HERB GARDENING FOR DUMMIES
by Janet Baker
OK, I realize this title sounds rude. But now that I have your attention, please read on…
Once upon a time, I thought it would be fun to have a nice, neat little herb garden where, like a picture in a magazine, each plant grew within the bounds of its own territory. Using small river rocks, I carefully sectioned up a half-circle into six perfect pie shapes. I threw in a handful of mulch and some plants. Never minding the various watering/sun/shade requirements, I bought all the stuff I liked and felt pretty darn proud of myself. Wrong! In no time, the oregano was marching around engulfing everything in its path. The dill quickly keeled over in the heat, while the basil grew monstrously large and subsequently froze that winter. The catnip, which was supposed to be for the cat (who ignored it), got way out of hand, and I discovered that I never even use sage or chives! And, whatever was I thinking when I put lamb’s ears in there? Therefore, I humbly offer these tips on getting it right the first time:
- Prepare your planting bed as you would for a flower garden. Dig about eight 1.5 cubic foot bags of organic material into the top 12 inches of soil per 100 square feet. This will provide good drainage, nutrients, and moisture retention.
- Pay attention to labels that give the plant’s size at maturity.
- Plant only what you really think you’ll use.
- Herbs require routine pinching and pruning in order to thicken up.
- Many herbs need some shade. If in doubt about your choice, consult your nursery professional.
- Watering needs can vary. Rosemary, for instance, demands much less than basil.
- Just like flowers and vegetables, there are cool-season herbs and warm-season herbs. Dill and parsley enjoy winter sunshine but can’t take our summer heat.
- Once your plants are established, go lightly on the fertilizer. Too much lush growth can lead to disease and pests.
- Mint is a notorious greedy invader and is best grown in pots. Also avoid planting mints together as their flavors tend to intermingle.
- Pest control is best handled with a strong spray of water or chemicals that are organically based.
- Herbs can be grown from seed, but this is time-consuming and troublesome. You’re much better off buying good, healthy plants from the nursery. Plant selection is best in fall and spring.
- And finally, whether you decide to use herbs for cooking, healing, or fragrance, don’t be afraid to experiment. Sometimes a little failure is the best teacher!
Janet Baker is a former sales associate of Harlow Gardens and an avid Tucson gardener.
5620 E. Pima St., Tucson, AZ 85712