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Growing Herbs

Little wonder that herbs have earned a place in American gardens. Freshly harvested herbs have pungent and aromatic qualities that far exceed those of their commercially obtained counterparts— whether fresh or dried.

Even after the outdoor growing season is over, you can still enjoy dried herbs in fragrant potpourris and sachets. You can also grow herbs indoors in pots on sunny windowsills, and use them for culinary purposes— either fresh, dried, or frozen. You will enjoy growing herbs because their culture is easy. They require little care and space, have very few insect and disease problems, and generally require only moderate fertility levels. Above all, herbs provide you with a continuing and satisfying hobby.

Herbs are typically planted in a garden by themselves. Unfortunately, most herbs look great in May and June, and then get scraggly and unattractive the rest of the season. For this reason, they are often informally combined with annual and perennial flowers, trees, shrubs, groundcovers, vegetables, or other plant material. This allows you to take advantage of the various colors, textures, sizes, and shapes that other plants have to offer.

Don’t limit your use of herbs to specific situations. You can use them to enhance most any garden. Of course, some grow better as groundcovers, others as edging plants; still others are best when intermingled with different plants in a mixed border. Most, however, are best used where their fragrance and beauty can be appreciated up close.

Classification of Herbs

Herbs are classified either as annuals, biennials, or perennials. Annual herbs are usually grown from seed; they grow, flower, and produce seed during one season, and then die. Biennial herbs grow for two seasons, flowering the second year only. Perennial herbs, once established, over winter and flower each season. Some herbs are tender perennials; these do not survive severe winters and are best grown as annuals or over-wintered indoors.

For more information, click on the specific herb below or refer to the Quick Jump menu at the top right of the page.

