Jane McLeod: Sage advice on growing herbs
February 26, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Growing herbs, on a large or a small scale, is not difficult. Herbs are tolerant, tough and undemanding plants. But as with all living things, the more care and attention they receive, the better they flourish. Here are a few things to consider in order to grow vibrant herb plants:
■ Give them maximum sun during the growing season. When instructions state that an herb needs full sun, it means that ideally the plant should get about seven hours of sunshine per day. Many herbs have their origins in the warmer climates of the world, and in order to achieve full flavor and fragrance, you need to re-create as nearly as you can the conditions of the natural habitat.
■ Put them in as sheltered a spot as possible. Herbs need protection from cold winds almost more than low temperatures, and given our erratic summer weather patterns, a wall, fence, big rock, hedge or natural slope can provide shelter.
■ Although each one favors its own particular soil type special treatment is not essential, and a rich, well-composted soil will serve the purpose.
■ Lightly fertilize herbs throughout the summer growing season. A liquid feed in a weak solution is the easiest to apply about once every two weeks. Herbs do fine without fertilizer but if you are harvesting them, lightly fertilizing helps produce new growth. Too much fertilizer will produce a lush growth but with little flavor or aroma.
■ Weed often and well so they don't have to compete for soil space or nutrients.
■ Water regularly if not daily during dry summer weather. This is especially important for container herbs. Keep the soil moist and check by scratching the surface of the soil. If it is dry to a depth of about 1 inch, the plant should be watered. Herbs, however, don't like to sit with their feet in a puddle, so make sure the drainage is good.
■ Herbs do very well in limited space but don't overestimate and get too many herbs for one small area. Inadequate light or space for roots caused by severe overcrowding forces herbs to grow tall and spindly and their scent and flavor suffer.
■ Accessibility is important. You don't want to go far to collect a few herb leaves. Whether you plant in a garden, a raised bed, a window box, a hanging basket or a pot on a deck, putting them handy to the kitchen reminds you they are there.
■ Picking herb leaves for use can be done all through the growing season, but cutting more than one fifth of the total could harm the plant. If you need lots of one particular herb, consider growing more than one plant.
Now, the only thing left is what kind and how many. Herbs are meant to not only be utilized but to delight, so be inspired and allow these plants to show you how rewarding they can be.
Jane McLeod is a master gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.