Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Planting Herbs in the Fall

by Ted Roberson

For gardeners who have tried and possibly failed at planting herbs in the spring or summer, you may have already figured out that planting in the fall is usually best for many herbs. Especially for herbs grown from bulbs, planting them in the fall gives them a chance to make roots and they will be ready for harvest in the spring. Since herbs are almost always very delicate plants, planting in the fall is the best because of the cool weather. The harsh humid conditions that occur in many parts of the country throughout the summer means that herbs will have a difficult time getting started, let alone surviving.

Of course, planting herbs in the fall is not for all climate zones, especially for climate zones above 5 or 6, and not for all herbs. In these climate zones, it is usually cool enough through the spring and summer months to grow herbs and may be too cool in the quickly approaching cold weather of the fall months. If you are interested in particular herbs then it is best to research their hardiness independently for climate zones 1-5.

For the rest of the country, planting in the fall works well because herbs need lots of sun, but do not need the humidity that goes along with the sunshine. There is a fine balance between too little and too much sunshine for these delicate plants, who usually need about five to six hours of sunlight a day. Keep in mind that there are a few herbs that enjoy the shade, such as parsley and mint, but the majority of them prefer at least a few hours of sunlight a day.

The best part about planting in the fall is that herbs can easily be planted in containers, just in case the weather gets cold. This way herbs can be moved to a greenhouse or indoors where grow lights or just placing them in a sunny window will keep them at bay for the winter.

It really is best to start out small plants or herbs from seeds in small pots in the fall and transfer them to the ground in the spring, if at all. Since they are so fragile, placing them right in the ground might mean not getting good results. Remember that there are a few herbs that come in the form of perennial bulbs, such as garlic, fennel, saffron, and shallots, but the rest are in the form of plants or seeds. Herb perennial bulbs should be placed in the ground as the fall weather approaches, but at least 6-8 weeks before a freeze, this way they have time to establish roots before becoming dormant.

There are both annual and perennial herbs as well as biennial. Popular annual herbs include basil, borage, cilantro, chamomile, and rosemary. Popular perennials and biennials include parsley, sage, and mint. Most herbs are annuals and the point of planting herbs in the fall is to give them a chance to get rooted and be prepared for an entire season in the early spring and summer months. That means you will be harvesting these annuals in the midst of the summer when the heat of the summer is useful in helping dry herbs for storage.

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