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Herb Use Goes Beyond Seasoning

By Linda Surbaugh, master gardener, Denver County office of Colorado State University Cooperative Extension

Herbs are plants for all seasons and most situations.

Perennials will live through Colorado winters, and both annuals and perennials can play a year-round role in any landscape or in containers.

Versatility aptly describes herb plants. They are decorative and pleasantly scented. Many reputedly have medicinal value, and a variety of herbs are used in cooking.

Perennials, such as lavender, chives, oregano and mint, will come back year after year with a little winter mulch.

Annuals, including numerous varieties of basil, anise and dill, can fill in a perennial landscape, border area, container or edible landscape of vegetables.

A number of herbs are especially well adapted for ground cover use. They include Roman chamomile and woolly thyme, which can be planted between stepping-stones in a garden path. They will fill in the bare areas between the stones and can be trimmed periodically to keep them from over-growing the walkway. When woolly thyme is brushed by footsteps, the fragrance of the herb is strong and pleasant.

Culinary thymes and germander spread quickly and grow to about 6 inches high, providing good ground cover for non-pedestrian areas.

Many perennial herbs will become small shrubs in three or four growing seasons. Lavender, for example, grows to approximately 3 feet tall. It is a small silver-leafed shrub that blooms profusely in the summer with fragrant purple spike flowers. Greek oregano, a multi-stemmed dark-leafed plant, spreads quickly and will reach about 12 inches. Both plants require full sun.

Sweet woodruff, which is used in making May wine, features small delicate five-fingered leaves, blooms in the spring and prospers in shaded areas. It even grows well at the base of deciduous trees. Also well adapted for shaded areas are members of the mint family, angelica, bee balm and epasote. Mint must be controlled, however, because it can spread rapidly.

Herbs are a great asset in a landscape designed for low water use. Suggested plants include the yarrows, which can reach 3 feet tall and bloom profusely throughout the summer season with very little water. Many varieties of sage are well adapted to xeriscaping. These range from Russian sage, a 2-foot tall small shrub with purple ornamental flower spikes, to silver mound a plant with thin, feathery silver foliage that grows into a symmetric, 8-inch mound. Other herbs that are well suited to the xeriscape landscape are horehound and santolina.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010