a moisture-loving plant with a drought-tolerant plant, chances are you’ll drown one and dry out the other.

Secondly, think creatively about their lighting needs.

For instance, you can group a small, low-growing partial-shade-lover with a tall, larger sun-bather. Why? You can use the bigger plant as a natural sunblock for its companion! Ashwagandha makes a very useful “shade-tree” with its large leaves and high stature.

Thirdly, remember pests.

If you group plants susceptible to the same insect, you’re essentially creating an enormous“bullseye” target for them to find. Instead, find a suitable companion that is known to repel the pesky bug. For instance, Basil can attract aphids to the garden. Why not grow Chives nearby due to their aphid-repelling abilities?

Having a variety of herbs in your garden will also help ward off pests. Not only will some herbs repel them, but the different colors and smells will also confuse them. While you are still likely to have some dastardly insects in your garden, hopefully, you’ll prevent an outright plague.

Fourthly, don’t forget disease!

For instance, powdery mildew is a highly contagious condition that is common in Bee Balm. While Bee Balm has undeniable benefits to the garden as a huge draw for pollinators, it is a potential danger as a nearby companion plant. Be cautious!

And lastly, do research on the plant’s required nutrients.

Grouping two plants together that are hungry for the same nutrient may contribute to some not-so-friendly competition. For example, Arugula and Cilantro have compatible growing condition requirements, but they are both hungry for a common nutrient: nitrogen. This may not be a perfect match!

Can you Companion Plant in Containers?

In a word: yes. And it can be done in a few different ways! You may choose to plant your herbs in the same container, or you may decide to grow your herbs in separate pots and locate them nearby each other.

Same Pot Planting

A few extra factors need to be considered when you are Companion Planting in a container. What’s one of the most important things? Growth rate. Slow growing herbs require deeper soil in their pots. You will want to pair these plants with fellow “slow-pokes” that experience similar growth patterns so that they reach maturity around the same time.

You also need to select herbs that won’t “hog” up all the space. Mint and Catnip both have plenty of benefits to offer to the overall health of your garden, but they are both voracious growers. These plants do not ‘play well’ with others and are best left on their own.

Separate Pots, Same Neighborhood

Many of the benefits of Companion Planting result from the appearance, scent, and flowers of your herb-friends; all these factors are unaffected by being in separate pots! As noted in our last article, scientists believe that Companion Planting’s soil-nutrient benefit is minimal to non-existent. Is that true? There’s not a ton of hard-fact-research to support either line of reasoning, so we will leave it up to you!

Strongly scented herbs, like Catnip, are regarded as an excellent pest repellent in the gardening community. The smell reportedly chases off aphids, ants, cabbage loopers, Japanese beetles, weevils, and cockroaches. An added bonus? A few containers of catnip will distract neighborhood cats from vandalizing the more cherished parts of your garden.

Pollinating plants are also highly effective in individual containers, grouped with other plants and herbs. Borage gives pollinators an open invitation and also attracts ladybugs, a beneficial garden predator! These helpful bugs will keep pests away from your herbs and hopefully help increase your yield in the vegetable garden too.

“Tried and True” Soil-Mates

Companion Planting is based less on science and more on “gardener know-how.” Below are a few “tried and true” suggestions from respected gardening sources. Keep in mind, everyone’s soil and growing environments are different. So, keep running your own experiments. As a rule of thumb: if it works, keep doing it!

  • Cilantro & Chervil
  • Anise & Coriander
  • Chives & Dill
  • Rosemary & Sage
  • Dill & Lavender

See a Need, Fill a Need

Much of the success of Companion Planting starts with your observations. After considering specific issues from last year’s growing season, do some research. How could you use another compatible herb to fix the problem?

For instance, did you struggle with a fungal disease? Chamomile has been used by farmers for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Some growers mist Chamomile tea on their seedlings to prevent fungal infections (“damping off”). Others suggest that their growing presence can help fight off fungal issues. Farmers also have a rich history in Companion Planting Chamomile with fruit crops to enhance flavor.

Did you struggle with spider mites? Some gardeners suggest misting “Cilantro Tea” on other plants to treat and prevent spider mites. Cilantro is also said to ward away potato beetles and attract hoverflies, a great predator of aphids.

 

Companion Planting aids in biodiversity and creates a miniature ecosystem for your herbs. The power is in your hands to matchmake your plant’s ideal companions. If a few of their “dates” go well, maybe you’ll have your own ‘tried-and-true’ combination: a match made in garden-heaven!

