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bY Lorna Kring

Who doesn’t love herbs? They’re fun and easy to grow, delicious to cook with, and they offer amazing levels of antioxidants for good health and well-being.

Garlic, chives, tarragon and oregano can all benefit from a top dressing of organic material such as well-rotted manure or compost as the nutrients will release slowly down to the roots. Before applying, fluff the mulch with your garden fork to reduce its weight and create tiny air pockets. Apply a couple of inches directly to the soil surface to cover emerging growth and carefully encircle any taller stalks.


Cut back, pull out, or break off stalks to tidy up chamomile, dill, lemon balm, mint, oregano, parsley, sage and yarrow and rejuvenate any plants that have become lanky such as lavender or sage. After a few years of growth in the garden, some herbs tend to become leggy, with new growth at the tops of tall, bare stems.

To restore a compact form and encourage fuller growth, cut back by about one-third, or to just above the lowest green leaves, or to 4-6 inches from the ground – depending on the size and growth habit of the particular plant. This can seem harsh, but herbs are a tough lot and this is the best way to revitalize their growth and appearance.Once cleaning and pruning has been done, clear the soil of any debris. Loosen the top layer gently with a fork, and top-dress with an inch or two of compost or well-rotted manure.


Many herbs do very nicely in pots, making them ideal for containers and can quickly become root-bound after a year or two when they will need to be divided and re-potted. Move any root bound plants from their containers and cut away the lower quarter of the root mass.If the roots are really packed, you may also want to cut away an inch or so around the outside. Do this with a clean and sharp tool with a serrated edge, such as a folding garden saw.

Trim roots from the sides and the bottom of the root ball.

An alternative to cutting away the outer root layer is to divide the root mass into halves, thirds, or quarters. This works for any herbs that form clumps – like chives – or that spread via runners – such as mint, oregano, tarragon, or thyme.However, for plants like lavender, parsley, rosemary or sage – division by stem cuttings or seeds is the best method of propagation (more on that below).Once the root ball has been trimmed or divided, it can go back into a pot.

Divided and ready for transplanting.

First, ensure there’s adequate drainage material then add about one-third of fresh soil that’s been amended with rotted compost or manure, and some moisture-retaining material such as peat moss.

Set the root ball in place with bone meal mixed into the potting soil.

Add a bit of bone meal to encourage root growth, set the roots in place, and top up with more fresh soil. Firm the soil gently but don’t pack it down, and settle it in place with a drink of water.


Container-grown herbs that have become root-bound can also be planted in the garden. Dig a hole twice as wide but no deeper than the pot it came from. Mix in some fresh amended soil, add some bone meal, loosen or trim any circling roots, and plant as described above.


Checking individual sun and temperature requirements for specific varieties is the best way to determine location.

But as a general rule of thumb most kitchen herbs enjoy plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures in well-drained, somewhat rocky or sandy soil. Most leafy types, both perennial and annual, will do best with an afternoon break from the heat to help prevent leaf scorch and early bolting to seed so look for an area that gets shade at this time of the day.


Herbs with needle-like or thick leaves – such as lavender, rosemary, and sage can handle full sun all day and you can amend any thick or heavy soil with builders’ sand or finely calibrated pebbles to ensure adequate drainage – herbs will sulk and underperform if their roots are allowed to stand in soggy, waterlogged soil.


Herbs produce the highest levels of essential oils, for distinctive flavours and fragrances, when they are somewhat under-fertilized. High levels of nutrients especially nitrogen, will generate plenty of leafy growth but this could be at the cost of taste and aroma. Therefore, an organic fertilizer such as well-rotted manure or compost dug into the soil or the occasional application of fish fertilizer works well for herbs.

With container-grown plants because the roots can’t spread out to find nutrients, a fish fertilizer or water-soluble fertilizer solution diluted to about half-strength and applied every two or three weeks will supply the food they need. Many varieties also prefer to be slightly under-watered for the same reason – lower amounts of fertilizer and water mean greater flavour and fragrance. However, don’t allow any potted herbs to get too dry. Water when the top few inches of soil are dry, and just until water emerges from the drainage holes.


Woody types – such as bay laurel, lavender, sage, and southernwood – may be propagated easily from stem cuttings.

Semi-woody herbs – such as mint, oregano, thyme, are best propagated by root division as described before.

Leafy and annual herbs – like basil, cilantro and parsley – are easiest to propagate by sowing seeds.

Stem cuttings should be taken in the morning while the plant stems are still fully turgid. Choose healthy plant material free of any flowers or flower buds, and remove any greenery from the lower third to the lower half of the stem. Gently wound the lower stem with a few light nicks or scrapes to reveal the inner green wood, then dip it in a rooting compound.

Place the stem in a small pot with a light-bodied rooting mix, (such as coarse sand, peat and perlite) then seal in a plastic bag to prevent moisture loss. Place indoors in a warm spot with bright light but out of direct sunlight. Leave for several weeks until well rooted, with strong, new growth emerging. Water moderately and only when needed.


Wonderfully easy and rewarding to grow, a herb garden will provide you with a continuous supply of kitchen seasonings, teas, tinctures, and fragrant posies – and with only a minimum of care and attention, these garden gems will thrive and flourish – plenty of sunshine, light amounts of nutrients and water, and space to grow is about all they need. ONE SPOT!