How To Keep Herb Plants Producing Leaves
I’m not a person renowned for my gardening skills, but one area I seem to have conquered is the herb garden and now manage to keep herb plants producing leaves, so I get the most out of my herb garden.How do you get the most out of your herb garden? #herbgarden #freshherbs Click To Tweet
It wasn’t always so. When I first planted my herb garden the fresh herb season was short. Come July most of them had gone to flower or just died right back. There were years when I wondered why I bothered, but I’m glad I stuck with it.
The herbs I keep are:
- Fresh basil – a big leaf and a little leaf variety.
- Fresh parsley
- Lemon thyme
- And one that I do believe is lovage – it looks similar to parsley, but has a strong celery taste, but isn’t celery
Some herbs like rosemary, oregano, sage, thyme, marjoram, lovage and peppermint are perennials and will keep producing leaves year after year if looked after properly.
The softer stemmed herbs like basil and parsley don’t last so long and need to be replaced regularly. I manage to harvest basil leaves for around seven to eight months depending on how cold the winter is. Winter in Greece is relatively short and mild-ish, but they usually die off completely around Christmas time, by which time I’ve harvested and frozen enough leaves to keep me in good supply for the winter.
So How Do I Look After My Herb Plants?
When I first started my herb garden there were times when I nearly gave up. I’m no Percy Thrower and with the summer temperatures in Greece averaging in the mid 30Cs plus, keeping plants healthy and happy is no easy task.
It took trial and error to work out what herb plants needed to thrive here.
Fresh basil has to be my all-time favourite herb. Finely chopped and tossed in a salad (don’t overdo it though) it adds an interesting taste. It can also be simmered with fresh tomatoes to make a simple fresh tomato and basil pasta sauce.
Basil was the hardest herb to keep going through the summer. The problem I found is that it would go to seed quickly. I’ve learned that although basil can survive well in full sun, the summer sun in Greece can be a little too much and stresses the plant encouraging flowers to form, so I plant it in a position where it gets shade from the trees when the sun is overhead.
Also, basil loves water! I give my basil plants a good watering every morning. I’m sure the time of day doesn’t really matter, it’s just I’m a morning person so it works best for me. Giving them plenty of water slows down the flowering process helping to keep the herb plants producing leaves.
The large-leaved basil I grow isn’t the sweet basil and to be honest I’m not sure what type it is, but it thrives in the right conditions. The leaves are a lovely dark green and when it starts to sprout purple leaves that’s a sign that it’s going to flower soon.
At least once a week I go out with my secateurs and prune off the purple leaves to the next set of green leaves below. And every week or so I will go and harvest a load of leaves for the freezer, but I’ll save that for another post.
If you let the plants flower they do look very pretty and will attract plenty of bees, but they will also stop producing so many healthy leaves for the kitchen.
Small Leaved Basil
On the balcony, I like to keep small-leaved basil in pots purely for ornamental purposes. It can be used in cooking, but I found that once I started harvesting the leaves, the attractive roundness of the plant was lost. Again those pots are given a good watering every morning.
Flat Leaved Parsley
Flat leaved parsley is another plant that enjoys a good watering on a daily basis. I also plant it in a position where it is shaded by the harsh midday sun.
Parsley will last a couple of growing seasons in the right conditions. This is another herb I stock up on for the winter by freezing it.
Every now and again it will try to flower, but I remove the flower stalks as soon as I see them.
Now lovage is an interesting herb and one that it took a while for me to fall in love with. It tastes just like celery, which is why I wasn’t keen, but it adds a lovely taste to soups and stews if used in moderation.
I first planted this herb last year and for some reason dug it up without thinking. Apparently, it will keep producing leaves for years, but that I have yet to see. It does look very similar to the flat-leaved parsley, but the scent of the leaves ensure there is no mix-up. If like me, you aren’t a fan of celery it may take a bit of getting used to, but I recommend giving it a try just a bit at a time.
This year I popped a couple of plants in the herb garden, but also popped one in a pot. The one in the pot is actually doing better and is much bigger than the two in the garden.
