Herb gardening can be simple and rewarding

The Plant Man column for publication the week of 03/07/04 - 03/13/04 (799 words)
The Plant Man by Steve Jones www.landsteward.org
Herb gardening can be simple and rewarding
Where would we be without herbs? It's not a very appetizing thought. Our food would taste blander, our world would smell less pleasant and we would all be a lot less healthy.
For my wife Cheryl and me, herbs play an important part in our lives. We enjoy the subtle fragrance they add to our landscape. We love to snip fresh herbs just outside our kitchen door and experiment with new recipes. And we're beginning to learn more about how many herbs can make a positive difference to our health and well being.
In this and in one or two future columns, we'll take a look at herbs and come up with some ideas to help you plant, grow and use your own herbs.
Perhaps you are like many people I've met who like the IDEA of growing their own herbs, but for one reason or another they DON'T actually do it. Here are the three main reasons – or perhaps excuses – that I've heard for not getting started:
* "I don't have enough space."
* "I don't want to disrupt my existing landscaping to add a herb garden."
* "Herbs look so delicate. I'm sure I'd kill them off."
Let's take a look at those one by one. Firstly you don't need a lot of space in order to enjoy a fairly abundant supply of fresh herbs. In fact, you can enjoy your own herbs even if you live in a high rise apartment with no more than a balcony!
Secondly, there's no need to dedicate ANY of your precious soil specifically to herbs unless you want to, because herbs can mingle well with your existing plants. And finally, most herbs are a lot hardier than you might think. In fact, some herbs (mint, for example) are like edible kudzu and are almost impossible to kill off!
Okay; let's get specific. Suppose, for whatever reason, a dedicated "herb garden" isn't an option for you. I believe that I have the ideal solution: containers.
In fact containers actually have some advantages over ‘traditional' herb gardens. The biggest benefit is that containers are mobile. You can move them around to take advantage of the sun or shade, or move them safely out of harm's way when you're expecting company on your deck or patio.
Go to one of those large "box" stores or a garden center and take a look at the various containers on display there. You'll see terra cotta pots as well as light-weight plastic "look-alikes" and containers made of wood or clay. Your container-based mini herb garden can be very attractive and aesthetically pleasing as well as practical, so bear in mind where your containers will be located as you make your choice.
Small pots or containers can be grouped together to make an infinitely variable display, or you might want to place the pots in a wooden tray so you can easily lift up and move the entire bunch in one go.
If a large container looks as if it might be too heavy for easy movement, look for "container dollies" that have small wheels or casters that allow you to push it around without too much effort.
Regardless of the container size or type you choose, planting your herbs is relatively simple. You should consider buying some pre-mixed soil specifically blended for container gardens. However, I know some folks prefer to use a cactus soil mix. Carefully transfer your new herbs to the container and moisten the soil. I recommend that you don't over-water your herbs and you should let the soil become fairly (but not totally) dry before watering again.
And that's pretty much all you have to do, other than monitor their exposure to sun and move them out of the direct path of a heavy rainstorm. Every other month or so, you can add a little dose of a balanced fertilizer mixture if your herbs look like they need a pick-me-up.
Most herbs can cohabit with each other successfully, so feel free to mix different varieties, particularly if you're using larger containers. Oregano, mint, sage, parsley and lavender will all grow happily side by side, as will many other varieties. If you have specific questions about herbs, I'll be happy to respond personally if you send me an e-mail at snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org
In future columns, I'll discuss kitchen herbs that will add pizzazz to your culinary efforts, as well as other ideas about making herbs a beneficial element of your landscape and your life.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send you questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, including archived Plant Man columns, visit www.landsteward.org where you can also subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter.
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