Herb Gardens: A Tasty Way to Learn

Herb Gardens: A Tasty Way to Learn

As spring approaches, the time to plan and implement gardens is at hand. If you have wanted to get into this hobby but have been intimidated by the avalanche of information, consider an herb garden. This collection of plants is grown primarily for their aromatic properties and culinary use but are robust making them optimal for getting your feet wet in gardening. They may be grown in a variety of spaces including in-ground, containers, and as companion plants in existing gardens. They are very forgiving with similar growth condition requirements and may be propagated easily from cuttings or seeds. Moreover, herbs have a place in supporting the beneficial insects in your landscape.

What is an Herb, and How do they Grow                            

Herb is a broad term applied to a group of plants whose leaves or stems are used for various purposes. This is an important distinction as they must be differentiated from spices, which find their origins in a plant’s non-leafy structures. It is important to note that some plants, such as cilantro, may be considered both. In this case, the leaves are a culinary herb, but the seeds are a spice called coriander. These are subtle, but important distinctions.

Many culinary herbs fall into the Lamiaceae family, commonly called the mint family. They run the gamut of life cycles as annuals, biennials, and perennials giving the grower a range of plants from which to choose. You’ll do best by mixing these life cycles to optimize successional plantings to provide a constant supply of herbs for your kitchen.

As with all gardening, everything begins with soil testing. Knowing the pH and texture of your soil will inform your management practices. Aim for a slightly acidic soil with a pH of around 6.5 and a loamy texture. I can hear you all out there, what does loamy texture mean? Soil consists of sand, silt, and clay.  Loamy refers to soil with an equal proportion of these particles. It is desirable in gardening as it lends to a balance of moisture retention and drainage while providing nutrient-holding capability. These are desirable traits for any growth medium.

What Herbs Should I Grow

At this point, you are probably getting anxious for me to tell you what the easiest herbs to grow happen to be. Below are three herbs that will make you wonder why you delayed entering into this hobby.

One of the easiest and most useful is rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus). This woody perennial is drought tolerant and pest resistant, making it wonderful for new and old gardeners. It prefers well-drained soil and may need some protection in the winter. This plant is easy to shape and propagates best via cutting. Rosemary flowers in the winter to spring time frame serving as an early season support for pollinators such as bees. Plant this herb in the spring, and be sure not to overwater or use too much fertilizer.

Rosemary bush
UF/IFAS Photo: J. Criss
Rosemary Flower
UF/IFAS Photo: J. Criss

Basil (Ocimum spp.) comes in a wide variety of cultivars. The wide selection is likely due to this herb’s presence in multiple cultures covering at least three continents. This herbaceous annual prefers morning sun with some afternoon shade and well-draining soil. Plant from seed or cutting after the last chance for frost has passed. Harvest leaves for culinary use and keep the plant in vegetative growth by pinching the flower stalks through the summer. Once you’ve had all you need for the year, go ahead and let the flowers bloom. Pollinators will swarm these plants, and you will receive all the seeds you need for next year’s planting.

African Blue Basil
UF/IFAS Photo: J. Criss

Finally, among the easily grown herbs is oregano. This herb is split into two main cultivars in Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) and European oregano (Origanum vulgare). They differ in taste but are often used the same way. This herb prefers full sun and is a hardy perennial that will self seed. It may be propagated from cutting, seed, or division.

Oregano in the Santa Rosa Extension Garden
UF/IFAS Photo: J. Criss

Those outlined here are but a few of the options for herb gardens. Herbs are a wonderful way to get your feet wet in gardening. Being easy to grow and propagate, they will provide a masterclass in plant care and flavorings for your dinner. Use herbs in your garden to feed yourself, as a pollinator benefit, or to attract predatory insects to your garden. For more information on herb gardens, see these Ask IFAS documents, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Herbs and Cool Season Edibles Wrap Up

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Herbs and Cool Season Edibles Wrap Up

In case you missed it, you can watch our last session of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! that aired on October 12th by visiting our YouTube Playlist with all the past episodes of our gardening webinars.

