STARTING A HERB GARDEN
You can have a herb garden no matter how small your space because many of the herbs can be planted in pots, window boxes or tiny garden beds. Trees obviously need more space than the smaller plants but even some of them can be grown in pots.
Use two inch or four inch transplant pots for annuals and perennials and set them out in well-prepared soil. Prepare beds by tilling or forking the following amendments into the existing soil to a depth of six to eight inches. Lava sand at 80 lbs. per 1,000 square feet, (8 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.), Texas greensand at 40 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft., dry molasses at 5 lbs. per 1,000 square feet. In acid soils replace the greensand with high calcium lime. Three to five inches of quality finished compost. One inch of cedar flakes. One inch of earthworm castings. Some gardeners like to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 inches prior to adding the amendments. To help fight soil diseases from the very beginning, add cornmeal at 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet. The cooler parts of the year are the best times to install new plants, but herbs can be planted year round in most of Texas.
When planting during the heat of summer it is critical to soak the root balls of transplants in water before installing. Put a tablespoon of seaweed or Garrett Juice per gallon of water and let the plants sit in the water until thoroughly soaked and then plant in moist beds. The root ball should be sopping wet and dripping before it goes in the moist soil. Don’t work in beds that are sloppy wet but never plant any transplants in dry beds and never plant dry root balls. If you do expect sick plants and lots of transplant shock. Plant wet roots into moist beds. After planting, the beds should be mulched with at least one to two inches of organic mulch such as compost or shredded tree trimmings. Herbs such as rosemary, lavender and sage that are sensitive to wet soil should only be mulched lightly.
Fertilize twice a year, at the most, with gentle organic fertilizer such as earthworm castings, alfalfa meal, cornmeal, or other natural fertilizers. The manufactured blends such as Garden-Ville Soil Food, Maestro-Gro, GreenSense, Sustane, and Bioform Dry can also be used but don’t over use. Herbs tend to have better flavor if kept slightly on the hungry side. After the first year, one dry fertilizer application a year may enough if regular foliar feeding is done. Adding additional rock minerals annually should continue for several years.
You will enjoy all the various uses of herbs. So plant as many as you can afford. Here are some good easy to grow starting choices. Artemisia is a good moth repellent, the juice from comfrey can be used to stop the itch and sting of insect bites and poison ivy. Mint is used for its wonderful fragrance and many are used in food and herb teas. Other good tea herbs include rosemary, peppermint, lemongrass, oregano, anise hyssop. The vitamins, minerals and medicinal properties of these beautiful plants are substantial. Herb gardens are worth planting if for no other reason than a source for herb teas. Try some herb tea every day. Pick fresh leaves, crush them and put in the tea pot. Pour hot water over the leaves and let steep for at least three minutes and that is all there is to it. See the herb tea chapter for more details.
Even if you only have a small space, a herb garden can be productive and one of the most enjoyable gardens. A planting area as small as 6 feet x 12 feet can make an effective herb garden. Pots can also be used for herbs and can be brought indoors during periods of bad weather. Pots can be planted with herbs such as basil, lemon verbena, savory, mint, peppers, oregano, parsley, chives and bay.
Here are some plant selection guidelines.
BACKGROUND: English lavender, rosemary, comfrey, mullein and wormwood
MIDDLE: Lemon balm, sweet marigold, perilla, purple coneflower, calendula and salad burnet, garden sage, garlic, winter savory, garlic chives, cilantro, and sorrel.
FRONT: Creeping thyme, Greek or native oregano, violets, onion chives, basil, purslane and gotu kola.
BACKGROUND: Elderberry, hoja santa, ginkgo, and perennial hibiscus
MIDDLE: Wormwood, rosemary, southernwood, lemon balm, sweet marigold, perilla, purple coneflower, calendula, salad burnet, garden sage, garlic, winter savory, garlic chives, cilantro and sorrel.
FRONT: Creeping thyme, Greek or native oregano, violets, basil, onion chives, purslane, gotu kola, peppermint and spearmint.
Several of the herbs mentioned above have a rather serious fault - they spread and can become pests. If they are left out of the inventory, you will still have an effective herb garden. Another option is to put them together in a separate area where invasive spreading won’t be a problem. They are elderberry, hoja santa, comfrey, lemon balm and mint. Also garlic, garlic chives and perilla will spread badly if allowed to go to seed. They can also be planted in pots plunged into the soil.
One more note to you new gardeners. Herb gardening should always be organic gardening. First, why would anyone spray poisons on plants that children are encouraged to touch, smell, eat and use to treat wounds. Secondly, herbs are easy to grow without poisonous chemicals. Herbs, like most plants, are easier and more fun to grow with organic techniques. Beauty, delicious taste and good health – what could be better?