Does Companion Planting Really Work?

Does Companion Planting Really Work?

You’ve got a friend in me. You got troubles; I’ve got ’em too. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you. We stick together and see it through, ‘Cause you’ve got a friend in me. You’ve got a friend in me.”

Do those words sound familiar? You got it. Randy Newman’s tune “You Got a Friend in Me” describes one of TV’s most infamous pals: Woody and Buzz! Many claim that mutually beneficial ‘friendships’ can also be forged in the garden by Companion Planting. In a sense, two or more plants can help each other through their “troubles.” But how much of this claim is fiction? How much is a fact? And what works?

A Brief History of Companion Planting

This topic is surrounded by folklore and some mysticism. One of its generally accepted origins is from the Native American culture. “The Three Sisters Planting” consists of corn, pole beans, and winter squash located close to each other. Due to their growth patterns, these plants can coexist and be mutually beneficial. (Although, some “friendly” nutrient competition is always inevitable.) For example, the pole beans will naturally climb the corn, and the large-leafed squash will preserve the ground’s moisture by providing low-bearing shade.

The Controversy

Researching Companion Planting can be frustrating because there is not much concrete scientific evidence to back up the information you find. Why? This practice is mostly anecdotal (based on the gardener’s hearsay about what is successful and what isn’t). Realistically speaking, challenges do come with this type of information. For instance, what works in one area may not be successful in another. Similarly, soil types differ (as does its quality), environment, and a whole slew of other factors.

Due to much of the information not being concrete, many discredit this form of gardening. Some brave souls have tried to make Companion Planting more accredited by using Crystal Chromatography. However, this too was met with criticism by many in the scientifically-minded garden community.

The Facts Behind Companion Planting Basics

Companion Planting is very simple at its core: in comparison to being alone, some plants benefit by being nearby carefully-selected companions. Why is this the case? And how can plants be mutually beneficial to each other?

In its pristine state, what does nature look like? Everything is intermingled: There’s a mix of colors, smells, plant heights, and varieties. What’s the advantage to that? Beneficial critters, such as pollinators, are invited to the mix. Other pest-eating, predator bugs are given ample room to live and reproduce. The home-gardener can mimic nature by creating “refugia,” which is essentially a biodiverse bug hotel in their backyard!

There are dangers when you locate several individuals from the same species near each other. Due to their similar color and smell, these become an identifiable (bullseye) buffet for pests. Additionally, these plants are susceptible to the same types of disease. Between insects and sickness, your garden could be severely affected. What’s a possible solution?

A few studies have shown the benefits of “Perimeter Trap Cropping,” a form of Companion Planting. This study showed that encircling Summer Squash and Cucumbers with Blue Hubbard Squash minimized the need for pesticides by 93% and upped the harvest for six commercial Connecticut farmers. But it doesn’t stop there: this study demonstrated how Dill, Buckwheat, and Coriander protected a crop of Peppers from corn-borers.

Four Ways Companion Planting Can Help Your Garden

According to the UMass Center for Agriculture, Companion Planting can help your garden in these four ways:

Nutrient Boost

“Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation” is when a gardener purposely plants nitrogen-producing plants nearby nitrogen-hungry species. Legumes (such as beans and peas) are generally regarded for the nitrogen-making abilities and could be beneficial to a tomato plant, which is nitrogen-hungry.

This line of reasoning could also be used when deciding what plants should not be placed near each other. For example, Arugula and Cilantro are both nitrogen-hungry. It probably makes sense to separate the two.

However, many argue that the amount of nitrogen within the soil is only significantly impacted after the growing season. And only after the exhausted plants are worked into the ground. Whatever may be most scientifically accurate, tomato-bean pairings (and others like them) don’t cause harm and are potentially beneficial now and later!

Pest Management

As noted above, Companion Planting (aka Intercropping) can confuse bugs and prevent pest infestations. Low-growers, like Brahmi, can be a ‘positive host,’ giving beneficial predator bugs a place to stay. Meaning, fewer pesky bugs will find your plants, and the ones that do will hopefully be promptly eaten before they cause too much damage.

Increasing Pollinators

Plants that produce brightly colored flowers, such as the Butterfly Flowers and Borage, are highly attractive to pollinators and confuse pests. Vegetable crops often do not have the showiest of blooms, so luring in pollinators leads to a larger harvestable crop.

