By Marty Ross
What would summer be without garden-fresh herbs? Herbs have to tolerate challenging conditions in Midwestern gardens, but they are easy to grow here if you know their requirements.
When you start an herb garden, place your favorites at the top of your plant list. Parsley, pictured, and basil are two herbs many cooks consider essential. A handful of newly picked basil or parsley is all you need to dress a perfect summer salad of homegrown tomatoes.
But there’s no need to limit your repertoire, because herbs are so easy to grow. Most herbs grow best in well-drained soil in a sunny place. Part sun is fine for basil and parsley, but if they grow leggy and do not flourish, they need a little more sunshine. Rosemary, pictured, thrives in full sun and tolerates drought. If you grow herbs in a pot, group those with the same requirements: thyme, oregano, and sage are excellent companions.
Or try different kinds of basil in one pot. Thai basil, pictured, is so pretty, you may not want to pick it. But the leaves have a great, spicy flavor. They’re delicious on pizza, or as a jaunty garnish in a glass of sparkling lemonade.
Basil and dill are excellent companions in a pot or flowerbed, alongside marigolds or other summer annuals.
Basil, dill, and parsley are all annuals — just like marigolds, they are warm-season plants that only live until frost. Thyme, oregano, sage, and rosemary are perennials. They typically survive winters in the Midwest, although you may need to start with new plants after an especially harsh winter.
Mint is also a perennial herb, best grown in a pot. Mint has a well-earned reputation as a garden bully, and it spreads through a flowerbed much faster than you can harvest it.
Start your herb garden with plants instead of seeds, and you can pick kitchen herbs right away. Plants in peat pots transplant easily. Cut the label off the pot, and peel the peat container away from the soil and roots. You can use pieces of the peat pot as mulch to keep soil from splashing up on the leaves of newly transplanted herbs.
Whatever herbs you favor, plant them now, cut them often, and experiment with them a lot in your favorite summer recipes. Cutting herbs for the kitchen encourages the plants to grow even more vigorously. Plant them in flowerbeds, pots, or a window box near the kitchen door, so you use them often.