Growing Herbs

Richard S. Hartley
WVU Extension Service
Ritchie County Extension Agent

Have you thought about growing herbs in your garden, on its borders or in other small locations near the house? Pots, boxes or hanging baskets can also be used. Choosing their location may depend on if they are annuals or biennials.

Herbs need to be grown in soils with good drainage and a pH range of 6.5 to 7.5. Sunlight is a basic requirement; six or more hours each day is a must.

Prepare your herb plot much like you would for vegetables. Compost and manure make good fertilizers. Mulches are beneficial for controlling weeds and maintaining good soil moisture. Herbs do well in raised beds.

Herbs can be planted from seeds, cuttings, layering and divisions. Many places now offer some herb plants for their customers. Look for vigorous, healthy plants without insect or disease damage.

Generally, insecticides are not recommended for culinary herbs. Hand picking of the insects is much healthier. Insecticidal soaps can be used. Herbs are resistant to many insects and diseases, but careful monitoring helps address these problems promptly.

Quality herbs are the result of cultivation, care and the timing of harvest. Consider the intended use of the herb as well as the herb's maturity stage. Harvesting just before the flowers fully open assures the presence of the most oils and flavors, which provide the richest fragrances.

Successive harvests can be made without harm from mints, basils, parsley and other herbs by cutting stems early in the season and allowing for new growth. Most often, it is a good idea to leave at least a third of the plant for rapid regrowth.

Herbs can be stored easily for future use by being dried, frozen or preserved in vinegars. For drying, cut the stems not too close to the ground. Tie them in small bunches and hang in a warm, dry place like an attic or unused room or closet. Allow them to dry until leaves are crisp and brittle.

Your microwave oven also can be used. Place herbs on paper towels and cover. Dry them for about one minute. Check the instruction booklet for your oven, some microwave power varies.

For freezing, prepare as for drying, but place herbs into plastic bags and put into freezer promptly.