In the herb world, this means you may have to make some sacrifices. For instance, when it flowers, Basil is a very effective pollinator. However, the taste of the leaves diminishes, and leaf production ceases once it starts to bloom. Is it worth sacrificing an abundance of Basil to “save” your pole beans? That decision is up to you!

Higher Yields

It just makes sense. If your plant selections succeed, you will have minimized pests and boosted pollination, increasing your vegetable yield. Companion Planting methods aren’t only limited to veggies, however. These same methods can be utilized by the backyard herb grower too.

A Few Basic “Rules”

When you start Companion Planting, it’s like you’re Match.com for plants. You have to choose them carefully. To begin with, select plants that have similar soil and moisture needs. It would be counterproductive to put drought-tolerant, sandy-soil-loving Rosemary next to Cilantro, which requires cool temperatures and moist soil.

Secondly, consider the lighting requirements of each plant. And then, get creative!. As an example: Rosemary does perfectly well in the blazing sun. Parsley enjoys the partial shade. Both have similar soil and moisture needs. So, why use your Rosemary as a protective shield for your parsley from the afternoon sun?

The origins of plants can also serve as an easy guide for what may pair well together. In the above example, Rosemary and Parsley are both from the Mediterranean.

Keep a Journal

As noted, Companion Planting is based mostly on what has proven success. It may not always be scientific, but someone proved it some time, somewhere. Does this mean that every Companion Planting suggestion you find online will bring you total success? No. Your garden is unique! Do your own experiments, and keep a log of what works and what doesn’t. This small activity can turn into fun for the entire family. And, your garden will thank you!

25 Best Herbs to Grow in Your Kitchen Garden

25 Best Herbs to Grow in Your Kitchen Garden

Whether you want to grow a kitchen herb garden as a hobby or to save money or just for healthier eating, there are plenty of herbs you can grow in your backyard, on your patio, or even on your windowsill. Fresh herbs make recipes taste even better and are great to have around for soups, stews, and salads.

In picking a place to grow your herbs, keep in mind that they need a good four to six hours of sun daily. There are many herbs that you can grow to enhance your cooking. When you plant a kitchen garden, don’t only plant the herbs you know, take a chance on something else. You might just be surprised.

Here are fresh herbs and plants you can grow that are great to have handy in the kitchen.

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PARSLEY

Parsley is a mild bitter herb that can enhance the flavor of your foods. Many consider parsley just to be a curly green garnish for food, but it actually helps things like stews achieve a more balanced flavor. As an added benefit, parsley can aid in digestion. By reading articles such as unify health labs reviews and other digestion related discussions, many supplements and herbs are uncovered as great helpers for the digestive system. Parsley is often grown as an annual, but in milder climates, it will stay evergreen all winter long. Parsley plants will grow to be large and bushy. Parsley is a good source of Vitamins A and C.

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MINT

There are several varieties of mint. You can use it in drinks like mojitos or mint juleps. Or add some mint to your summer iced tea. Mint freshens the breath and will help to calm your stomach. But if you grow mint, remember that it’s considered an invasive plant. Mint will spread and take over your garden. It’s best grown in containers.

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DILL

Dill is a great flavoring for fish, lamb, potatoes, and peas. It also aids in digestion, helps to fight bad breath and has the added benefits of reducing swelling and cramps. Dill is easy to grow. It will also attract helpful insects to your garden such as wasps and other predatory insects.

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BASIL

Whether you choose large leaf Italian basil or large purple sweet basil, this plant is popular in many cuisines but is a feature in Italian cooking like pizzas, salads, sauces, and pesto. Some people think basil is great for planting alongside your tomatoes but there’s no real evidence that it makes your tomatoes taste sweeter. Basil has health benefits of antioxidants and is a defense against low blood sugar.

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SAGE

Sage is an aromatic herb that is great for seasoning meats, sauces, and vegetables. But be careful because sage will have a tendency to overpower other flavors. Sage also helps to relieve cuts, inflammation and helps with memory issues. It was once thought to be a medicinal cure-all. Sage is an easy herb to grow and is relatively easy to care for. It’s great in your garden for attracting bees.

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ROSEMARY

Rosemary is one of the most flavorful herbs and is great for adding to things like poultry, meats, and vegetables. Around Christmastime, you’ll see tree-shaped rosemary bushes for sale. You can bring them home and keep them for planting in the spring. The fragrant plant is a delightful scent and is sometimes used in floral arrangements. Rosemary likes its soil a bit on the dry side, so be careful not to overwater. Allowed to flourish, a rosemary plant will grow into a full-sized bush.

