Herbs are plants that are used whole or in parts for flavor, fragrance and health.
Most herbs prefer well-drained soil and a sunny location. Only a few herbs do well growing in full shade. Add organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, if your soil is compacted or heavy. Herbs usually suffer from few pest or fungal problems and require only minimal watering after being well established. Fertilizer is unnecessary for most herbs unless you expect frequent, heavy harvests.
Herbs can be classified as annual, biennial, or perennial.
Annuals produce foliage, flowers, and seed in one growing season and then die. Examples are basil, dill, and cilantro.
Only a few herbs are biennial. They form leaves in the first growing season, then produce flowers and seeds in the second growing season, then die. Watercress, caraway, and parsley are biennial herbs.
Many culinary herbs are perennials. They live more than two growing seasons. They may develop slowly in the first year and take off in the second season if grown from seed. Herbaceous perennials will die back over the winter and return in the spring. Examples include horseradish, chives, thyme, most mints, and some sages. Woody perennials, like lavender, have stems that survive and grow yearly.
Herbs can be grown in containers with good drainage. Use a good-quality potting mix. Add slow-release pellets to the potting mix if the media does not include fertilizer. Or apply a water-soluble fertilizer after planting. Container-grown herbs require more moisture than garden-grown herbs. Heavy irrigation leaches out the nutrients.
Herbs can be preserved by drying or freezing. Both wind and heat disperse essential oils quickly, and fewer oils are produced on excessively wet days. Choose a calm, dry morning and harvest just after the dew has dried from the leaf. Most herbs will have maximum oil content just before the flower opens. For a mid-season harvest, do not take more than one-third of the foliage at one time. Check foliage for insects and damaged leaves. Rinse in tepid water and pat dry with paper towels, if needed.
Bundle six to twelve stems, remove any foliage near the base of the stems, secure with a rubber band, and hang the bundle away from sunlight in a cool location. If hung where dust is an issue, put the herb bundles in a paper bag upside down and put the band around the bag and stems. The bag keeps the herbs clean and free of insects. Check often. You can also place them on a screen or rack and turn them frequently. A dehydrator can be used to dry herbs. Just follow the manufacturer’s directions.
Remove leaves, put on a wax paper-lined sheet pan, and freeze. Once frozen, remove, and pack into bags. Cut chives into small pieces, place them on the wax paper-lined sheet pan, and freeze.
Charlotte Welliver is a Penn State Extension Master Gardener of Columbia County. She has been a Master Gardener since 2010.
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