Gardening with herbs has so many wonderful benefits far beyond merely adding them to salads and stews. For me gardening with herbs is a multi-sensory experience. Enjoying herbs in your food is lovely, but it’s even better when you enjoy them in the garden, on your patio, in bouquets, in your bath, and also in your food and drinks.
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The biggest questions people have are: “what grows here and how do you keep them healthy?” Followed closely by: “How do you use them?”
Don’t worry I’ll answer those questions for you right now!
What Is An Herb?
An herb is a plant with leaves or flowers used for flavouring, food, medicine, or perfume. These include all the ones we commonly think of in salads and teas, but also many other plants we might not think of as herbs, such as roses, hollyhocks, and pansies.
What Herbs Grow In Zones 3/4?
It’s possible to grow any herb in our growing zones. However, not all of them are perennials. Our options are either to only grow our herbs for a single season, grow hardy herbs, or grow them in planters and bring them indoors for the winter. Of course you can do a combination of all of those choices.
- Hyssop Anise
- Borage (reseed)
- Coriander (reseed)
- Dill (reseed)
- Lemon & Bee Balm
- Violas (Pansy/Johnny-Jump-Ups)
There are a few others that are supposedly able to withstand our winters, such as lavender and marjoram, however, I’ve found many people have difficulties overwintering them successfully so I’ve left them off this list.
Perfect For Pots
Any herb that you’d like to continue growing year round is well suited to the potted life. Those little herb growing kits are lovely, for a single person, but if you’re growing enough for a family or to make tea, you’ll want a larger pot and allow them to grow bigger between cutting back.
How To Successfully Grow Herbs
Growing herbs may seem tricky at first, but it can be both fun and easy. Most hardy herbs are very easy to grow and do well as long as they’re in the proper location. Annual herbs in the garden also do well as long as they get enough sun and have soil with the right amount of drainage and moisture. Herbs are kind of like Goldilocks. It’s gotta be just right or they get mad and move on.
Basil grows great in a stone garden that gets afternoon shade. The stones keep the roots warm enough, and provide a lot of protection to the roots when temperatures dip. The afternoon shade protects the leaves from the hottest sun. Mulch the bed to retain moisture, but make sure it’s also well drained so it’s never boggy.
Those points are important to many herbs:
- Keep them warm. Think of them as newborn babies. Put socks on their hands if the sun goes behind a cloud.
- Pay attention to their specific requirements. Many prefer full sun, but some like protection from eh hot afternoon sun, and some even prefer shade.
- Check water requirements. Some plants don’t care, but the herbs that care, care a lot.
If growing in planters, make sure there’s adequate drainage, or make sure there’s a nice layer of stones or packing peanuts under your potting soil to make sure they don’t get water logged.
When caring for herbs over winter keep in mind they’ll look horrible from January through March, but usually revive once they start getting warmer and more sun.
There are a few things you can do to keep them looking (and tasting) better longer.
- We normally stop fertilizing our outdoor garden in August so our plants stop growing before winter hits. But if you’re growing herbs in pots, fertilize in August and bring them inside.
- Use Grow Lights
- Herbs want more light than our windows give them through the winter. A floor/table lamp with a grow bulb over the herbs is often enough to keep it looking its best.
- Tender herbs like to stay warm. Either use a heating pad under the pot, or keep them in a warm, draft-free location through the winter.
- I keep cinnamon sticks in my water and use that cinnamon water in my herb containers and ALSO mist their leaves at least once a week with it. This decreases powdery mildew – it might not prevent it completely, but it’ll decrease the severity until you can revive them in the summer.
- Keep the soil moist according to the specific requirements of the specific herb.
Whether growing in the garden or in pots it’s important to keep your herbs trimmed so they don’t flower. Once they flower their flavour changes, they often become more woody, and the leaves get tougher. The more you use your herbs, the more likely you’ll keep them trimmed enough to prevent flowering.
Trim herbs when they’re young. For herbaceous herbs, such as basil, oregano, mint, or thyme trim when they’re young. Continuously trim them to keep them growing.
When the second set of true leaves forms, pinch back to the first set. Then let two more sets of leaves grow, and pinch back again. When your plant is mature, you can cut back 1-2 inches of new growth at a time. Allow it to grow again before you cut more. Never cut back more than 20% at one time.
On top of regular trimming it’s important to also remove any dead or dying leaves. This is particularly important for potted herbs that are indoors for the winter.
Uses For Herbs
The best part of growing herbs is using them! Herbs can be great for nibbling straight from the plant, made into tea, adding flavour to dinner, adding a special scent to your bath, making potpourri, adding to bouquets, and probably many other uses as well.
Most herbs can be used to make teas, however, not everyone enjoys tea made from a particular herb. Below is a sample herb garden that works in even a small yard. Sprinkle thyme and violas (pansies) pretty much everywhere. Thyme smells amazing whenever you brush against it, and violas are so cheerful (and edible)!
*Note Stevia & Sage are usually annuals in our zone.
Hollyhock, stevia, and mint make a nice floral tea. If you have roses, add rose petals as well. Bergamot, Anise Hyssop, and Stevia make a great sweet iced tea blend if you like a slight liquorice flavour. What I love about this garden is that it’s easy for children to forage on their own. Many of our favourite salad and tea recipes were discovered by them as they picked over the herb garden.
When making tea it’s important to pay attention to which herbs have a stronger flavour and which are more subtle. One herb can completely overpower another and you’ll miss out on the wonderful flavours they have to offer.
It’s a lot of fun to mix and match until you find one you really enjoy. (Stay tuned! Very soon I’ll have a downloadable PDF of some Herbal Tea Recipes to offer you).