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THYME

Thyme is a delicate looking plant. It is often used for flavoring egg, bean and vegetable dishes. Thyme is frequently used in the Mediterranean, Italian and Provençal French cuisines. Pair it with lamb, poultry, and tomatoes. Thyme is often added to soups and stews. Thyme is part of the mint family. The most common variety is garden thyme which has gray-green leaves and a minty, somewhat lemony smell.

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CILANTRO / CORIANDER

Cilantro is also known as coriander leaf or Chinese parsley. Cilantro is perfect for adding into spicy foods like chills, and Mexican, Chinese, Southeast Asian and Indian cuisines. The seeds of cilantro are known as coriander. The plant grows early in the season and doesn’t like it when the ground becomes too warm.

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FENNEL

Fennel is very flavorful and aromatic, and along with anise is a primary ingredient in absinthe. Fennel is native to the Mediterranean region and does best in dry soils near the ocean or on river banks. The strongly flavored leaves of fennel are similar in shape to dill. The bulb can be sautéed or grilled, or eaten raw. Fennel bulbs are used for garnishes or sometimes added to salads.

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CHAMOMILE

In the United States and Europe, chamomile is most often used as an ingredient in herbal tea. It is one of the world’s most widely consumed herbal teas. But it has also been used for thousands of years as a traditional medicine for settling stomachs and calming the nerves. Chamomile also helps reduce inflammation and treat fevers. You can grow either German chamomile or Roman chamomile. The two are interchangeable when it comes to making tea, but they are grown very differently. German chamomile is an annual plant that grows up to three feet tall. Roman chamomile is a perennial but only grows to about a foot high. German chamomile is more commonly known for its blossoms.

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FRESH TARRAGON

French tarragon is the traditional ingredient of ‘Fines Herbes’ and is the aristocrat of fresh herbs. A must-have for any Culinary Herb Garden! It will transform an ordinary dish into a work of art with it’s spicy anise flavor. A little tarragon in a chicken salad makes a profound difference. It is wonderful in sauces, soups and meat dishes. Try it with vegetables. It is the choice for any hearty dish.

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LAVENDER

Grown as a condiment and for use in salads and dressings, lavender will give most dishes a slightly sweet flavor. Lavender syrup and dried lavender buds are used in the United States for making lavender scones and marshmallows. Health benefits include the soothing of insect bites and headaches when used with herbs and aromatherapy. Lavender plants will survive in many growing conditions but do best in full sun in warm, well-drained soil.

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CHIVES

Chives are a member of the garlic family and can be the perfect complement to sour cream. Chives are mostly used for flavoring and are considered one of the “fine herbs” of French cuisine. Chives are native to Asia but have been used as an additive to food for almost 5,000 years. Chives work well with eggs, fish, potatoes, salads, shellfish, and soups. Chives are an excellent source of beta carotene and Vitamin C.

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ARUGULA

A member of the Mustard family, Arugula is a leafy green that packs a peppery punch! Similar to Watercress in flavor, Arugula has edible, aromatic leaves and a spicier flavor than most greens. Often eaten raw in salads, Arugula also tastes great when cooked. If you’re adding it to a pizza, pasta, or pesto, make sure to add it last or just after the meal is done cooking to prevent the leaves from withering.

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BAY LEAVES

The smell of bay’s noble leaves reminds you of balsam, clove, mint, and some say even honey! Well known for its use in hearty stews and other long-simmering dishes with a slightly sharp, peppery, almost bitter taste. Add the whole leaves at the beginning of the cooking process and remember to remove them before serving. Sweet bay is native to the Mediterranean.

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LEMON VERBENA

Lemon Verbena is a useful culinary herb, used in teas, salads, dressings, and desserts. A wonderful herb plant that will do very well when potted for container gardening or in an indoor herb garden. Made popular as a perfume centuries ago when introduced by Spanish conquistadors who had found the aromatic herb in South America. Since that time Lemon Verbena has been used in everything from recipes to soaps. Because Lemon Verbena holds its citric fragrance long after being dried, it makes a great addition to potpourris and herb pillows and can be used in closets and drawers to freshen laundry.

