Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
December, 2009
Regional Report

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Mexican mint marigold is a great multipurpose plant, serving as a culinary herb, attractive late season flower, and beneficial insect attracting plant.

Herbs Provide Beauty, Fragrance, and Flavor

Traditional herb gardens provide symmetric design in a landscape. Yet herbs are not just for the herb garden. They work well in vegetable and flower gardens, in mixed contain plantings, or scattered about the landscape.

Herbs are perhaps best known for their culinary uses. They add the distinct flavor of our favorite cuisines. Mild or savory herbs impart a delicate flavor to food while the stronger or pungent herbs add zest.

Other herbs are medicinal, providing health benefits. Still others contain essential oils valued for their fragrance. Some provide important nourishment to beneficial insects. And many are quite attractive, offering ornamental value in addition to their other attributes.

Consider using herbs in unique ways in your landscape. Plant a group of herbs for making flavored teas. Intersperse herbs with blooms that feed beneficial insects in your vegetable garden. Use trailing herbs to spill over the edge of a container. Place a few fragrant herbs along a garden path.

The ornamental value of herbs enables them to be used in flower beds, borders, rock gardens, or corner plantings. Some herbs are annuals while others are perennial or come up year after year. You can locate annual herbs in your annual flower garden or vegetable garden.

Care for the herb garden will be similar to your vegetable or flower garden. Select a sunny, well-drained location. Apply a slow-release fertilizer in spring at the rate of 2 pounds per 100 square feet.

Water as necessary during dry periods. Generally, you need about one inch of water per week, if not supplied by natural rainfall. A mulch will help conserve soil moisture and reduce weed growth as well. The mints prefer moist soil so they will require more frequent watering.

Annual and biennial herbs can be established by planting the seed directly in the garden or starting seeds indoors for later transplanting to the garden. You can save seed produced by the herb plants for next year's crop or purchase fresh seed each year.

To save your own seed, harvest the entire seed head after it has dried on the plant. The seeds should then be allowed to dry in a protected location that is cool and dry. After the seeds are thoroughly dry, thresh the seed from the seed heads and discard the trash. Store in labeled jars in a dark, cool, dry location.

Some herb seeds such as dill, anise, caraway, or coriander can be used for flavorings.

Perennial herbs can be propagated by cuttings or by division. Divide plants every three to four years in the early spring. The plants should be dug up and cut into several sections. You can also cut 4- to 6-inch sections of the stem and root these by placing the cuttings in moist sand in a shady area. In four to eight weeks, roots should form on these cuttings.

Many of the herbs we grow today are from the Mediterranean region of the world and thus hot, dry summer weather suits them perfectly. All too often gardeners lose herbs because they don't have good enough drainage (they really do best in a raised bed) or because they don't have them in the right exposure. Most require sun. The mints and a few other herbs will grow well in shade or partial shade.

If you've let the fact that you don't want a traditional herb garden keep you from planting herbs, rethink these wonderful plants. Include some in your landscape beds, vegetable and flower gardens, and container plantings. Herbs are versatile and have a lot to offer any garden or landscape!

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