Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Growing Herbs

Herbs are a necessity in any vegetable garden, and we are fortunate that most herbs grow well almost year-round in Houston.  They are rarely bothered by pests.  Just give them a sunny spot in the garden with fertile soil and then ignore them.   This is particularly true of rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage, which love the heat and don't like to be watered too often.  Basil and Italian parsley also thrive during the hot summer months, although they do appreciate some watering during dry spells.  Mint is actually too happy in the Houston garden --it can quickly become invasive and should only be grown in pots unless you want to spend the rest of your life trying to get rid of it. 

If you like Thai or Vietnamese cooking, lemongrass is also easy to grow here.  It loves the heat and doesn't need any care once established.  The plants are very pretty and highly aromatic.  Unfortunately, it is another plant that is quick to take over the garden.  It doesn't send out runners the way mint does, but it forms an ever-larger clump that eliminates everything in its path.  We had a clump that kept returning despite frequent attempts to dig it up, chop it down, and bury it under mulch.  We finally managed to eradicate the last of the lemongrass last year, and it is now restricted to a pot. 

Some herbs, such as cilantro and dill, don't survive the extreme heat we experience from June through August.  These should be planted in early spring and enjoyed until they die off during the hot summer months.  Start new plants once it starts to cool off in September. 

Herb plants are both utilitarian and visually appealing.  Rosemary provides structure, sage offers contrast with its gray-blue leaves, and bronze fennel adds both texture and color to the garden.  If your front yard includes a vegetable garden as ours does, herbs help transform the vegetable garden into a flower border.  You'll also find that your herbs are highly productive here, so you'll always have plenty of fresh, organic herbs to share with neighbors and friends.  We often make aromatic baskets with fresh picked vegetables and herbs to take when we visit family, or want to thank someone.  Without fail, the herbs are the first thing our recipients pick up.  They love to smell each bunch as they identify the herbs.  The vegetables, of which I'm always so proud, are often ignored until every herb has been examined.  So grow herbs and make your friends happy.

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