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CHERVIL

Chervil produces flat, light-green, lacy leaves with a hint of anise, and enhances the flavor of chicken, fish, vegetables, eggs, and salads. It is an heirloom herb that was most likely introduced to European herb gardening by the Romans. Closely related to Parsley, chervil has become an indispensable herb plant in the kitchen, and a classic among herb plants in French cuisine.

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WINTER SAVORY

A deliciously spicy culinary herb, Winter Savory adds an aromatic flavor to many dishes. Also used medicinally for its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Winter Savory, like its Summer counterpart, is a spicy culinary herb from the Mint family that compliments fish, beans, and poultry with its intense flavor. Though it loses some of this intensity during the cooking process, Winter Savory remains aromatic and is often used to flavor liqueurs and makes a beautiful garnish to any salad.

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PEPPERMINT

Like other mints, peppermint is known for aiding digestion and freshening the breath. But peppermint is also a good source of calcium, potassium and Vitamin B. Peppermint is a hybrid mint, being a cross between water mint and spearmint. Peppermint oil can be used for flavoring but is also useful as a natural pesticide. It has been shown to reduce the effects of irritable bowel syndrome. Peppermint prefers rich soil and partial shade. Like other mints, it spreads quickly, so consider planting it in containers.

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STEVIA

Stevia is an attractive looking plant and a natural sweetener. The added benefit is that there are no calories. Stevia is part of the sunflower family and is native to subtropical and tropical regions in the Western hemisphere. While it’s a perennial plant it will only survive in the milder climates in North America. Still, you can add stevia to your garden for the summer. It is also known as sweetleaf or sugarleaf and is grown for its sweet leaves. Stevia can be used as a natural sweetener and as a sugar substitute.

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LEMONGRASS

Lemongrass stalks can provide antioxidants such as beta-carotene and a defense against cancer and eye inflammation. Lemongrass has a strong lemon flavor. You can brew it in tea as well as use it as an herb seasoning. To grow this outdoors, you need to live in at least Zone 9. Outside it can grow up to six feet high but will be notably smaller if you grow it indoors.

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BERGAMOT (BEE BALM)

Gaining renewed popularity as a culinary herb, Bee Balm makes a wonderful addition to pizzas, salads, breads and any dishes that are complemented by the herb’s unique flavor. Minty and slightly spicy, Bergamot makes a great substitute for Oregano. Bergamot has a long history of use as a medicinal plant by many Native Americans, including the Blackfeet. The Blackfeet Indians used this hardy perennial in poultices to treat minor cuts and wounds. A tea made from the plant was also used to treat mouth and throat infections caused by gingivitis, as the plant contains high levels of a naturally occurring antiseptic, Thymol, which is found in many brand name mouthwashes.

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OREGANO

Oregano is also part of the mint family and is native to the warm climates of Eurasia and the Mediterranean. Oregano is a perennial plant but in colder climates can be grown as an annual. It is sometimes called wild marjoram and is closely related to sweet marjoram. Oregano is used for flavoring and is a staple herb of Italian American cuisine. In the United States, it gained popularity following World War II as soldiers returned home with a desire for the “pizza herb.”

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CUTTING CELERY

A more flavorful choice than its crunchier cousin, Cutting Celery is a leafy, aromatic herb that can be substituted for celery in dishes if you want to add flavor without the stringy fibers. Often mistaken for flat-leafed Parsley, Cutting Celery has a dark, glossy leaf with a serrated edge and small sprig-like stalks. The leaves and stems can be used to add flavor to salads, vegetables, stews, and soups.

If you grow your herbs indoors you can enjoy them fresh year-round. But if that’s not an option, consider freezing or drying some of your own herbs to have available for cooking year-round. When you’re ready to buy herb plants, please check out our online store.

Growing Herbs in the Winter: How to Channel Mother Nature Every Month of the Year

Growing Herbs in the Winter: How to Channel Mother Nature Every Month of the Year

We’ve all been there: You feel like ‘Mother Nature,’ nurturing your beautifully lush plants through the Spring, Summer, and Fall. And then, “Presto!” It all changes: Suddenly, you have stringy, soggy, sad, wilty plants that make you feel more like the ‘Grim Reaper.’ You’ve kept the same routine… what possibly could have happened?

Whether you transplanted summer herbs into containers or purchased new herbs expressly for indoor growing, successful indoor gardening during the winter months can be a trip. Shorter days, soggy roots, and dry air are just a few of the challenges. How can you channel your inner ‘Mother Nature’ again?

