Vegetables, Garden Fruits & Herbs

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2012- The Year of Herbs

by Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Educator

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The final plant group being promoted this year by the National Garden Bureau is herbs, which provide us with great scents, tastes and ornamental features. Herbs contribute to our lives everyday, such as mint in toothpaste, lavender in shampoo, tea and coffee. Defining exactly what is an herb can be difficult, but Holly Shimizu, director of the U.S. Botanic Garden defines them as "plants (trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, biennials or annuals) valued historically, presently, or potentially for their flavor, fragrance, medicinal qualities, insecticidal qualities, economic or industrial use, or in the case of dyes, for the coloring material they provide." Identifying herbs by their usefulness, instead of their appearance or botanical classification, means that trees like witch hazel and coffee, bulbs like onion and garlic, perennials like lavender, and annuals like basil, are all considered herbs.

Many culinary herbs are easy to grow, and provide such good flavor that the amount of salt required in dishes can reduced, and that's good for everyone's health! Popular fresh herbs for the home garden include basil, chives (common chives and garlic chives), cilantro, dill, mint and parsley. Herbs such as French tarragon (Artemesia dracunculus), oregano, rosemary, thyme (Thymus serpyllums is a common culinary thyme), sage and winter savory are satisfactory in both fresh and dried forms.

Plant herbs outdoors after the last day of frost in the spring to avoid losing plants to a late freeze. Typically that's approximately April 24th in the Lincoln area. If you've never planted herbs before, purchasing transplants can give you a quick start. When selecting herbs, be sure those you choose are meant for culinary uses. There are ornamental herbs, which often don't have as much flavor as the culinary types since they have been developed primarily for visual appeal.

In general, herbs require full sun and well-drained soil although individual requirements vary. For example, lavender and rosemary do best in very well-drained, gravelly soil. Do a little research before visiting your local garden center, and make sure the garden space you have available is suitable for the herbs you want to grow.

Many herbs are also suitable for container gardening as well as planting in a ground bed. Container gardening is an especially good option if you're limited on space. Place a few large containers near your backdoor, for an instant kitchen garden.

Be aware that some herbs can be thugs in the garden, spreading themselves riotously and becoming very difficult to control. One of the most notorious is mint. To keep mint controlled, plant it in a container at least 12 inches wide and deep (about a one- or two- gallon size container) without holes. Inexpensive plastic containers without holes are available at most nurseries or lawn and garden centers. Bury the container in the ground so an inch of the container is above ground level. This will contain the plant so it can't creep out the top or the bottom and will prevent it from spreading throughout the garden. You may need to water these plants more than other herbs that are planted normally and can send their roots farther into the ground.

Another herb that can easily become a nuisance is garlic chives. These plants reseed themselves with abandon, so be sure to cut off the fading flowers before they shatter and disperse seeds throughout your garden.

For more information on this year's featured plants, visit the National Garden Bureau at

This resource was added March 2012 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement

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

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