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For The Garden

Growing Culinary Herbs

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: September, 2010, Page 122
Culinary herbs are fun to grow and ideal for beginning gardeners. They offer an inexpensive way to obtain a green thumb, while their enticing flavors and aromas provide quick gratification.

GROWING TIPS   
Herbs thrive with six to eight hours of sun daily, even in the low desert. Whether planting in the ground or containers, herbs prefer morning to early afternoon sunlight, with protection from hot afternoon sun.

Transplant herbs from 2- to 4-inch pots, or organize a seed exchange with friends. Plant in improved garden soil or in pots that are at least 12 inches deep and wide, with drainage holes. Larger pots are fine, too, but avoid small pots because soil will heat up and dry out quickly in the low desert, stressing roots. In containers, combine herbs with similar moisture and sun requirements. Many herbs are forgiving of less than perfect conditions as long as they have excellent soil drainage; they dislike having their roots languish in wet soil.

Our lengthy cool-growing season runs from September through April, providing optimal conditions for growing most culinary herbs. (Basil is a notable exception. It thrives in warm weather and does best if planted when soil warms in March.) Be ready to cover herbs with frost cloth or old sheets if a freeze is predicted.

When temperatures heat up in spring, annual herbs will flower and go to seed. Many established perennial herbs will survive the summer if provided with consistent soil moisture and a top dressing of organic mulch. Sometimes, however, summer is just too stressful on plants, or they have reached the ends of their productive life spans and die. Do not be discouraged—simply replant next fall.

HERB COMBOS
Visit local nurseries or botanical garden plant sales this fall to mix and match herbs that suit your taste buds and cooking needs. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Pizza Bowl
Recipe: Garlic chives, marjoram, oregano and thyme.
Tip
: Marjoram and oregano flavors vary; pinch, sniff and taste a leaf before buying. Luscious Lemon

Recipe
: Lemon grass, lemon thyme and lemon verbena.
Tip: Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) leaves will grow 2 feet tall. Plant at the back or center of a tall container, tuck trailing lemon thyme up front, and fill in with verbena. Lemon balm is another option, although it prefers less sun than the others.

Fabulous Foliage
Recipe: Bronze fennel, chives, curly leaf parsley, ‘Golden’ sage and variegated silver thyme.
Tip: Create a tableau of varied leaf colors, shapes and textures to please the eye.

Kitty Pot
Recipe: Catnip (Nepeta cataria) or lemon catnip (N. cataria ‘Citriodora’).
Tip: Scatter seeds or add transplants to a shallow wok-style bowl that provides kitty ready access for rolling in ecstasy.

BEST BETS
Sow or transplant the following herbs from September (as weather cools) through October:
Easy to grow from seeds—chives (P)  cilantro (A)*  dill (A)*  German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) (A) sweet (or seed) fennel (P)*  parsley (A)*  salad burnet (P)
Easy to grow from transplants—lemon grass (P)   marjoram (P)   mint (P)**  oregano (P)  rosemary (P)  sage (P) thyme (P)

(A) Annual; (P) Perennial
*Plants in the carrot family have long taproots that do not transplant easily. Soak seeds in water overnight before sowing to enhance germination. **Mints spread invasively in gardens. Arizona Herb Association suggests an easy planting trick to control their spread at azherb.org/tips/TrapMint.pdf.
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