by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
Like most vegetable crops and many annual flowers, most herbs grow best in a sunny location with well drained soil. Unlike these other plants, however, herbs often thrive in less fertile, dry soil. In fact, if they get too much nitrogen from fertilizer or manure, they tend to lose their characteristic flavors and aromas.
Most gardeners grow culinary herbs -- those for cooking -- such as dill, basil, rosemary and chives. As interest in herbal medicines grows, many gardeners are growing medicinal herbs, as well as fragrant herbs for use in potpourris and sachets.
Herbs can be ornamental, too. Some of the scented geraniums make excellent hanging basket plants. Lavender is a long-time favorite in the perennials garden, and curly-leaved parsley makes an attractive dark green edging in the annuals garden.
Some herbs are annuals -- they grow from seed and produce seed in the same year. Popular annual herbs include sweet basil, borage and dill. Others are biennials -- plants that take two years to grow and produce seed. Caraway, sweet marjoram and parsley are biennials. Others are perennials -- plants that persist for several years, growing new tops from the roots each year. The majority of herb plants fall in this category.
Gardeners generally seed herbs directly into the garden in the spring, though many types are available as transplants.
Some annual herbs will self-seed. Dill can become a nuisance weed this way. Members of the mint family can become pests by spreading into areas where they aren't wanted.
Harvest time varies according to the part of the plant that is harvested. Seeds must be allowed to ripen but must be harvested before the seed heads shatter. The leaves of parsley and chives and some others are harvested for fresh use as soon as plants are big enough to spare a few. Rosemary and thyme are harvested at full bloom; basil, fennel, mint, sage and summer savory are harvested after they flower.
Long stems and whole plants can be hung upside-down in bunches in a warm, well ventilated location to dry. Short-stemmed herbs, flowers and seeds can be spread on a screen to air dry or dried between paper towels in a microwave.
Store dried herbs in tightly covered jars in a dark, cool location. If moisture condenses inside the jars, more drying is needed.
Some herbs will grow on a sunny windowsill over the winter. If you want to try this, it's a good idea to start with new plants grown from seed or healthy cuttings or divisions from garden plants. Use a well drained potting mix rather than soil from the garden. Chives, mints, parsley, basil, sweet marjoram and rosemary are usually good choices for a windowsill herb garden.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office