I’ve noticed that lovage does not like quite as much water as the parsley or basil plants, but still likes to be watered daily. If overwatered it seems to go a little speckly.
Perennial HerbsThere's nothing better than popping out to the herb garden to pick fresh herbs for the kitchen. Here's how I keep my herbs happy and healthy #herbs #herbgarden Click To Tweet
The perennial herbs I keep in a section on their own as their watering needs are different. In this patch, I have oregano, marjoram, thyme, lemon thyme and sage.
The sage is a beast of a plant and needs regular pruning or it will overpower the other plants. This is one herb I do let flower a little as it produces pretty pale pink flowers and attracts insects, so I feel like I’m doing my bit for the insect community. It is also a herb I’m not going to run short of either.
Oregano is another one of my favourites herbs. It seems to have two growing seasons, one in spring and another in autumn, which is a little like a second spring here in Greece.
In spring mine will produce an abundance of flower buds. To keep it producing leaves I’ll cut off stems with young leaves and buds and freeze them. When the growth spurt is over I’ll give it a good pruning back, removing any dead bits.
Marjoram is a similar tasting herb to oregano that I rarely use as I tend to favour the oregano. It doesn’t seem to thrive as easily as the oregano either. This herb I tend to let flower, pruning it back after the flowers die.
Thyme And Lemon Thyme
Thyme grows wild in the mountains here, so it was a little disheartening that it took several plants before I managed to keep them alive.
As much as they seem to like full sun in the mountains, that doesn’t seem to be the case at home. Mine live in the herb garden where they are slightly shaded by the oregano and sage plants.
I did try to keep the flowering to a minimum on these herbs too, but they look so pretty in flower that I didn’t overly stress about it. As soon as any flowers died I cut the stems back to the leaves.
Rosemary loves the sun but seems to thrive better in partial shade. In the past, I had a plant that was in full sun and I battled to stop it from flowering. The plant I have in the garden now is three years old and has barely produced a flower, but it’s produced a nice amount of young leaves.
Watering The Perennial Herbs
To keep herb plants producing leaves they need the right conditions. When I was first establishing my herb garden my biggest mistake was planting the wrong types of herbs together. I planted the soft-stemmed annuals and bi-annual’s alongside the woody perennials, both have different watering needs.
Even when the temperatures are hitting the mid 30Cs perennial herbs only need a good weekly watering. Once the temperatures drop (around October) I’ll hardly water them at all.
Again I am no expert, but I know what has worked for my herb plants. When I went to the farm stall they gave me a 20-20-20 slow-release fertilizer to sprinkle around my herb garden.
I sprinkle it sparingly once a month or so and the plants don’t seem to mind it. Once the autumn comes I will stop fertilizing until next spring, when I will dig in some nicely broken down compost too.
My Top Tips To Keep Herb Plants Producing Leaves…
- Keep soft-stemmed herbs and woody-stemmed herbs separate as there watering needs are different.
- Don’t be scared to err on the side of caution when directions say plant in full sun, especially when living in a hot climate. Partial shade could be good enough.
- Soft stemmed herbs need daily watering when the weather is hot.
- Woody stemmed herb plants only need a good weekly watering when temperatures are up.
- Keep deflowering herb plants to keep them producing harvestable leaves.
- Watch, learn and take note. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your herb garden be!
I nearly forgot my chives… And what a story that is! As you can guess I don’t lead a very exciting life!…
For years I battled to grow chives with not much luck. Seeds never germinated or if they did never came to anything. Even the supermarket chives in a pot never lasted more than a few weeks. Until…
Last year I just emptied a whole packet of chive seeds into a pot and covered them lightly with compost. After a few weeks with no luck, I stopped watering the pot…
Then one day to my amazement I noticed a thin green strand that looked like a sad blade of grass. I resumed watering right away and now look…
I have a pot of chives grown from seeds. They get a daily watering and a little sun early in the day. I really want to re-pot them, but don’t want to tempt fate as they seem to be doing so well now.
Do you have a herb garden? Or maybe you keep some in pots on the windowsill? Do you have any advice you can add?
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