cilantro blooming (125429 bytes)

Using Herbs in the Garden

By Kerrie B. Badertscher, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Horticulture

Herbs grow in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors and may be used throughout the landscape for both decorative and culinary purposes. Many have the added benefit of being very tolerant to drought. Herbs may be annual, biennial or perennial and most do well in full sun to part shade. They can be tucked into the garden or grown in containers and tolerate soil that is not too high in organic matter. In fact, if they are grown in compost rich soil, their essential oils will not be as strong.

Annual herbs can be directly sown outdoors, sown indoors six weeks before transplanting outside or purchased in convenient 6-packs. If sowing directly outdoors, be sure to thin according to package directions. Most garden centers carry a variety of seed packets as well as plants ready for the garden.

purple basil (20311 bytes)Annual herbs include basil, cilantro, fennel, parsley and dill. You still have time this summer to grow basil and cilantro from seed. Try growing them in a sunny spot in pots on your patio or deck.

'Siam Queen,' a basil with a light licorice flavor, performed well in tests at Colorado Statepurple fennel (22745 bytes) University. Cilantro, if kept from blooming, is a nice border plant in a flower garden. Try 'Caribe' for a cilantro that is slow to bolt (produce flowers and seed). Fennel provides height, texture and unusual flavors to your garden, and may be used in recipes in place of celery. Sow seed in early spring. 'Fino' and 'Zefo Fino' have demonstrated successes at Colorado State University.

The feathery foliage and umbel shaped flower head of dill provide a nice (and edible) background plant. Dill does well in full sun with well-drained soil; thin plants to 8 to 10 inches apart. Dill will resow if allowed to go to seed and is a good food source for the native swallowtail butterflies.

Parsley is good for the border with its compact, bushy growth habit. Colorado State University parsley  (23787 bytes)field trials indicate 'Garland' performs well in Colorado. Plant in medium rich soil in the sun or part shade for best results. Space parsley 6 to 8 inches apart. Chives are perennial and may be used as an attractive border. Their taste is similar but milder than that of green onions, but they have finer leaves. Plant in mediumchives in bloom (28206 bytes) rich soil in a sunny location and divide the clumps every three years to maintain shape and size. Marjoram, a small bush with white flowers, is a perennial best treated as an annual since it rarely overwinters here. Cut the stems just before buds begin to flower for best flavor. Marjoram prefers a rich organic soil in sun to part shade. Space mature plants 8 to 10 inches apart.

oregano (24494 bytes)Another perennial favorite is oregano. For best results plant this one in well-drained soil in full sun. Protect form winds in the winter. Rosemary is often listed as a perennial but rarely overwinters in Colorado. It is a member of the mint family and may be used to season many dishes. Plant seedlings in well-drained soil in a sunny sheltered spot or transplant plants to 6 inches apart.

If planting in the ground, check the mature height and width before planting to make sure of proper spacing. To harvest, cut herbs when the dew is off in the morning, but before the heat of the day for best flavor. Use fresh or dry for later use by hanging small bundles of herbs upside down. Strip off dry leaves and store in airtight containers

Photos: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010