Fall is perfect for planting herbs
Herbs are either annual, biannual or perennial growing. Annual plants are fast growing and re-seed themselves or need to be planted each year. Lettuce is an example of an annual vegetable. Biannual plants live for two years. The first year, the leaves grow and the second year, the biannuals flower, go to seed and die. Burdock is a biannual plant. Perennial herbs last continuously for more than two years and sometimes a single plant can live for a very long time!
Often we think of spring as the best time for planting herbs. Spring planting is best for annual herbs that shoot up, flower and go to seed within one year. For perennial herbs actually fall is the best month for planting. Summertime is not the most optimum time to plant perennials because the plant is spending its energy just trying to survive the heat. Winter isn’t the best time to plant perennials because it is too cold for the plant to grow into its’ new home. The early fall provides the perfect in-between hot and cold temperature for planting perennials. It isn’t blazing hot but the soil is still warm enough to promote root growth.
Because of the long-lasting nature of perennials, establishing healthy root systems is more important than for annual plants. September and October are great months plant perennials because the root growth that occurs during this time allows the plant to become well established before the slow growth of the winter season. Having a good root system set up before winter allows for healthier leaf and flower growth in the spring.
Perennial herbs are great because you usually only have to plant them once and then they just grow season after season. Some perennial herbs lose their leaves and go dormant for the winter like lemon verbena, but many perennial herbs have leaves and flowers throughout the year. They add color, texture and smell to your garden all year long. Often people plant perennial herbs at the edge of their vegetable garden because they provide year round habitat for beneficial insects.
Some of my favorite perennial herbs are: rosemary, lavender, garden sage, white sage, fennel, thyme, oregano, comfrey, rose geranium and lemongrass. Most of these herbs can be found at any nursery.
Because perennials rely on healthy root systems for their long term growth, they like lots of room for their roots to grow. When planting you perennials, loosen the soil all around where you will be planting. Dig a large hole that is much wider and deeper than what the plant will take up. Fill in part of the hole with good soil and compost. This allows the roots to grow easily without resistance from compacted soil. The more room there is for the roots to grow, the healthier the plant will be. Often when roots hit hardpan soil, it can stress the plant, stimulating it to produce chemicals that can cause disease or attract harmful insects.
Even if you have never gardened before, take the time to plant one or two medicinal perennials in your yard or kitchen, you will be amazed at how easily they grow. If you have a brown thumb, you may want to start with the plants that will grow no matter what. Lemon verbena, fennel and catnip are a great place to start.
Kami McBride is the author of The Herbal Kitchen and has helped thousands of people learn to use herbs in their daily lives in ways that are healthy, safe and fun. She is the director of Cultivating the Herbal Medicine Woman Within, an experiential training in using herbs in the home for everyday health. An intuitive and inspiring teacher, Kami works to revive the cultural art of home herbal care and teaches herbology as a relationship with the Earth and a way of life. For a schedule of classes or herbal consultations Kami can be reached at (707) 446-1290 or sign up for her free herbal e-newsletter at: www.livingawareness.com