Figure Out Your Goals

When it comes to maintaining your indoor container garden during the winter months, you have to assess what you want out of it. “Survival” is an obvious answer, but beyond that is: “Growth.”

The goal of “Growth” always sounds good! However, most plants naturally use the winter months as a rest period; changing your herbs environment to continue growing foliage, will give them ‘burn out.’ Since they weren’t allowed to slow down, they won’t have much energy to expend during the next year. In fact, they will most likely need to be replaced the following spring. 

If you want to go out with a ‘bang,’ enjoying as many herbs as you can eat in the winter months, “Growth” is a good goal. Rosemary, Bay Trees, and other heartier herbs can withstand the extra pressure. But, if you have dreams of continuously growing your same basil plant without giving it a break, your vision will quickly fade. If you’re trying to preserve your plant for the next spring, simple “Survival” is the goal for you.

The question might arise: Why do I have to pick one? Growing plants require more light and water compared to those that are allowed to experience natural dormancy.

Getting Sufficient Light for Growth or Dormancy

Your herbs automatically understand that they will receive less light in the winter; that’s why they stop growing. However, this doesn’t mean that their current location will provide enough light to support life in dormancy. To survive the winter indoors, most herbs require hours of direct sunlight.

If you’ve decided to encourage your herb plants to continue growing during their natural dormancy, you must give them their prescribed amount of summer light. For many varieties (like Basil and Rosemary), this means 6-8 hours of sunbathing. 

A simple solution is to move your plant to a sunnier location in your home. But, if you haven’t been blessed with a magnificent sunroom or giant patio doors, it may be time to think about getting grow lights!

Selecting an artificial grow light may seem daunting. Still, the benefits are undeniable: you are in control! Turn the lamp on for a few extra hours a day to boost your herb’s chances of survival. Or stick to a more intense regimen to encourage consistent growth. The on-and-off switch is in your hands!

When to Back off The Watering Can

That means you! Seriously, put it down. You must let your herbs dry out sufficiently before rewatering. If you’ve Googled it, you’ve likely ran into this piece of classic plant parenting advice: “Water when the first inch of soil is dry.” While this isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s not necessarily right either.

Pot Size

Many factors go into when you should water your plant, including the size of your pot! If you have a 5-year-old Rosemary bush, chances are, it’s not in a 4-inch nursery pot anymore. If you follow the above advice, you will drown your plant. 

Solutions? You could get fancy with it and purchase a moisture meter. They’re relatively inexpensive and allow you to effectively check the soil’s water levels deep down under! 

If you want a free solution, ask for a pair of chopsticks next time you get Chinese Takeout. Estimate where your root-ball would be; insert a clean chopstick to the appropriate depth, pull it out, and analyze. If soil is still on the stick, that means it’s still pretty moist in there! 

Plant Type & Goal

Of course, the most critical factor in watering is: What type of plant do you have? Herbs like Rosemary, Sage, Oregano, and Bay enjoy drier soils when compared to others. So, do your research.

The goal you’ve set for your herbs also affects what watering routine they will need. If you’re allowing your plants to rest, they need to dry out more. In contrast, if you’re giving them the light necessary for continued growth, you’ll need to maintain more of a summer watering-routine.

How to Humidify

Most herbs thrive in 50% humidity, while the average home during the winter months is around 10%. It’s not hard to see why some poor plants decide they cannot go on any longer! 

Undeniably, humidifiers are the most effective way to raise the humidity levels for all of your herbs. If a humidifier is out of your reach, give your herbs an extra boost by misting them daily. Make sure to spray them during the morning hours so that the moisture will have ample daylight to evaporate. 

One caution: Rosemary can develop mildew when misted. So, as with anything, make sure to do your research!

When to Fertilize

During dormancy, forgo fertilizer. Why? The extra nutrients can burn your plant’s roots, cause brown spots, and generally speaking… death. The simple fact is when your plant isn’t growing, it takes much longer to soak up the soil’s moisture, leaving your herb setting in fertilizer. It’s not a healthy equation.

That being said, if you are aiming to grow your herb during the winter months (and actually notice that your plant is indeed growing), fertilizing it won’t be the end of the world. Just remember, if this is your goal, it’s your herb’s “last hurrah.” Don’t expect it to live to grow another season! 

 Whether you have the goal of simple survival or consistent growth this winter, analyzing your lighting conditions and moisture levels is a good way to do damage control! Here’s to hoping you can channel your inner ‘Mother Nature’ and keep your plants happy and thriving during these chilly months.