1 April 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
Last week we talked about harvesting and site selection for the herb garden. This week its containers and propagation.
Lets review a few key principles. Group plants with similar growth habits, pH, watering, and sun requirements. Never let roots sit in water.
Arrange perennial herbs like thyme, sage, oregano, lavender, winter savory and rosemary along the sunny southwest side of your home.
For morning sun, let basils, parsley, mints, cilantro, chives and tarragon share the gentle light; though, a collection of colorful basils should have a pot of its own. Isolate the aggressive mints in separate containers.
Given optimum conditions, all are vigorous growers. All thrive with a pH of 6.0 - 7.5.
Maintain a continuous lush appearance by inter-planting edible annuals, marigolds, Johnny-jump-ups and nasturtiums, with perennials. However, for easy cultivation keep the annuals apart from the perennials.
Select dwarf, compact and trailing varieties. Go for lavender and rosemary with mature sizes less than 18 inches.
Rosmarinus officinalis 'Irene' at a maximum height of 12 inches cascades gracefully. So use it in a window box or an elevated pot.
Lavandula angustifolia 'Nana' will reach about six inches high, a fragrant candidate for the middle of the container.
Potting soil should balance nutrients with good drainage. Use one part screened compost, one part garden topsoil, and one part perlite (for a lighter pot), or builders sand (for a heftier box). Remember to provide ample drainage holes.
Artificial or commercial mixes may add to the cost and require fertilizer. I have found that a inch layer of worm or screened compost applied monthly during the growing season is the least costly, most beneficial nourishment.
Whether your container is moveable or stationary, position it as close to its water source as possible. If a window box suits you, then outside the kitchen or on the deck or porch rails might be best, especially during the colder months.
Increase your herbs with cuttings, layering and divisions. Divide the herbs in the spring, being careful to maintain moisture and minimize root damage. Try bee balm, catnip, chives, mint, and oregano.
Cut sweet Woodruff, tansy and tarragon into sections and relocate in the same soil to a depth of one inch until rooted. Mist lightly then cover with a clear or translucent dome from a recyclable bottle, cut length-wise like a Quonset hut.
Lavender, oregano, sage, rosemary, and English thyme, root easily from cuttings. Thanks to a fellow Master Gardener, I have found success using one-inch cubes of floral foam to anchor and moisten stems as they establish roots. Cover each with a top vented, translucent recycled container.
Any herb stem that bends easily will increase with simple layering. Layerings successful propagation rate is highest because each plantlet taps into the reserves of the parent with no water stress or carbohydrate shortage. Secure the stem to the earth with landscape fabric pins and maintain an inch of moist soil.
The herbs await you. Are you and your friends ready for the abundant harvest sure to come?
Tip of the Week
It is said that an early spring snow is the poor man's fertilizer, returning nitrogen to the soil. Arthur Welser speculates that, "it breaks dormancy again, causing additional shoots to emerge from the crown of plants that had previously broken dormancy." There is no scientific data to support either. Regardless, the seeping water is beneficial.