Monday, March 12, 2018

Not all Herbs are created Equal

When choosing herbs to go into your garden or herb garden you must recognize that not all herbs are the same.  They need different growing conditions, they have different habits, they even come in different colors.  For the most part all herbs need full sun which is defined as 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day, they enjoy a well-drained soil with a moderate amount of water.  Herb as weed-like so they can survive less than perfect conditions by growing more slowly or producing less leaves and flowers.  However, some actually thrive in different conditions, so it helps you know your plants a bit better.  I am going to present few terms you might find in books or on seed packets and what that means to growing certain herbs.


Some herbs are annuals, these herbs are not cold hardy and have a single season growing habit that produces flowers and seeds for next year.  Many, like dill, have seed you can use to cook with as well as the leaves.  However, these plants are always trying to make seed so harvesting and cutting flowers off will increase their size and deter their natural habit.  Chervil, summer savory, any basil, cilantro, and dill are all annuals, but are easily grown from seed sown directly into the garden patch.

Dill – sow seeds bi-weekly for a continuous crop of this annual, giving you leaves and seeds to use in cooking.

Fennel - bronze Fennel is pretty with darker leaves than it green cousin and it is an annual you can grow easily from seed. Here it looks great flanked by Swiss Chard

Hardy Perennials

Some are hardy perennials, these will come back year after year producing many branches to be cut and used or dried.  They sprout early and sometimes depending on the weather you can actually get a hefty harvest in April even in the colder north. Mints, lavender, catnip, lemon balm, oregano, all are hardy perennials.

Apple Mint

Pineapple Mint
Mints – you can enjoy the many sub species to get different flavors, like Orange Mint, Mojito Mint, Chocolate Mint or Lemon Mint.

Tender Perennial

Tender perennials can come back year after year, but generally are not hardy below 32 degrees so if you live in the north you treat them as an annual or bring them in for winter, but in the south you may, with protection, be able to winter them over. Examples of a tender perennial include, rosemary, scented geraniums, pineapple sage, bay laurel and marjoram.

Marjoram -- is a tender perennial and many people grow it as an annual and harvest it to the ground before the first frost in the fall.


Between tender and hardy perennials are the biennials.  These are herbs that come up a second year, but in that second year they are planning to flower and produce seed and not much else.  Many, like parsley and angelica, become less tasty during the second year and are often grown as annuals.

Parsley - this leafy plant grows in whorls close to the ground, but sprouts into a stock in the second year when producing seed.

Woody Shrub

Woody shrubs are herbs with a strong woody stem and can be grown in the landscape as a shrub or in the herb garden as a perennial.  These would include sage, winter savory and even the tender perennial lemon verbena. Some people consider lavender a woody shrub because it is often grown as a hedge, but the stems rarely get woody.

Common Garden Sage

Sage is attractive and comes in several varieties including purple and tri color, however the colored varieties are not as hardy as the original.

Tri-color Sage

Other Textures and Conditions

Some familiar herbs come different colors or textures, like tri-color sage, bronze fennel, golden oregano, variegated lemon balm.
Golden Lemon Balm
Some herbs love a dry area, like thyme which works great in a path or a rock garden.  

thyme in a stone walkway

You can also enjoy some great varieties here, with creeping thyme that has a great pink/purple flower; or variegated lemon thyme that adds color and other thyme varieties with different shades of green or white highlights like silver thyme, or Wedgewood thyme.
Golden Thyme
variegated lemon thyme
A few herbs even like wetter conditions, like Marsh Mallow or Meadowsweet.

Marsh Mallow - This bog dweller sends up tall spikes of lovely pink flowers and stately foliage. Reaching up to 6 feet in height, marsh mallow prefers full sun. Its seeds, flowers and leaves are edible, and yes its root is used to make marshmallows

Meadowsweet - Meadowsweet’s frothy cream-colored flowers and fragrant leaves are very useful. The plants grows 2 to 6 feet tall and is happy in moist or wet soil, in sun or part shade.

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