We had a great conversation about herbs and cool season edible plants last month and this article compiles the links shared by the expert panel in the episode. Thanks for watching!

Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide

Rhubarb – Texas Style

Getting started with cilantro


Natural Products for Managing Landscape and Garden Pests

Cover Crop for the Edible Garden

Cool-Season Vegetables      

4 panels of faces
Fantastic Fennel

Fantastic Fennel

If you are looking for a low maintenance plant that has attractive foliage and flowers and attracts wildlife, consider planting fennel.  Fennel was planted in the pollinator garden at the Extension office in Bay County as a butterfly host plant for swallowtail butterflies in 2014 and has been a showstopper ever since. Fennel is a short-lived evergreen perennial that will reseed in the garden, but it is easy to remove plants if you get too many. It performs well in full sun to light shade and is quite drought tolerant once established.

The fernlike foliage has a delicate texture that contrasts with most landscape plants. Large umbels of tiny yellow flowers reach for the sky each spring and attract lots of pollinators and butterflies to the garden. Fennel is a culinary herb and leaves, flowers, and seeds can be used to season dishes with the mildly licorice flavor.

Herb Gardening: When Oregano is Flavorless

Herb Gardening: When Oregano is Flavorless

As an avid herb gardener, I have often wondered why my oregano is often flavorless when incorporated into meals but still smells strong when handled in the garden. Thankfully our herb demonstration garden at UF/IFAS Extension Washington County Office was a site of a gigantic but flavorless oregano plant, so I was determined to solve the mystery as to why.  

Healthy green oregano, although this selection is flavorless, is very pretty  (Image Credit: Matthew Orwat)
Healthy green oregano, although this selection is flavorless, is very pretty (Image Credit: Matthew Orwat)

Although most herb gardeners expect oregano to be pungent and flavorful, some selections don’t measure up. These plants usually possess the usual pleasant oregano odor but lack the intensity of flavor expected from the herb.

Common oregano, scientific name Origanum vulgare, is an open pollinated species and is grown from seed and sometimes cuttings. As such, it offers some level of genetic variation in the pungency of a given plant. Thus, when shopping for common oregano at a garden center one is likely to get stuck with a less than potent plant.

The good news is that there are quite a few named selections available of Origanum vulgare. The hybrid of Origanum vulgare, known as Italian oregano (Origanum x majoricum), is much more flavorful, as are some of the other cultivated varieties such as Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare var. hirtum). Although all of these may also be easily reproduced from seed, propagation from division or cuttings will ensure that the plant you have is a clone of the desired selection instead of a seedling with variable genetic traits.

In summation, the best strategy to employ when selecting flavorful oregano for the herb garden is to look for named varieties of oregano or subspecies such as Italian oregano. Also, it never hurts to sample the herb you are about to purchase to determine its potency!

For more information about growing herbs in Florida, please consult this (Herbs and Spices in the Florida Garden) EDIS publication or contact your local extension agent.

5 Tips for Adding Cool Season Herbs to Your Fall Landscape

5 Tips for Adding Cool Season Herbs to Your Fall Landscape

By: Khadejah Scott
Extension Agent, Horticulture/Agriculture/Natural Resources
UF/IFAS Extension Wakulla County

It is common for homeowners to have to pick between design and function when planning their fall landscape. However, combining the two can result in a stunning display in the yard. In North Florida, several herbs do well in the cool weather of the fall. While herb gardens will always be famous, there are other understated, yet successful ways to incorporate herbs into the fall landscape this year.  Herb gardening in the fall is not difficult; with a bit of forethought and creativity, you can use herbs to revamp an existing bed or create a brand-new one.

Herbs can be more than culinary specimens in the fall landscape. Herbs give a wide range of hues that enhance the landscape’s color, giving depth and contrast to your current garden. Fill the gaps around, between, and beneath your existing flowers to frame them without taking away from their beauty. The variety of herb foliage textures adds interest to your landscape; you can alternate between glossy, velvety, soft, and hairy surfaces. Many herbs also have insect-repelling qualities that aid in pest management. Meanwhile, the herbs also attract beneficial insects and pollinators to the garden, which are vital for the well-being and growth of other landscape plants.

