LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Nothing completes a great recipe better than fresh herbs straight from your garden. Have you ever pulled out a recipe that calls for a specific fresh herb, gone to the grocery and couldn’t find it? Or you find it but it’s not the quality you want? Homegrown herbs to the rescue.
It’s easy to grow herbs at home, and you don’t need a great deal of space to do it. Herbs grow well in containers on patios in partial to full sun as well as in landscapes and raised beds.
Every herb has a season, pun intended. However, herbs can be grown year-round in Louisiana. They are categorized by the season in which they grow. Cool-season ones grow best in cooler weather, and warm-season ones do best in late spring to early autumn. Herbs are further categorized into annuals and perennials. Annuals will complete their lifecycle in one year, and perennials will live for several years.
You can grow these plants from seeds, or you may choose transplants. I use transplants because they are easy. Seeds, however, are much less expensive, although they take more time and planning. If you are starting with seeds, you can begin planting them up to one month before you plan to set them out in a garden or planter. Begin seeds in trays in a hot house, a greenhouse or windowsill that gets a great deal of light.
It’s important to know which herbs perform best in each season. Here’s a list of herbs suggested by AgCenter state vegetable specialist Kiki Fontenot.
Annual herbs for spring and summer are also known as warm-season herbs and are best planted in the garden after the last frost date. Those dates are typically March 15 in south Louisiana and after April 1 in north Louisiana. Warm-season herbs that generally grow well in Louisiana include basil, mint, lemon verbena, rosemary, sage, thyme, lavender, catnip and bay laurel.
Annual herbs for fall and winter are cool-season herbs that should be planted in the garden between September and February. Most cool-season herbs can tolerate normal winter freezes in Louisiana. Later in the cool season, in March or early April, plant larger transplants for harvesting in late May to early June.
Cool-season herbs that generally perform well in Louisiana include parsley, cilantro, chamomile, dill, oregano, borage, chives, garlic, celery, chicory, fennel, arugula and chervil.
Finally, don’t forget about perennial herbs that will produce year after year in the right conditions. Perennial herbs that do well in Louisiana include anise, hyssop, bay laurel, catmint and all other mints, lemon verbena, lemon balm, rosemary, Mexican tarragon, burnet, garlic, chives, oregano, pineapple sage and rue.
Although most perennial herbs can be planted throughout the year, they perform best when planted in the fall using transplants available at local nurseries. This allows them to become well established during the less-stressful cool season.
Thyme, sage, catnip, scented geraniums and lavender are perennial herbs that require excellent drainage to survive the summer. They may be more successful when grown in containers and placed in a location that gets some afternoon shade during the summer. These herbs can be short-lived and are susceptible to root and stem rots in the hot, wet conditions of the late summer season.
Several perennial herbs that have difficulty surviving our summers are grown here as cool-season annuals and include French tarragon, feverfew and chamomile.
A rule of thumb to keep your herbs producing and healthy is to be careful not to overharvest the foliage. Take no more than one third of the total foliage at any one time. Don’t forget that the flowers of herbs may also be used as a garnish or to flavor dishes as well as to attract pollinators. Many also may be used as cut flowers. Herbs that have started flowering and setting seed can be harvested to replant for the next season. Be resourceful with your herb garden.
You also can harvest and dry or freeze herbs for later use before the crops wear out at the end of the growing season. Gather, rinse and tie a bunch together and hang them upside down in cool, dry places indoors with good air circulation for dried herbs. Store them in air-tight containers protected from light in your pantry or kitchen cabinets.
You may also freeze herbs after cutting by rinsing, drying and then finely chopping them. Store them in freezer bags laid thin in half-inch layers in the freezer, and be sure to label with the herb name and date.
There you have it. No recipe will ever suffer when you grow your own herbs. Bon appetit.