LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Nothing elevates a delicious recipe quite like the burst of flavor from fresh herbs plucked straight from your garden. Ever found yourself searching for a specific herb in the grocery store, only to be disappointed by the quality? Homegrown herbs to the rescue!
Growing herbs at home is easy and doesn't require much space. Whether in containers on your patio, in landscapes, raised beds or even trendy aerogardens on your kitchen counter, there are plenty of options.
Herbs are plants valued for their aromatic, flavorful and medicinal properties. They are commonly used in cooking, for fragrance and in traditional or alternative medicine. Herbs are distinct from vegetables in that they are usually the leaves of the plant rather than the stems, roots or seeds.
Fun fact: The terms "spices" and "herbs" are often used interchangeably, but they refer to different parts of plants and are used in different ways in cooking. Herbs are the leaves of plants, and they are usually used fresh or dried for flavoring food. They are often green and have a milder flavor compared to spices. Examples of herbs commonly grown and used are basil, parsley, cilantro, thyme, rosemary and mint.
Spices come from other parts of the plant, such as the seeds, bark, roots or fruits. They are often dried and ground before use, and they tend to have stronger and more intense flavors compared to herbs. Examples of spices include cinnamon (bark), cumin (seeds), ginger (root), black pepper (dried berries) and cloves (flower buds) are examples of spices.
It's important to note that there are some exceptions and overlaps. For instance, coriander can refer to both the fresh leaves (herb) and the dried seeds (spice) of the same plant. The distinction between herbs and spices is more of a culinary convention than a strict botanical classification.
Herbs have their seasons, but the good news for Louisiana is that they can be grown year-round. Categorized into cool-season and warm-season varieties, each thrives in its respective time. You can choose between growing from seeds or opting for transplants. Each method has its advantages.
Warm-season herbs like basil, mint, rosemary, thyme and oregano flourish after the last frost date, typically around March 15 in south Louisiana and after April 1 in the north. On the other hand, cool-season herbs such as parsley and cilantro are perfect for fall and winter, enduring Louisiana's normal winter freezes.
Perennial herbs like rosemary and lavender can be planted throughout the year but thrive best when planted in the fall using transplants. Keep in mind that some perennial herbs like thyme and sage might need excellent drainage, making containers a suitable option. Lavender can be a challenge in Louisiana, but improved cultivars have shown promise.
Most herbs thrive in well-draining soil and require at least four to six hours of direct sunlight daily. Ensure your garden or container is in a spot that receives adequate sunlight. Herbs generally prefer consistent moisture, but overwatering can lead to root rot. Water the plants when the top inch of soil feels dry, adjusting the frequency based on weather conditions.
If space is limited, herbs can be grown in containers on patios or balconies. Use high-quality potting mix and ensure the containers have drainage holes to prevent waterlogging. Take advantage of companion planting by placing herbs near vegetables or other plants that can benefit from their presence. Some herbs also act as natural pest deterrents.
Herbs generally don't require heavy fertilization. Use a balanced, organic fertilizer sparingly, as excessive nutrients can lead to less flavorful herbs. Regularly prune herbs to encourage bushier growth and prevent them from becoming leggy. Harvest leaves in the morning for the best flavor and avoid taking more than one-third of the plant at a time.
Keep an eye out for common pests like aphids and spider mites. Consider natural remedies like neem oil or insecticidal soap to protect your herbs without resorting to harsh chemicals. Some herbs, including rosemary and lavender, are perennials. Plant them in well-draining soil and consider containers to control moisture levels during hot Louisiana summers.
To make the most of your herb garden, consider harvesting and drying or freezing herbs for later use. Hang them upside down in a cool, dry place for dried herbs or finely chop and freeze them in labeled bags for a burst of flavor in your recipes all year long.
For more information on herbs and how to grow them, consult the comprehensive guide from the LSU AgCenter. You can find it by visiting www.LSUAgCenter.com and searching for “Herb Gardening in Louisiana.” This guide provides expert tips for cultivating a thriving herb garden year-round.
In your culinary journey, growing your own herbs ensures that no recipe will ever lack the vibrant, fresh taste of homegrown goodness. Bon appétit!
Grow herbs year-round in Louisiana. LSU AgCenter file photo
Herbs can be grown successfully in containers with well-draining soil. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
“Herb Gardening in Louisiana” is an excellent publication for everything you need to know about herb gardening. LSU AgCenter photo