One of the first stages of enjoying your garden is deciding its function. What and how you grow will be influenced by an end-use. For example, simple access to fresh herbs while you cook could mean planting them next to your back door. You want those vibrant flavors near your hand if you need a sprig. Space also needs to be considered while planning because plants will mature swiftly and flush out nicely, taking up more space. Each plant’s height and spread affects how much light it receives. Plant your more striking, upright herbs further back, giving plenty of room for low-lying, creeping herbs to be planted closer to the front where they may still receive sufficient light. At least six hours of direct sunlight each day are required for cool-season herbs. They will also need well-drained soil and adequate watering. Knowing each plant’s unique requirements can help homeowners care for herbs and identify unforeseen problems. Reinvent the way herbs have been grown in the past and incorporate their colors, textures, and blooms. For more information about planning your fall garden, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.

Here are 5 ways to add cool season herbs to your fall landscape.

  • Containers: Growing herbs in containers offers the flexibility of moving them. Potted herb gardens may be a perfect solution for small spaces like patios and balconies. Dill and fennel are great options for large containers.
  • Groundcovers: Herbs that grow slowly and crawl, such as thyme, complement walkways and do nicely between paving stones.
  • Borders: Herbs that form low mounds, such as oregano, make good borders, paths, and driveways.
  • Low Hedges: Garden sage and other taller herbs create great low hedges that can aid in defining the boundaries of outdoor spaces.
  • Softening Hardscapes: The billowing nature of cilantro and parsley herbs makes them perfect candidates for softening the hard edges of stone and concrete.
Plan on Doing a Fall Garden, Plan Now!

Plan on Doing a Fall Garden, Plan Now!

Yay, we are halfway through with August and our summer is winding down!  This is the perfect time to start prepping for that fall garden.   Growing a productive fall vegetable garden requires thoughtful planning and good cultural practices.  This process consists of selecting a site, planning the garden, preparing the soil, choosing the seeds and plants, planting a crop, and nurturing the plants until harvest time.  In the Florida Panhandle it can be a challenge to get cool season crops started; there is a balance in starting them early enough to allow them to mature (50-60 days) before a hard frost and getting them through the end of a hot summer.

August and September are the main planting times for a fall garden.  There are several cool-season crops and a final crop of warm-season vegetables that can be planted.  Some good warm season crops are lima beans, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes.  Going into September it will be a good time to establish strawberry plants.  Some good vegetables to start growing just around the corner are broccoli, carrots, cabbage, collards, mustard, and Swiss chard.  https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/NorthFloridaGardeningCalendar  Herbs that do well are cilantro, parsley, and lemongrass. Mint, oregano, and thyme should be planted in containers as they tend to spread. Mexican tarragon, mint, rosemary, and basil will also do well in September. See Herbs: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_herbs

Transplants from the local garden center will get the garden off to a fast start while seeds will offer more varieties to choose from.  It is also important to think about your location.  A vegetable garden can be in the ground, a raised bed, or even grown in containers.  Your plants will need more than just a place to grow.  They will also need sunlight, water, air, soil, fertilizer, and care.  Most vegetables require at least 8 hours of sunlight.   Keep an eye out for pest problems such as insects, diseases and weeds because they will continue to flourish in warm temperatures and high humidity. To help conserve soil moisture a layer of newspaper and mulch can be placed between the rows.  Mulch also aids in weed control. 

Raised beds are an excellent way to get started with gardening. Photo by Molly Jameson.

The result of a beautiful, successful vegetable garden is fresh produce to eat, share with neighbors, family, and friends and even the possibility to sell your harvest.  With patience and practice your gardening skills will improve every year!  Follow the above few tips and you will be well on your way to a great harvest!  For more information about starting a fall garden or any other horticultural or agricultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Happy Gardening