There’s been quite a resurgence in demand for fresh herbs to add new flavours to our foods, but herbs aren’t just for dinner any more! Their zesty flavours are being added to everything from cocktails to ice cream, vinegar to salt rubs, and so much more. Not to mention, their flowers and fragrant foliage can also be a welcome addition to any garden or patio (especially when placed where you can gently brush the leaves as you pass by).
Growing Fresh Herbs
In the new reality of small space and balcony gardens, herbs adapt easily to both situations. They are among the easiest of plants to grow and are incredibly tolerant of a bit of neglect. Even so, they will perform and look far more beautiful with a little care and attention.
For the most part, herbs need full to part sun and well-drained soil. Some herbs, like mint, chives, lemon balm, parsley, perilla, borage and cilantro, will tolerate lower light levels, but partly sunny spots are still preferred.
Weekly applications of organic fertilizer are great, but in hot summer weather, an application at each watering will make a huge difference. You can also give them a consistent boost with slow release 14-14-14.
Growing Herbs in Containers
We’re big fans of growing herbs in containers, and we love to combine them with annuals or perennials. One of the first considerations, however, is the style of the container. Size does matter, and the larger, the better. Good-sized containers hold more soil and moisture and require less watering—a bonus during the hot, dry months of summer. If you intend to grow the hardier herbs year-round, make sure you purchase a frost-proof container. In fall, move containers under eaves to minimize excessive moisture in the soil from winter rains and to prevent your pots from cracking.
The soil you select for your containers should be both well-draining and moisture-retaining. Always look for professional soil blends and add in about 20% organic matter, like composted manures and ‘Sea Soil’, to the mix. Many fully organic soils are readily available, but make sure they will drain well.
Common Herb Problems
One important consideration in successfully growing herbs is pest control. Fortunately, most herbs are not troubled by insect problems! An exception to this, of course, is aphids that can be easily washed off with a gentle spray of water or kept in check by a few doses of ‘Safer’s Soap’ products.
Powdery mildew is always a challenging disease for herbs, especially in wet weather, and Safer’s ‘Defense’ is an effective control. Keeping your plants a little drier, rather than too wet, and watering in the morning at soil level, so that the foliage is dry at night, is the best way to prevent diseases and keep your herbs clean and fresh.
Annual vs Perennial Herbs
One of the key things to understand about herbs is the difference between perennial varieties that come back year after year and annual herbs that are more tender and should only be planted out in late May/early June. Perennial herbs can be harvested all year round while most annual herbs will finish in late September or early October. The most popular annual herbs are basil, dill, cilantro, lemon verbena and lemongrass. Parsley is a biennial, but it is often treated as an annual.
Choosing the Right Herbs
When choosing herbs, the simplest rule is to select the varieties you know and use most frequently! Here are some of our favourites:
Sweet Bay (Bay Laurel) is not hardy for our area, but when planted in a sheltered south- or west-facing spot in good, well-drained soil (and a bit of protection in winter, if needed), it can do very well. Attractive evergreen foliage is aromatic and, when dried in bundles, it makes a nice gift too!
Red Perilla (Shiso) is a favourite in Asian cuisine for its sharp flavour and versatility. Young leaves are used as microgreens, and mature leaves are tasty in salads, wraps or even in sushi. With dark purple colour and unique, frilly foliage, this annual herb has great ornamental value too!
Chives are some of the hardiest and oldest of all herbs. Garlic chives are a particular favourite for adding to cheese dishes, salads, herb butters and sour cream dips. The pink, puffy flowers of chives are also edible and nice to sprinkle on salads.
Today, we have many varieties of mint, ranging from apple and chocolate to orange and spearmint, and they are very popular as garnishes and in drinks and teas. Mojito Mint is great in, you guessed it, mojitos, and Moroccan Mint is great for tea. Keep mint in containers only, though, as it can be invasive.
Pineapple Sage isn’t as well known, but one smell of its foliage and you’ll be hooked! Its soft, chartreuse to gold-coloured leaves smell deliciously of pineapple, and its tubular, red blooms attract hummingbirds. Pineapple sage grows to a good size, so it makes a unique focal point plant in containers too. Try using the leaves to flavour beverages.
Oregano and marjoram are plant cousins and very similar in flavour. Both are used in Mediterranean and Middle East cuisines. Golden Oregano can get scorched in late afternoon sun, so try to place it in a protected spot.
Thyme also has a unique perfume, and lemon thyme is becoming very popular for its wonderful flavouring in soups, sauces and marinades. It will tolerate part sun.
Basil is the most sought-after annual herb because of its great relationship with the tomato and all its sauces, but it is being used increasingly in cocktails too! Basil should never be planted out before early June as it needs to have hot, dry weather to minimize damping off.
Rosemary is one of the most beautiful of all herbs, with its many trailing and upright forms and captivating perfume. Though not actually hardy for Chilliwack, in warmer areas (zone 6 and higher), it can stay out all winter with a little protection. Rosemary ‘Arp’ is one of the hardiest varieties. Look for unique shapes and forms to add to your herb garden’s personality!
Cilantro (though it is really coriander) has been cherished for thousands of years, though most people seem to fall into either the ‘love it’ or ‘can’t stand it’ category—there isn’t much in between! For a continuous crop, you can collect its seeds as it bolts and reseeds easily in containers. For a fresh supply, you need to keep planting every few weeks all summer long.
Lemon flavoured favourites like lemon balm, lemon verbena and lemongrass are not only delicious, they help repel mosquitoes too! Citrosa (lemon scented geraniums) also contain an oil that helps deter the little critters too.
These are, by far, the most popular and delightful of all herbs, but there are many more to explore too. We carry an extensive variety of herbs, from borage to chervil, lovage to comfrey, stevia to lemongrass, and many in between. With such a variety, it’s hard to imagine a small balcony or garden without them!
Need a little more info? Visit the Gardening Guides section of our website for our Rose Care Guide!