Herbs for South Texas
From the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M System
Herbs are plants that are used as flavoring agents. The common herbs used in cooking are referred to as culinary herbs. Mild or savory herbs impart a delicate flavor to food while the stronger or pungent herbs add zest to foods. These herbs are attractive and varied so their ornamental value is also important.
The ornamental value of herbs enables them to be used in flower beds, borders, rock gardens, or corner plantings. Some herbs are annuals while others are perennial or come up year after year. You can locate annual herbs in your annual flower garden or vegetable garden. The perennial herbs should be located at the side of the garden where they won't interfere with next year's soil preparation.
Care for the herb garden will be similar to your vegetable or flower garden. Select a sunny, well-drained location. Apply a slow-release fertilizer at the rate of 2 pounds per 100 square feet.
Water as necessary during dry periods. Generally, you need about one inch of water per week, if not supplied by natural rainfall. A mulch will help conserve soil moisture and reduce weed growth as well. The mints prefer moist soil so they will require more frequent watering.
Annual and biennial herbs can be established by planting the seed directly in the garden or starting seeds indoors for later transplanting to the garden. You can save seed produced by the herb plants for next year's crop or obtain seed from your local garden center or seed catalog.
To save your own seed, harvest the entire seed head after it has dried on the plant. The seeds should then be allowed to dry in a protected location that is cool and dry. After the seeds are thoroughly dry, thresh the seed from the seed heads and discard the trash. Store in labeled jars in a dark, cool, dry location.
Some herb seeds such as dill, anise, caraway, or coriander can be used for flavorings.
Perennial herbs can be propagated by cuttings or by division. Divide plants every 3 to 4 years in the early spring. The plants should be dug up and cut into several sections. You can also cut 4 to 6 inch sections of the stem and root these by placing the cuttings in moist sand in a shady area. In 4 to 8 weeks, roots should form on these cuttings. Herbs such as sage, winter savory, and thyme can be propagated by cuttings. Chives, lovage, and tarragon can be propagated by division of the roots or crowns.
Leaves of many herbs such as parsley and chives can be harvested for fresh seasonings. On these plants you can gradually remove some of the leaves as you need them. Don't remove all the foliage at one time. These plants will produce over a long period of time if they are cared for well.
On rosemary and thyme, clip the tops when the plants are in full bloom. Usually, leaves and flowers are harvested together. Basil, fennel, mint, sage, summer savory, sweet marjoram, tarragon, and winter savory are harvested just before the plant starts to bloom.
Chervil and parsley leaves can be cut and dried anytime. Lovage leaves should be harvested early during the first flush of growth.
After harvesting, hang the herbs in loosely tied bundles in a well-ventilated room. You can also spread the branches on a screen, cheesecloth, or hardware cloth. For herbs where leaves only are needed, the leaves can be spread on flat trays. Keep dust off the herbs by a cloth or similar protective cover that will allow moisture to pass through.
Many of the herbs we grow today are from the Mediterranean region of the world and thus hot, dry summer weather suits them perfectly. All too often gardeners lose herbs because they don't have good enough drainage (they really do best in a raised bed) or because they don't have them in the right exposure. Most require sun. The mints and a few other herbs will grow well in shade or partial shade.
Following is a list and description of some commonly used, adapted herbs for this area:
BASIL - This is one of the easiest of all herbs to grow. It is a rather strong herb, but one that is delightful when chopped fine and mixed with butter. In addition to the standard green forms, there's a purple-leafed basil and a lemon-scented basil. Basil is quite tender so at the first sign of frost you can expect to lose it.
CAMOMILE - This herb makes one of the best of all herbal teas. There are two varieties. English and German camomile. The dried blossoms of either can be used to make tea. You'll need to experiment with the amount you want to use, but try pouring boiling water over about one tablespoon for each cup desired and then filter this through a tea strainer after it has steeped for about 10 to 15 minutes.
CATNIP - Is an interesting herb to grow, especially if you have cats. The cats like to roll all over the catnip as well as any surrounding plants, so you'll probably find it's best to grow this herb in a hanging basket. Although it is sometimes used to make a hot tea, catnip's main attribute seems to be known only by cats.
COMFREY - Comfrey is a rank-growing herb with large "donkey-ear" leaves that remind one of green sandpaper. It has been promoted as being high in protein and an excellent foodstuff, but unfortunately, it's hard to find a suitable way to eat it. It is widely used as a tea made either from the leaves or from the roots.
LEMON BALM - Is a member of the mint family and it can be a very rank growing plant. The leaves have a strong lemon odor and make a delightful tea or they can be used to flavor regular teas. Because of its extreme vigor, it's probably best to grow this plant in a confined bed area or in containers.
MARJORAM and OREGANO - These herbs are quite similar, although marjoram is considered the milder of the two. They're both easy to grow and can be used year round. Except in an extreme winter, they look better in the fall and winter than in mid-summer when the growth begins to slow. Oregano is the familiar herb in pizzas and one plant would make a lot of pizzas.
MINTS - There are many mints. Spearmint is one of the most popular and the easiest to grow. Peppermint is more difficult to grow. There's a pineapple mint, an apple mint, an orange mint (this is so vigorous it soon becomes a weed) and many variations of these basic fragrances. All mints appreciate moisture and do best where they get afternoon shade. A good place to plant spearmint is at the base of a downspout.
ROSEMARY - Rosemary comes in many forms from a bush that grows up to four feet tall to a low-growing groundcover variety. The fragrance is rather strong but rosemary is typically used with many meat dishes, especially chicken. One good idea is to use a cut sprig of rosemary to dip into barbecue sauce and then brush it on chicken.
This is a sampling of the many herbs that can be grown in this area. Parsley, chervil and chives are best planted in the fall for winter growth.
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