(News article for June 26, 2020)
Growing edible plants can be very rewarding. It can also come with challenges. Successfully raising vegetables and fruits often requires some attention to disease and insect management, as well as other production practices.
For people who have limited time for gardening, one option is to grow herbs. Most herbs require minimal maintenance, and while some are annuals that need to be replanted each year, many are perennials that will produce for a number of years. Moreover, many are evergreen and provide year-round color for the patio or garden.
An important part of growing many herbs is good drainage. A number of popular herbs – including oregano, rosemary, and thyme – have origins in the Mediterranean area, where they get quite a bit less rainfall than we do in Louisiana.
If you plant in containers, be sure that they have drainage holes at the base, and use a potting mix that drains well. Raised beds are an option for improving drainage where in-ground soil drainage is poor.
A soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8 is suggested. Application of lime will often be required to reach this pH when planting in the ground in our area. Apply lime, if needed, based on soil test report recommendations.
One to two inches of mulch can be used to manage weeds.
Most herbs perform best with at least six hours of sun per day, though many will tolerate some shade.Herbs don’t generally need a lot of fertilizer, though ones that are frequently harvested may need more.
When herbs are grown for their leaves – and most generally are – removing flowers is likely to increase productivity. Having said that, many herbs produce flowers that support pollinators, so allowing them to flower can provide that benefit.
Harvest herbs in the morning if possible. Leave enough foliage to allow the plant to regrow, unless you’re making the final harvest of an annual herb.
Basil, perhaps one of the most popular herbs, has one of the only major disease threats that herbs experience. Downy mildew of basil was detected in Louisiana in 2009. Unfortunately, it tends to affect the sweet basils that many people like. Spice-type basils are generally more resistant.
If you buy basil plants, make sure that they are healthy when you purchase them. If you grow basil from seed, use clean seed from a reputable source. If you water plants from overhead, do this in the morning rather than in the evening.
Rutgers University has bred several sweet basil varieties to be resistant to downy mildew, but I’m not aware that these have been tried in Louisiana yet. These varieties are named Rutgers Devotion DMR, Rutgers Obsession DMR, Rutgers Passion DMR, and Rutgers Thunderstruck DMR.
Let me know if you have questions.
Contact Mary Helen Ferguson.