- Know the herb’s background:
- Keep your herbs strong:
- Weeding & thinning:
- Controlling Pests
- Harvesting Herbs
Many common herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano come from the Mediterranean, where the temperatures are mild and the soils are well-drained. Other herbs like mint prefer wetter soils. Mimicking these conditions will help these herbs develop the best flavor.
Soak the soil when it’s dry to 4 inches deep. Over-fertilizing herbs will cause them to be less flavorful and can encourage pests. Apply a little fertilizer only if the leaves turn yellow. Some herbs, such as basil, tarragon, and chives require more fertilization. Fertilize these herbs once a month starting in the spring with a soluble low-nitrogen fertilizer such as fish emulsion. Soft herbs, like basil, rot easily in cool, wet soil. Keep these herbs in raised beds or containers with good drainage.
Carefully remove annual weeds as they germinate, hand pull perennial weeds when found and avoid letting any weeds go to seed. Be careful around perennial herbs such as oregano & lavender for they have more extensive and widespread root systems. Care should be taken not to disturb the roots when weeding. Other perennial herbs such as chives, mint, oregano, rosemary, thyme, tarragon and lavender need periodic pruning and winter protection in cold climates. In the spring, trim the woody growth off the lavender, sage, thyme, and rosemary to shape and rejuvenate. Chives, sage, mint, and tarragon are hardy and are able to withstand harsh winters. However, rosemary should be grown in pots and brought indoors during the winter months.
Control aphids, whiteflies, and mealybugs with insecticidal soap to control them. Some caterpillars will eat parsley and dill. Hand-pick individual caterpillars. Beetles, including Japanese beetles love basil. Trap or hand-pick beetles in the morning hours to control.
When and how you harvest your herbs will make a difference in their potency. Most herbs taste best when harvested mid-morning, when the weather has been clear and dry for a few days.
Chives — Harvest six weeks after planting or as established plants sprout in the spring. Snip as needed. The flowers are edible but be sure to remove them before they seed.
Cilantro — Harvest when the leaves are 4-6 inches tall. The whole plant is edible.
Basil — Harvest just as the plant starts to bud. Snip off the branches instead of individual leaves to stimulate more growth. Remove the flowers to encourage more leafy growth.
Dill — Harvest 8 weeks after planting.
Mint — Harvest as needed, cutting back the plants occasionally to rejuvenate. The highest oil content in the leaves occurs at full flower in mid-summer.
Oregano — Harvest leaves as needed. Trim back plants before flowering to promote more growth.
Parsley — Harvest as needed. Cut entire stalks from the outer portion of the plant. Transfer to pots (if in beds) and bring indoors in the fall for indoor use during the winter.
Sage — Harvest as needed. Wait until the second year after planting to harvest leaves heavily.
Thyme — Harvest as needed. Use the leaves and young stems with leaves attached. Trim plants in the spring to encourage growth.
Rosemary — Harvest sprigs before flowering. Shape plants in early spring.
Tarragon — Harvest in early summer for the best flavor. Prune back plants in early spring to reduce height by a third.
Marjoram — Harvest when flowers appear in early summer. Cut back plants to the soil line in early summer. Repeat a second time in mid-summer.
Fresh herbs are truly essential to fine cooking. They are really easy to grow (trust me — I am not known for my green thumb and even I can do it!). All that is needed is a few feet of soil near the kitchen or a few pots around your porch or deck.