When you become an expert on a subject, people tend to think you know EVERYTHING about your chosen field and NEVER make mistakes. Nothing could be further from the truth. So as part of my campaign to encourage you, my ever-lovin’ readers, to “think BIG for 2020,” I have asked a handful of herb gardening experts to answer the following question:
What has been a challenge for you in growing herbs?
The answers I got back were an interesting cross-section of the joys and trials of growing herbs. I know that hearing how these experts wrestled with problems and what they did to conquer them will be an encouragement to you as you face this year’s challenges. Here are their answers.
Shelley Cramm, Garden In Delight
Generally, herbs are a forgiving group of plants to grow in my North Texas garden. However, I have run into challenges along the way.
One of my bigger ones came when growing hyssop, a Biblical herb. I was crazed with curiosity to smell this mystical plant used for cleansing. I bought and sowed seeds. Nothing sprouted. I ordered more seeds and sowed again. Nothing.
Finally, I ordered two 3” seedlings to transplant. Success! I now have had a large mound of the lovely, oregano-like leaves ever since! It was “icing on the cake” to discover that hyssop also produces plenty of snowflake-styled flowers in summer, a picture of being “washed whiter than snow,” as Psalm 51 promises.
There’s a postscript to this. My garden had the last laugh. Now every year there are several hyssop volunteers sprouting across the yard…proving it is possible to grow the plant from seed. Even so, I stick to rooted cuttings when I want to give away hyssop’s savory aroma to another gardener.
I find that getting to know each herb and the nuance of its care is the key to overcoming challenges like this. That takes time! So be forgiving with yourself as you find your way through setback to success.
Noelle Johnson, Arizona Plant Lady
Herbs do extremely well in my Phoenix low desert garden. They thrive in sunny, arid conditions, which we have plenty of in the desert. However, there is one thing that I do struggle with in growing herbs.
During the height of summer when it can reach 106 degrees, I tend to hibernate inside. This means I don’t go out and harvest the herbs as often as I should. One unexpected bonus of this neglect is that many of my herbs flower, much to the delight of the bees visiting my garden.
Kate Copsey, Garden Writer and Speaker
Having gardened in several regions, rosemary has been one of my big challenges. In the chilly north, rosemary is counted as an annual or tender perennial depending on your ability to keep it alive. In the warmer south it grows to a shrub, becomes very woody, and takes over footpaths. There is a magic zone in between, around Zones 6b or 7a, where rosemary can survive most winters, but outer growth is damaged some years. In this area, the chance of outdoor winter temperatures killing it are about the same as the average person keeping it alive indoors for winter, which is why I usually bring it indoors.
Outside it can easily take brief frosts so I keep it outside for as long as I can. But when the temperatures start to go below freezing for extended periods, it’s time to pot up my rosemary and bring it inside until spring returns.
Successfully keeping rosemary indoors for winter months requires planned negligence. First I water my rosemary well. Then I put it into a back bedroom that is cooler than most of the home. I only need to check and water it lightly about every 2-3 weeks or when I clean the room for guests. Rosemary is sensitive to overwatering. Too much water – especially when it is not growing – causes the needles to turn brown. Too little water is better than too much. With benign neglect, my rosemary will live to grow another year.
Peggy Riccio, Pegplant.Com
My biggest challenge with growing herbs is the same as with all my plants, not enough time or space. With herbs though I also want to spend time learning how to use them in the kitchen. I am fortunate to live in Zone 7 Virginia, with mild winters and a generous yard and deck. Each year I increase my number of herbs by incorporating additional perennial herbs in the garden beds and growing annuals and tropical herbs in containers.
I keep a journal of all my plants but for the herbs, I type a list of the plants I have that year and tape it on the inside of the kitchen cupboard. If I am cooking something that needs a flavor punch or even a garnish, I look at the list and walk outside to snip what I need.
For a new herb, I like to do a “deep dive” by spending a few weekends focusing on that plant. During one weekend, I research the plant with my herbal books and complete a template of qualities and cultural requirements, much like an herb study. I also identify recipes to try and purchase the necessary ingredients. The next weekend, I harvest the herb and make the dishes. This enables me to really learn about the herb’s flavor and qualities. Because I have already purchased the ingredients, it is a time saver to spend one day harvesting the herb and making the dishes.