It’s not too late to add herbs to your summer garden

Herbs add beauty and fragrance to the garden while attracting pollinators and beneficial insects.

Although summer is upon us, there is still time to add some herbs to your summer garden. The benefits of herbs are many. They attract beneficial insects and pollinators to your garden while adding flowers and fragrance. Herbs add flavor to meats and sauces and to vegetable dishes and salads prepared from your garden. Certain herbs are better adapted to grow during the heat of summer than others. Some of the best herbs to grow for summer are basil, dill, parsley, sage and rosemary. They can be sown as seeds or purchased as potted plants and grown in beds or containers.

Herbs are best harvested in the morning after the dew has evaporated, but before the heat of the day. Herbs for culinary use should be harvested before they flower. Essential oil levels and flavor are generally highest once flower buds have appeared, but flowers are not yet open.

Basil is an annual that comes in a range of colors and flavors with ruffled leaves or flat, fine-textured or larger leafed. The purple leaved varieties add interest to the garden border or containers. In addition to the traditional Italian basil flavor, there is lemon basil, lime basil, cinnamon basil and Thai basil, which has a spicy, anise-clove flavor. Depending on the variety chosen, most basil seed germinates in five to 10 days and is ready to harvest in 60 to 80 days. Basil is quite sensitive to cold and frost. Plant basil in full sun and well-drained soil in beds or containers.

Dill foliage, known as dill weed, and seed are used for flavoring foods. Dill is a common ingredient used when making pickles. Dill seed germinates in about 10-14 days. Dill does not transplant well, so it is best to sow the seed where you want it to grow. Dill can be harvested for foliage in 40-55 days and dill seed takes about 85-100 days, depending on the variety chosen. Dill will grow in most soils, but prefers a sunny spot in well- drained fertile soil.

Parsley is a biennial – it flowers and sets seed the second year. It is grown for its foliage. There are two common types: flat leaf and curly. Curly parsley may be more decorative as a garnish and accent in pots and garden borders, but flat leaf parsley has superior flavor – both have their uses. Parsley seed has a reputation for being difficult to germinate, taking 14-30 days to germinate and 75 days to harvest. Soaking seeds overnight in water is reported to help cut down on germination time by washing away furamocoumarins, chemicals in the seed coat that interfere with germination. For summer planting, Michigan State University Extension says it is probably best to use potted parsley.

Sage is a shrubby perennial plant. It can be a beautiful addition to a garden or landscape. Besides the usual grayish-green leaves of garden sage, there is golden sage, which has light green leaves edged with bright yellow-gold. Purple sage has dark reddish-purple leaves. The leaves of tricolor sage are mottled with shades of green, white, cream, pink and purple. Sage leaves are used fresh or dried for sauces, dressings, sausages, tea, and for dried swags and wreaths. Sage seed germinates in seven to 21 days. It takes 80-90 days to harvest. Sage can easily be grown in summer from started plants. Sage can grow in partial shade, but prefers full sun. To keep it healthy, plant it in well-drained soil that isn’t too fertile. Cut back plants by about one-third to one-half in spring to rejuvenate. Replace when plants become scraggly. There are also several scented sages such as pineapple sage and fruit scented sage, which are not hardy in Michigan. However, they have bright colored flowers and aromatic foliage, making them a welcome addition to a garden or container.

Rosemary is a small, perennial evergreen shrub that can be difficult to grow from seed. It is most commonly grown in containers from started plants. Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean and is not hardy in Michigan. It grows best in full sun and well-drained soils. It is used fresh or dried in soups, stews, salads and sauces. The stems, with leaves removed, can be used as skewers when grilling meats or vegetables. Pots can be taken indoors before frost and grown in a sunny window for use over winter.

If you don’t have space or time for an herb garden, try adding a few pots of herbs to your landscape or patio. It’s a low maintenance way to add fragrance and color to your garden and provide an economical source of fresh herbs during the growing season and high quality dried herbs year-round. When you consider the cost of dried herbs at the supermarket, you may find that growing your own herbs is well worth it.

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