A dedicated herb garden or not?

phawx(5-6)July 17, 2009

I'm planning on expanding my gardens next year and am having difficulty deciding on whether to have one dedicated herb garden or spread the different herbs throughout my yard and veggie garden.

Ideally I would put an herb garden right next to my back door, which is closest to the kitchen. But given the layout of my house and the structures that are already in place, that's simply not possible.

I can convert one of my veggie garden boxes, which get full sun, to an herb box. I can build a new one in a different location, either full sun/part sun/full shade, I have all available. I can make our front flower bed an herb garden instead of a flower bed (this isn't ready yet, so it can potentially be either) which gets shaded in the a.m. and full, harsh sun in the afternoon/evening. Or I can plants herbs in all places rather than keeping them together.

I like the idea of having them all in one place, but I'm concerned about the variety of soil conditions/light conditions/water conditions that they need.

Any suggestions? Thoughts? Ideas? Personal experience? Something that will get me looking in the right direction.

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CA Kate

I have herbs spread all over the gardens and it all looks nice.... but hard to run all over just to cut a few sprigs. I find I have gradually been planting all my herbs into very large pots that are easy access right on the patio. The only two that haven't moved are the huge Oregano and the equally huge culinary Rosemary. The outer bed herbs mostly get cut enmasse for drying.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2009 at 2:11PM
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leira(6 MA)

I have all of my herbs in one place, in a bed that's as close to the kitchen door as is feasible. I like it a lot.

One of the things I like about it is that many of my herbs are perennials, and it means that I can leave my veggie garden free to be amended or turned or whatever at any time.

I think that a lot of herbs have similar needs, at least to the extent that you can clump similar ones together on opposite ends of the bed, and things like that.

It's also nice to get everything I need for dinner from one area, or to do all of my harvesting from one place.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2009 at 3:23PM
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One of the things I like about it is that many of my herbs are perennials, and it means that I can leave my veggie garden free to be amended or turned or whatever at any time.

I keep my perennial herbs separate for this reason as well.

Annual herbs like basil and parsley are mixed in with the vegetables though, so that they can do their companion-plant thing.

I don't think herbs need too many different soil conditions. You can put most herbs together, and then the exceptions can go other places, like putting your mints in a shadier spot than the others.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2009 at 5:49PM
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Most of the culinary herbs develop best flavor in full sun, if your area gets enough moisture for them to survive in that.

It can be sort of interesting to have them all together. That said, the ones requiring sharp drainage, such as thyme and sage, can sometimes do better in pots.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2009 at 8:04PM
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I don't think Utah has to worry about moist heat. In fact I would be in favor of planting where the herbs do not receive setting sun except for maybe some of the more tender ones like rosemary. What is your altitude in Utah?

As you think herbs think of some of the non-culinary ones such as the decorative oregano's such has Hopplys. sp

    Bookmark   July 18, 2009 at 12:31AM
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I believe our altitude is around 4200. We certainly don't have moist heat, it's very, very dry here. Desert mountains, that's where I'm at.

I'm not so sure that any herb, perennial or not, will survive the harsh winters we get here. Perhaps I'm wrong on that. I'm sure with the right protection, anything is possible ya?

I think I will do a mix of both. I'm designing a dedicated herb garden for the majority of them, and the few exceptions will go in pots around the deck or front porch or the decoratives, such as Kent Beauty Oregano, are going in various spots in the yard. We have the perfect rock wall for that one.

Thank you all for your input!

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 1:31PM
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leira(6 MA)

I'm not so sure that any herb, perennial or not, will survive the harsh winters we get here.

Phawx, if you're in zone 5-6, like it says in your profile, I think you'll find that there are quite a few perennial herbs that will survive the Winters for you...of course, a good Fall mulching before the freezing weather sets in is rarely out of line.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 2:17PM
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Leira - I am more concerned about the 2' of snow we get crushing the plants than I am about the cold. But I'll be giving it a try next year, snow or no snow, so I will know then :) Should have plenty of time to figure something out if needed.

