Growing flavorful herbs is all in the planning
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. What about basil, oregano, lavender and mint? Or cilantro and marjoram or bay laurel and dill? These are just a few of the varieties of herbs that can be grown in the Gulf Coast area.
Herbs are easy to grow and can be useful in the kitchen and preparation of many recipes. But the key to a successful herb garden is the preparation before you plant, said Mary Gonzalez, a Galveston County Master Gardener with decades of experience working with herbs.
“Plant herbs in a raised bed because of the gumbo soil in this area,” Gonzalez said. “Most herbs we use are from the Mediterranean area and require good drainage. You don’t need a lot of organics or fertilizer in the soil, but you need to first fill the bed with sand and expanded shale, which allows the roots to go all the way down and find water.”
Expanded shale is from a porous rock and loosens the tight clay soil. It can be found at most local nurseries.
Most herbs do well in morning and early day sunlight and should be placed in an area where it’s warm, she said. And since their roots do not go far, they also can easily be grown in pots.
“If you grow herbs in pots, keep them close to your kitchen,” she said. “Out of sight, out of mind. If you don’t see the plant, you won’t use it.”
The difference between spices and herbs is that you use only the leaves with herbs. With spices, the bark, the stem or the seeds all can be used.
Perhaps one of the most popular homegrown herbs is basil, an annual plant with spicy flavor that can be used in soups, stews, salads and sauces. There are many varieties of basil, which should be planted in the spring in full sun. Once it gets cold, basil dies unless it’s planted indoors.
Rosemary is a hardy perennial, which means it grows continuously for more than two years, doesn’t like too much water but thrives in the sun and in most climates. It’s used for flavoring vegetables and meats.
Oregano and mint, also perennials, love the sun but these plants spread and can take over a garden, Gonzalez cautioned. Perennials dry up, but the plant returns from the root. Other useful perennials are thyme, sage, tarragon, sage and marjoram — a great alternative for oregano with a milder taste and it doesn’t take over a garden.
“Best to plant oregano and mint in pots to control their growth,” she said.
Parsley and cilantro, which are the leaves of coriander, are both used as garnishes and probably need to be planted every other year, as they start to set seeds and die away. The coriander seeds are grown up and used as a spice.
Briana Etie, another Master Gardener in Hitchcock, plants herbs in pots and beds close to her house, creating a “microclimate,” she said.
“In the winter, the house blocks wind and late sun from the plants,” Etie said. “And if it is a brick house, it retains warmth.”
A microclimate site could be near a fence, garage, shed or patio, where just a few degrees warmer can be helpful to plants in winter months, Etie said.
“Growing herbs is easy if you take the necessary steps in the beginning,” Etie said. “Well drainage makes the whole experience successful. And being able to cut and use fresh herbs while you are cooking is awesome.”
Looking for some fresh herbs for a spring garden? The Galveston County Master Gardeners bi-annual sale is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Galveston County Fairgrounds on state Highway 6 in Hitchcock. Along with a wide selection of herbs, the sale will include fruit trees, perennials, Texas Tough plants and vegetables.