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June 18, 2018  |  Login
Caring for Your Herb Garden
By Karan Davis Cutler, Kathleen Fisher & The National Gardening Association

Much of the care that herbs need is identical to the care you give your other garden plants. The following sections address issues specific to herbal care.

Wind Protection

To keep your herbs — and yourself — from being annoyed, corrupted, choked, or dulled, keep your garden away from low spots, where air can pool.

Cold air is heavier than warm air; that’s why low areas are susceptible to frost. Pick a mountain town with “Hollow” in its name, and you’ve probably picked a place that holds some kind of record for a late spring frost. Poor air circulation also provides the stagnant conditions that plant diseases love, especially in humid climates. Do everything you can to ensure good air circulation.

If you must fence your garden to ward off wildlife, four legged or two, don’t make it a solid wall that will keep your herbs from getting the fresh air they need. At the same time, if your property is near the ocean — or regularly in the path of fierce winds — your herbs may need protection. Any garden site that regularly gets winds in the 15-mph range needs a windbreak, or wind barrier. Wind barriers also safeguard the soil from erosion and help keep it from drying out. A cold wind can annihilate a row of young basil plants in a matter of hours (or, if you’re lucky, just slow their growth for weeks to come). In contrast, hot winds desiccate, or dehydrate, plants, and that, too, can be lethal.

If the wind that roars through your garden is constant, you’ll probably want a permanent windbreak, such as trees, shrubs, vines, fences, and walls.

Temporary barriers can tame winds that come and go — mostly in early spring, for example. You can choose from dozens of possibilities, including floating row covers (secured), wire cages wrapped with plastic, cloches, and more.

Before you erect a permanent barrier, make absolutely sure that you know the direction of the prevailing winds. Put your windbreak on the wrong side and you could have cold winds pooling on your angelica and rosemary. By the way, you don’t have to build the Great Wall of China. Semiopen structures do a better job than solid ones (plus they don’t blow over in gales). Living windbreaks are one of the most attractive solutions, but they’re also like kids’ appetites: They get bigger and bigger. Plant them — especially trees — away from your garden at a distance of four times their mature height.

If you leave your containers of herbs sitting outside in winter, the plants’ roots aren’t protected from the cold air. As a rule, you can leave perennial herbs outdoors in containers all winter if they’re hardy to one zone farther north than your home. Gardeners in USDA Zone 6, for example, can leave out most thymes, which are hardy to Zone 5. (Click here to find your climate zone.) You can give your potted herbs some insurance by burying them.

In fall, dig holes for the containers of your perennial herbs and tuck them in for their winter sleep under soil and a comforter of leaves. A cold frame is handy for this, as is a nursery bed — a small tilled garden that you use in spring for starting seeds and in summer for heeling in, or temporarily planting, new perennials and other plants. One warning: If you live in the far North, you may be growing herbs that won’t survive even with this coddling. more



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