Growing herbs

This page is not about the medicinal properties of herbs, though this may become a crucial consideration in the aftertime. Information regarding medicinal properties is widely available elsewhere. Instead, this page concerns itself with growing techniques that may help increase seed germination and successful growth of herb plants in general. For information regarding the unique characteristics of specific herbs, consult a good book.

From ‘Herbs: Their Culture and Uses’ by Rosetta Clarkson

  • In olden times, vegetable herbs such as onions, leeks, asparagus and beets were grown more for their medicinal values than for their culinary worth.
  • It is only within the last two hundred years or so that any distinction has been made between herbs and vegetables or herbs and flowers.
  • An easy and certain method of propagation is called layering. Bend a supple branch to the ground, peg it down firmly, cover it with soil. Within three or four weeks roots will form. Once the root system is established, cut the new plant from the parent, and you can transplant this somewhere else.
  • As natives of the Mediterranean coast, herbs ask to be left alone in poor soil, with good drainage, in full sun, in a protected spot.
  • Neither peat moss nor any great amount of fertilizer is advised.
  • Most people plant too deeply and cover too heavily. A good general rule is not to cover the small seeds at all but to firm them down into the soil with a board.
  • All seeds sown in the spring should be protected from the light until they germinate. As soon as the seedlings show, remove the protective covering.
  • Most herb seeds take from five days to five weeks to germinate, but some lie dormant for a year or two.
  • Herbs that will grow in shade or partial shade: Aconite, angelica, lemon balm, baneberry, carpet bugle-weed, Italian bugloss, chervil, sweet cicely, comfrey, coneflower, costmary, good King Henry, ground ivy, liatris, lily of the valley, lungwort, mints (except catnip), running myrtle, parsley, English pennyroyal, St. John’s wort, snakeroot, French tarragon, turtle-head, valerian, common violet, sweet violet, wintergreen, sweet woodruff.

From ‘Living with Herbs’ by Jo Ann Gardner
  • When in doubt, sow seeds shallowly. Planting seeds too deep is a major cause of germination failure.
  • Pre-chilling, also called stratification, mimics what nature does to seeds in the winter: exposing moistened seeds to cold temperatures. This breaks down inhibitors in the seed that prevents it from germinating at the wrong time of year.
  • You can encourage hard-coated seeds to germinate by poking them with a pin, notching them with a knife, or rubbing them with sandpaper. Always scrape away from the ‘eye’ of the seed, the small dent where the seed was attached to a pod.
  • Most seeds will germinate in light or in darkness.
  • Your soil can be moderately enriched.
  • Herbs that need full sun should get at least 6 hours’ worth in a day.
  • If plants are close together, they should not be touching.
  • Frequent cutting will keep plants healthy, encouraging fresh growth.
  • In most situations, tall plants will need staking. It’s best to stake them when they’re in their early growth.
  • Most herbs are not much troubled by disease or insect infestations.
  • Most of the hardy perennials are easily propagated by simple root division. In the spring or fall, simply chop off a piece of root and replant it.

From ‘Herbs for Every Garden’ by Gertrude Foster
  • The one absolute necessity for growing healthy herbs is good drainage.
  • Keep herbs away from tree roots.
  • What we call weeds are often the herbs our ancestors brought to America for medicinal purposes.
  • French tarragon and horseradish do not set seed capable of germinating. Mints seldom come true to variety from seed. Lavender and rosemary grow so slowly it’s hardly worthwhile starting them from seed.
  • More seed is wasted by being buried too deeply than by washing out in heavy rains.
  • If your soil is rich and will not dry out before germination occurs, you can leave the seeds uncovered. But it’s safer to make a slight depression in which to sprinkle them. You will be astonished to see how close to the surface the seeds should be planted, though you can go a little deeper in midsummer so as to reach the lower moisture level of the soil.
  • Sowing seeds of hardy annuals and biennials in the late fall saves precious time in the spring and usually produces a sturdier stand of plants.
  • The pungent aromas from herbs appear to protect nearby vegetables from insects.
  • Plants which would be three feet tall in the garden can be grown in a confined space if you pot them when young and give them a chance to adjust.

From “Llewellyn’s 2001 Herbal Almanac’
  • Watering should be done first thing in the morning. There’s an old saying, “The garden should never go to sleep with wet feet.”
  • A spray of manure tea once a month helps keep fungus problems from appearing.

From ‘Herb Gardening at Its Best’ by Sal Gilbertie
  • The best way to take a cutting is to break off or cut off a new side shoot or the tip of the main stem of the established plant. Cut with a sharp, clean knife, not a pair of scissors, which would tend to pinch or seal the end of the cutting and therefore make it harder for you to get roots from it.
  • You can tell roots have formed if you tug gently on the cutting and you discover that it tugs back.

From ‘Growing 101 Herbs that Heal’ by Tammi Hartung
  • Allow 10 to 12 inches of space (25 to 30 cm) for most herbs.
  • As for growing guidelines, herbs tend to be more flexible than we assume.
  • The author prefers not to store seeds in airtight containers. If the seed contains any moisture -- either in or on it -- this can encourage the growth of mold.
  • The author likes to use the word ‘clump’. (Inside joke!)

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