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Planting Herbs Outdoors
by Julie Bawden-Davis
Planting herbs outdoors adds beauty to your landscape and provides you with fresh, flavorful seasonings in the kitchen. Stepping out your back door and picking fresh basil for your pesto and snipping mint for your tea takes understanding the basics of growing herbs outdoors.
When to plant herbs
Herbs grow quickly when planted in the spring. At what point in the spring you plant your herbs depends on your climate. To avoid a slow start or plant damage, wait until the danger of frost has passed before planting herbs.
Where to plant herbs
Most herbs require a sunny spot with good air circulation in which to thrive. Choose an area that receives at least four to six hours of direct sunlight a day. Some herbs, such as lemon balm, lovage, chervil, mint and parsley, require light shade.
Choose a location that drains well, as many herbs such as rosemary and thyme, require sharp, fast drainage. If you are unsure of the drainage in your proposed planting area, dig a 6- to 12-inch hole and fill it with water. The hole will drain within 90 minutes if the drainage is adequate. If you find that the drainage is poor, before planting herbs, amend the soil with a 6-inch layer of compost that you work into the first 8 to 12 inches of soil.
Many herbs thrive in containers, and growing them in pots enables you to place them near the back door for easy harvesting. Potted herbs also make a decorative addition to the garden. When planting in containers, use a high-quality potting soil with added perlite or pumice, which ensures good drainage. Herbs also thrive in raised beds, which are essentially large containers.
How to plant herbs
Successfully planting herbs requires that you plant each herb at the same level as the plant is in its original nursery container. By doing this, you avoid planting the herbs too high or too low, which are both situations that can result in plant failure. Once you have the plant in the soil, firmly pat down the soil surrounding the plant and water well.
Water herbs when the top 2 to 3 inches of soil dries. Ground plants require watering less frequently than containers, which can dry out in an afternoon during hot weather. Avoid over-watering herbs, as this leads to lush, yet flavorless, growth.
Feed your herbs just once or twice during the growing season. Over-fertilized herbs produce thick, green growth with little flavor. Overfeeding dilutes the essential oil production of the herbs, and the oils are what give herbs their intense aroma and flavor.
Pinch and prune
Enjoy the bounty of your herbs often by pinching back on a regular basis. Pruning out growth keeps the plant bushy and healthy and leads to new growth. Plants that aren’t pinched back frequently become rangy and unattractive.