Herb Garden Care & Maintenance
I've banged on a length about how easy herbs are to grow and how forgiving they are, but they still need a few vital things to keep them strong and growing well.
A good herb garden will produce bountiful herbal foliage not only for you, but for your neighbours and friends as well.
Here's what you need to do to keep your herbs healthy and happy:
I'm big on no-dig gardening and mulch plays a huge part in no-dig gardens.
Make sure that you add 5-10 centimetres (2-4 inches) of mulch around your herbs. Don't put the mulch right up against the plants, but spread it as close as you can to the crown of the plant.
This does a number of things, it prevents weeds growing in your herb patch, it conserves water by keeping the ground moist and it also regulates the soil temperature.
You can use many materials as a mulch and I use grass clippings (from the little bit of lawn we have left) shredded leaves or compost from the garden.
It goes without saying that all plants need regular watering and herb gardens are no exception.
But take care, some herbs require more water than others.
Your mulch will help to retain moisture and reduce the need for watering, but make sure that you check your Herb garden every day. You'll soon get to know which herbs need more water.
Quick Tip: Your newly planted herbs are going to need watering every day until they get established. You can give your new plants a quick drink of compost tea, or soluble fertiliser when you first plant them out. This will help their new roots get established. Once the plants are established, they they will need less water.
The weather plays a part in how much watering needs to be done as well. I can almost guarantee that it rains soon after I water the garden *grin*
Take special care with water for herbs in pots or containers.
Windy weather will dry out your plants (especially those that are not of mediterranean descent) so keep an eye on your weather and learn about your local micro-climate. What's happening in your garden is going to be different to what's happening in your neighbour's garden as well.
Planting against a brick wall, or a sheltered fence will have an impact on the environment that your herbs are growing in, so remember to take all of that into account when you're thinking about watering.
Herbs are pretty self-sufficient, but they will need a little feeding from time to time. Mainly when they are first transplanted and then again when they are putting on a growth spurt.
Keeping a thick layer of mulch on the ground (especially of home-made compost) will pretty much deal to all of your herb garden's nutritional needs.
If you're growing your herbs in pots or containers then you'll can also look at slow release fertilisers. I'm an 'organic gal myself' so I just like to add a thick layer of compost to the top of the pots, or give my herbs a good soaking in worm tea. Worm tea is great as a feed for the herbs in the garden too. It promotes lots of healthy foliage.
That thick layer of mulch will help to keep the weeds down (and you may even find that some of your herbs become 'weeds' if you're not careful. I'm looking at you, nasturtium!
The only real issue with weeds in a herb garden is that they'll 'steal' the nutrients from your herbs and they're also good at taking much needed water, if you're living in a hot, dry environment.
I believe that a 'weed' is just a plant that's growing where I don't want it...so I'm pretty relaxed about weeds in amongst my herbs.
When I do find them, I just 'chop and drop' them and they become part of the mulch feeding the garden.
"Treat 'em mean" is my motto with herbs.
A well pruned herb plant (if it is a perennial) will continue to produce for you for many years. A well pruned annual will provide you with a lot more foliage than an annual that it not pruned at all.
Pruning also prevents your annuals from going to seed too quickly in summer--here's looking at you Basil!
Pruning also means that you're constantly checking your plants and that means you're on the lookout for any diseases or pests that might be trying to take hold.
Quick Tip: If you follow the advice above, you'll have good, strong growing herbs that won't be susceptible to pests and diseases.
Harvesting & Relocation
If a herb isn't doing well for you in one spot in the garden, don't be afraid to dig it up and move it on. You'll need to give it a good liquid feed once it's been replanted and water it every day until it re-establishes itself, but it should survive.
I've move rosemary and lavender all around my garden until I've found the spot that they thrive.
I'm lucky enough to live in a sub-tropical climate, so I don't get winter snow and I might get one or two light frosts per winter. My herbs all survive well outside through the winter. But if you're living in a cold environment, move your herbs indoors (if they're in pots) or make sure that you put some winter covering over them to they survive the cold months.
As the weather cools, you'll want to do a final harvest so you can dry and store your herbs for the coming winter.
Many herbs die back and go dormant over the winter months (mints, oregano, sage, chives, thyme) but they will come away again in the spring. I'm blessed to be able to harvest most herbs right through my sub-tropical winter.
If you're vigilant about looking after your herbs, they'll provide you with plenty of aromatic and tasty leaves and flowers for many, many months.
Home grown herbs add a special 'zing' to a culinary meal, they add colour and a fresh bite to salads and they're fantastic additions to tea.
My love affair with herbs has been going on for many years, I hope that you find the same passion for these beautiful and abundant plants.