Herbs for Southern Gardens
If your garden isn't complete until it includes herbs. The culinary herbs we grow today are the remnants of a vast array of food, medicinal and magical plants used by people since time began. Herbs are aromatic plants, parts of which have very pleasing odors and tastes. They are used to season and enrich the aroma and flavor of certain foods and to concoct various drinks and beverages.
The use of herbs dates back to ancient times, when they were a part of many medicines. Today, some are grown commercially for use in medicines, perfumes and many other products.
Why Grow Herbs?
You'll enjoy growing herbs and using them skillfully in cooking. In addition to their culinary uses, many herbs can be a valuable part of the landscape plan. They can be used to provide color, as hedges, borders and specimen plants, or they can be arranged in rock gardens.
The same general cultural practices used in successful vegetable and flower gardening are satisfactory for herbs. Just a few plants of each variety will be sufficient for your needs.
Herbs are either annual, biennial or perennial in their growth cycle, depending on the species and variety. Keep this in mind when you locate them in the garden.
If herbs are to be grown as a part of your vegetable or flower garden, care for and maintain them as you do the flowers.
But if you choose to grow herbs in a separate planting or garden, the following suggestions should be helpful.
Which Ones To Grow?
If you are a beginner, include at least these six herbs the first year: sweet basil, chervil, sweet marjoram, thyme, rosemary and tarragon. You can also add chives, parsley and summer savory. See listing for some recomemded herbs for the Southeast.
Annuals and biennials are usually grown from seed sown directly in the garden. However, it is often best to start perennials from seed or cuttings in a window box, coldframe or other suitable forcing structure.
Take late cuttings in the summer from the terminals and intermediate portions of the current season's stem growth. These usually root quite well. Remove leaves to reduce the leaf area by about two-thirds. Leave only the buds and young leaves on the upper one-third of the cutting. Make cuts diagonally across the stem with a sharp knife. To prevent wilting, place in water immediately after removing from the plant.
A satisfactory rooting bed can be made from a glass-covered shallow box containing four or five inches of clean sand. Moisten the sand and insert the cuttings one-half to two-thirds of their length. Replace the glass cover, leaving a one-half- to oneinch opening along one side of the box for ventilation. Raise the glass along one side on hot, sunny days to increase ventilation.
Keep the sand moist. Keep the plants out of direct sunlight for a week or two to prevent wilting.
During this period, cover the glass with paper or cheesecloth, or place the box on the shaded side of the house. In four to six weeks, move the cuttings to pots or coldframes for the winter. See Extension Bulletin 628 for additional information on propagation.Harvesting and Curing Volatile, essential oils contained in small glands in the leaves, seed and fruits give herbs their flavor and aroma. These and occasionally the roots of different herbs-are the parts used for flavoring and seasoning. Those parts to be used must be harvested at the right time and properly cured and stored so they will retain their flavor.
Use the young, tender leaves fresh at any time during the season. Harvest them when the plants begin to flower. Wash in cold water and dry rapidly in a well ventilated, darkened room if they are to be stored for winter use.
When curing herb leaves, you must retain their green color. The amount of moisture in the leaves depends on the kind of plant and determines the curing process. The tender-leaf herbs (basil, costmary, tarragon, lemon balm and the mints) have a high moisture content. They must be dried rapidly in the dark if they are to retain their green color. Drying too slowly causes them to turn dark or mold. A well ventilated, darkened room, such as an attic, is ideal.
Sage, rosemary, thyme and summer savory have a low moisture content. They can be partially dried in the sun. But avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight.
Harvest seed crops when the seed are matureusually when their color changes from green to brown or gray. You can get seed from annuals for next year's crop by allowing a few plants to remain undisturbed until completely mature. Then harvest and thoroughly dry the seed before storing. Seed stored with too much moisture lose some of their viability and quality. After curing, spread the seed in full sunlight for a day or so before storing.Storing Remove the leaves from the stems, cure and pack in airtight, light-proof containers. Use glass jars painted black or store them in a darkened area to prevent loss of color. Use an airtight storage container to keep the leaves from losing their essential oils and their delicate flavor. Top Home