Anise Anise is the dried ripe fruit of the herb Pimpinella anisum. The crescent shaped seeds are unmistakably identified by their distinctive licorice-like flavor. Anise is not related to the European plant whose roots are the source of true licorice. Anise
Balm, lemon Lemon balm is a hardy perennial that attains a height of 2 feet. It closely resembles the mints in appearance and cultural requirements. The leaves are heart-shaped and light, bright green. The flowers are an inconspicuous yellow or white. The entire plant has a strong lemon scent. Lemon Balm
Basil, sweet Basil is an annual with broad, medium green or purple leaves. The plants reach a height of 12" — 24" and produce small white flowers on spikes in midsummer. There are several varieties of basil that can be successfully grown. Sweet Basil
Bay / laurel The bay tree is native to the Mediterranean region and Asia Minor. The bay or laurel tree grows well in the subtropics and is cultivated today as a spice in the Far East as well as the Canary Islands, France, Belgium, Mexico, Central America and Turkey Bay Leaves
Chives Chives are a perennial plant belonging to the onion family. The small bulbous plants grow in clumps 6" — 8" tall and produce narrow, hollow, somewhat grass-like leaves. In late May to June, the plants produce small, round, attractive lavender-pink flower clusters. Chives
Cilantro / Coriander Cilantro is a dainty annual that looks somewhat like parsley and goes by several names: Chinese parsley, cilantro, and coriander. It grows 1 to 2 feet tall and has young leaves that are oval and toothed, while the mature leaves are feathery. The leaves are pungent, combining the flavors of sage and citrus. Cilantro
Dill The blue-green, feathery foliage of annual dill grows 2'— 4' tall and provides a soft, lacy background for some of the smaller herbs. When in flower, dill supports graceful umbels of tiny yellow blossoms. Dill
Fennel Fennel is a licorice- or anise-flavored annual with leaves resembling dill. There are two distinct types. The first grows tall and stemmy and produces seeds. The other forms a flattened rosette of thickened petioles (often referred to as a “bulb”) and is called finocchio or florence fennel. The second type is becoming more common on vegetable markets, and once in a great while it can be found in upscale restaurants, where its mild sweet flavor is a real treat steamed. Fennel
Garlic Garlic needs annual division and replanting to produce the bulbs that are common on the market. Several types are available, both with and without topsets. Elephant garlic is not really a garlic at all, but a type of leek that forms a pungent bulb that tastes like and resembles the garlic bulb. Garlic
Lemon Verbena Lemon verbena is a tender, deciduous woody tree, hardy outdoors only into Zone 9. It is most commonly grown in pots or tubs and moved into greenhouses or light rooms for the winter. All parts have the distinctive lemony fragrance. The long leaves are narrow and pointed. Lemon Verbena
Lovage Lovage is a hardy perennial that grows 6' — 7' tall. The large, deeply divided leaves resemble celery and has a similar scent. Small yellow flowers in flat-topped clusters appear in early spring. Lovage re-seeds itself readily.
Marjoram, sweet Sweet marjoram is a low spreading, tender perennial with fuzzy, pale green, round 1/2" — 1" leaves and erect reddish stems. The flower spike is a knot-like cluster of three to five white to pink flowers. The roots of the plant spread to form a dense clump and can become rampant in the garden. Sweet Marjoram
Mints The perennial mints are upright growing plants that reach 2'
in height. Peppermint has dark green leaves and a reddish stem, while spear mint is lighter green in color with sharply pointed leaves. Both emit a characteristic warm, spicy scent when bruised or crushed. Peppermint flowers are a lavender shade, while spearmint flowers are pink.
Oregano Oregano is a hardy perennial and also referred to as European oregano, wild marjoram, and winter marjoram. It has sprawling stems that reach a height of 3'. The leaves are ovate, dark-green and coarsely pubescent. The flowers are reddish-purple and emerge from loosely clustered buds. Oregano
Parsley Parsley is a biennial that is usually grown as an annual. The plant produces a rosette of leaves the first year. In the second year, the plant sends up a flower stalk that produces seed, then it dies. There are two types-curled and Italian. Curled parsley has crisp, tightly curled foliage. The Italian type has broad, flat leaves and a stronger flavor Parsely
Rosemary The rosemary plant is a half-hardy perennial evergreen shrub that reaches a height of 2' — 4'. The leaves are needle-like, leathery, and dark green with a gray undersurface. The flowers, appearing in spring, are most commonly pale lavender blue, although deep blue, pink, and white flowered varieties have been selected. The whole plant is very fragrant with its own special and characteristic balsamic smell. Rosemary
Sage Sage is a shrubby perennial of the mint family, bearing oblong, wooly, wrinkled, gray-green leaves. The plants grow to a height of 2' and have a tendency to sprawl unless they are kept trimmed. The lilac blue flowers, which usually don’t appear until the second season, are produced on terminal spikes. Sage
Salad Burnet Salad Burnet is an attractive, bushy perennial that forms a 12" basal rosette of leaves and grows to 2' tall in flower. Its dark green leaves are sharply toothed. The flowers are small, green, and thimble shaped with reddish purple stigmas. Salad Burnet
Savory Savory is a compact, bushy annual growing to 18" tall. The 1" long leaves are aromatic and become tinged reddish purple in late summer. White to pink flowers are borne in whorls in leaf axils from midsummer to frost. This herb self sows easily. Savory
Sorrel French Sorrel is a perennial with shield-shaped leaf blades on long sturdy petioles that grow in a rosette from a large taproot, which reaches 1-1⁄2' — 2' in length. Seed stalks arise that greatly resemble the related wild dock species. In the garden, it is grown for the leaves, which have an acidic, “lemony” flavor.  
Tarragon Tarragon is a somewhat tender aromatic perennial plant that grows 2' — 3' tall, though the stems tend to be floppy, giving the plant an unkempt appearance. The leaves are linear, entire, and 1" — 4" long. The flowers are tiny, greenish-white or yellowish, and seldom open, except in very warm climates. It is a much-loved culinary herb with a delicate anise or licorice flavor. Tarragon
Thyme There are over 20 species and varieties of thyme. Common thyme is a low-growing, wiry-stemmed perennial that grows 8" — 12" tall. The stems are stiff and woody, while the leaves are small, oval, and gray-green. The white-to-purple flowers grow in clusters and are highly aromatic. Thyme