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Creating a culinary herb garden

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Julia Laughlin
Julia Laughlin

If you love to garden and also love to cook, culinary herbs are ideal for your garden.

Many kinds are adapted to and grow successfully in Oklahoma gardens. And herbs, in many instances, also are ornamental and interesting to grow.

You should have no trouble finding culinary herb transplants in garden centers and nurseries right now. Most herbs will need at least six hours of full sun to do well in our climate. If you don’t have a spot for a small herb garden, consider creating a container herb garden or sticking a few of your favorite plants to cook with into your flower bed.

Herbs in general are easy to grow, with a few exceptions. The general culture of herb plants is quite similar to both vegetables and flowers. Suitable soil, sun exposure, mulching, irrigation, and plant spacing should be followed.

In many instances the flavors imparted by freshly cut home-grown herbs are stronger or more pungent than available commercial materials. Frequently, a new gardener will plant too many individual kinds of herbs. Since very small amounts are used in most foods, plan on growing few plants of each kind that is not frequently used. If you are planning to make something that requires a lot of leaves, like pesto, plant extra for those special dishes.

Herbs are classified with respect to their life span. Some are annuals usually grown from seed, but are widely available as transplants. You often can save mature seeds from annual herbs and use them for plantings in future years.

Some examples of favorite annual herbs are basil, borage, cilantro, dill and savory. Basil is a natural choice for anyone who grows tomatoes, and cilantro can be harvested for the leaves or the spicy seeds, which we actually call coriander.

Another type is biennials, which grow and produce during the portions of two seasons. Leaf production of these types of herbs is usually best in the first year. Parsley, one of my favorite herbs to use fresh and cook with, is an example.

Another group of herbs are perennials, and they may grow and produce several years from one planting. In several instances seeds are not produced so the grower may use bulbs, roots, rhizomes or cuttings to propagate more plants. Chives, horseradish, lemon balm, mints, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme.

Some herbs are preferred as fresh material or to be used as a garnish. With others, such as oregano, many people prefer the flavor of the dried leaves. Those herbs used as leaves usually are more flavorful when harvested at or just before blooming. In such instances, harvest portions of the stems with leaves and flowers or flower buds attached.

You can hang dry or lay leaves of herbs on paper towels to dry in a location with minimum sunlight to avoid the loss of color and flavor. After thoroughly dry, materials may be stored in a darkened areas in airtight containers or in containers in the freezer.

Adding a few herbs to your outdoor space can make your summer culinary adventures more flavorful. Enjoy!

Email Julia Laughlin, Oklahoma County Extension horticulture educator, at julia.laughlin@okstate.edu

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