I think with having them mostly in pots that can be moved or one bed, I can come up with something to keep the heavy snow off, ya? Will be my next 'research' project!

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 3:36PM
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Snow can be a good insulation. Not certain how Kent Beauty will do as some of the ornamental oregano's are prone to rots. Most of your problem will be from the freeze thaw cycles. If you have an area that remains in the shade but has overhead light you may want to place your pots in that area with a thick mulch on and arround the pots. If you can get the small bales of straw, wheat or oat, you can make a buffer arround the pots then stuff with loose material.

If not in pots some thymes, oreganos, and lavenders will provide seasonings during the winter when established. You can use the dry leaves on the lavenders as you would any of the herbs. Just do not cut back too much. The idea in snowy areas is to allow the top of the plant to trap the snow and provide a small dome of warmer air. Not hot just warmer.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 11:26PM
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The south side of my house is an area 6' wide by 35' long. My neighbors have a 6' fence on their side, so it creates a long, narrow heat trap of sorts. It gets the least amount of snow and wind, and the most amount of light so I think I could store the pots there over the winter. They'd probably not get much snow on them, if any at all, so mulching around the pots would be necessary to protect from the cold. Our average low at our house is around 10* nights, sometimes it gets lower. We've dipped into the negatives a few times, but that's the exception, not the rule.

The other option would be underneath my deck. It's about 3' off the ground, with a cement base underneath it. We don't usually clear the snow from the deck. It piles up the 3' high at times due to the wind. They'd not get any snow on them there at all, but they'd also get very little direct light. Might be warmer air under there with all the snow above. It's also blocked off on all sides except the south, so no wind underneath the deck. I know my dog lives under there in the winter, I assume because it's warmer.

I'll have to pay closer attention this winter and see what I discover. I might try planting a few pots of herbs this year if I get a chance, but more likely than not it will have to wait until next spring.

I'll definitely find out where to obtain some straw bales for the herb bed. That's definitely doable, thanks for the suggestion. Can't be too difficult to find in my neck of the woods :)

If I have thyme and oregano in pots, will they not provide seasonings over the winter? What would be the difference between having them in ground or in pots?

    Bookmark   July 22, 2009 at 12:20PM
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For your plants to winter over they have to have a source of moisture. Either you watering or the snow melting. I would prefer the snow melting. For me it is better to keep the pots cool all winter rather than having them in a sunny area. What happens when you place pots in a sunny area is that the pots heat up more than the surrounding air. With the pots warming the plants think it is spring and will start growing just in time to freeze. The other problem of placing in an area that warms is that the plants with the freeze thaw cycle will heave out of the potting mixure and expose their roots to air which can kill them.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2009 at 2:47PM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

There are many herbs that survive in zones 5-6. While a single snowfall here can be 2', they usually are in the 1' or less range. But snow can accumulate over days, weeks, and months to be quite deep and heavy. I have never lost an herb to being crushed by snow.

The bigger dangers with winter ice and snow is improper drainage. Especially for your Mediterranean herbs like lavender, thyme and sage. Pooling water will rot these plants. Drainage is key.

Ground heaving from thawing-freezing cycles can expose roots to temperatures they can not handle and I have lost plants to this as well. As a note on plants in pots, I sink the pots in the ground before winter for any pots remaining outdoors. The ground will give some insulation to the roots. Only the most hardy plants such as mint reliably come back from unprotected, exposed pots.

My biggest source of winter-kill are rodents and other chewy critters. The woody plants may get girdled or chewed off by them.

As far as your original topic of a dedicated herb garden...I mix it up between flowers, herbs, and vegetables. I don't really have a dedicated bed for one type. I do generally keep annuals (like most veggies) to a particular set of beds but herbs go there too, especially the flowering ones. I plant for conditions - sun, shade, etc., rather than a purpose such as "herbs." I should note, however, that I keep any toxic medicinals out of the veggie and culinary herb areas. Don't need to have anything bad happen since I'm not the only one who picks veggies.


    Bookmark   July 27, 2009 at 9:37AM
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