By David Yost, Merrifield Plant Specialist
Herbs are a great way to take the plunge into growing your own edibles. They have a wide variety of uses, many are easy to grow and they can be planted in any size space! You can use herbs to add fresh flavors to dishes, create teas and other refreshing drinks, or just enjoy for their beauty and delicious scents.
By establishing a herb garden on your patio, windowsill, or balcony you can reap the benefits of its fresh flavors and aromas all summer long. Whether you are growing herbs indoors or out, it’s best to place them in a location where they will receive at least 6 hours of sunlight each day.
The following easy to grow varieties are some of the most flexible and most can handle a variety of conditions.
Basil is a fast-growing herb that is a favorite among gardeners of all levels. Best known for its rich peppery flavor and fresh aroma, I love using basil in pizza, pasta, salads and sauces. Basil does not need quite as much sun as other herbs in our list and likes to be kept moist. When growing basil, be sure to prune the flowering tops to allow new leaf growth.
Chives have one of the most beautiful blooms of all the herbs on this list: vibrant clusters of purple flowers. The leaves are also delightful as they give off a light spring onion flavor. If you are intimidated of growing herbs, start with chives—they are by far the easiest to grow! To harvest this herb, simply cut at the base of the plant, one to two inches above the soil, as if trimming grass and bring your fresh cut chives right to the kitchen. Do not cut more than a third of the plant off at a time to allow healthy regrowth.
Mint gives off a strong aroma and flavor that can be used in appetizers, entrées, desserts and cocktails. Try adding it to homemade tzatziki or steeping to make tea. Mint is a very aggressive spreader, so you will want to plant it separately from your other herbs in a pot or container. To harvest mint, you can cut the stems up to one inch from the ground or just pick the leaves as you need.
Delicious fresh and dried, rosemary brings wonderful flavor to your meat and poultry dishes all year long. This herb is drought tolerant and requires little maintenance, making it a great option for gardener’s who travel frequently or have a tendency to neglect their plants. There are many varieties of rosemary, so you want to look to buy varieties that are winter hardy, such as ARP Rosemary, Trailing Rosemary and Salem Rosemary. When gathering rosemary, pick the new, fresh growth at the top of the plant, leaving the old stalk alone.
Oregano is best known for its frequent debut in Italian dishes. This herbs flavor is strongest during the summer. Oregano grows wild all over the Mediterranean and is a very easy herb to grow at home. You can harvest oregano leaves as you need them. The leaves will be filled with the most flavor right before the flowers bloom in the summer.
Lavender’s vibrant color and lovely scent will make your herb garden pop. This versatile herb can be used in baking, cooking, teas, candles and even in a variety of home remedies. It is very easy to grow, just plant it in well-drained soil and your lavender will flourish. When harvesting, treat it the same as rosemary, leaving the old stalk alone and cutting off newer growth.
Thyme is great to use when cooking meats and vegetables. Thyme is a very low-maintenance herb, which thrives when you let it be and allow nature to take its course. Collect thyme leaves as you need them, although they will be packed with the most flavor in the summer just before the plants bloom.