By Keri Byrum
Growing and harvesting herbs is one of the most rewarding gardening activities. I love going just a few steps to our back deck and selecting the herbs I need — full of flavor and nutrients. Here are five tips for growing and harvesting herbs this season:
1. Don’t be afraid to use your herbs. Your plants benefit from being picked regularly. Consistent harvesting keeps herbs actively growing and producing more of the delicious flavors you desire. Most herbs, especially basil, grow better when trimmed regularly because this keeps the plant from flowering so it concentrates instead on foliage. For herbs with small leaves, such as the oregano, pictured, hold on to the top of the fibrous stem and pull down to easily remove the leaves.
2. Use large containers. If you grow herbs in pots, get large ones that give plants room to grow. A large container needs watering less often than a small one — saving you a lot of time! Containers also give you the ability to grow herbs in small spaces or even without a yard.
3. Grow what you eat. Start with herbs you buy at the grocery store most often. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon spp.) isn’t an herb my grandma would have grown, but I’ve started cooking with it, so it made a good addition to our herb garden. It’s best to cut the thick stalks of lemongrass at the base and use the very fleshy part in dishes. Lemongrass can grow very large, so take advantage of its drought tolerance by planting it in an area without irrigation, where it can grow big without being in the way.
4. Know your “pests.” Don’t be surprised if you see caterpillars on your herbs. Parsley, dill, and fennel are all favorite foods for Black Swallowtail caterpillars. It is up to each gardener to decide how to handle this situation. I’ve just planted extra plants I move the caterpillars onto when I find them. Other than caterpillars, most herbs have very few pest issues.
5. Plan for each season. The hot and humid summers of the Gulf Coast can make a few herbs difficult to grow, cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) in particular. This year try growing culantro (Eryngium foetidum) instead. The leaves look quite different from cilantro, but the flavor is the same, and this plant thrives during the hottest part of the year. Once the weather cools slightly in fall, plant cilantro for the winter months.
You can grow your own herbs this year and save a lot of money too. Herb gardening is a great way to have the most flavorful and fresh food possible, and it doesn’t require much space or time. You can keep it as simple as you wish, but the important part is: Just get started!