Garden

One of the easiest things to grow here in Central Texas is an herb garden. Herbs do quite well in Texas. Most of them are perennials, so once you plant them you will have them for many years.

They only seem to grow more lush with the passing of each year. There are many interesting and useful herbs that you can grow here. Let’s look at some of the best.

Basil: Basil is one of the few herbs that is not perennial, so you will need to plant it every year.

Wait until all danger of frost is past. You will find many varieties of basil. You can use the leaves of some varieties to season Italian food. There are also more exotic varieties such as Thai basil, that are used to season Thai or Vietnamese foods.

An internet search will let you know what kind you want for recipes you want to try. To keep basil in the best of shape, trim it often so that it does not bloom.

Like most herbs, it will perform best when trimmed into a rounded mound. It also looks quite attractive this way.

Ask your local nurseryman what kinds he recommends. There are a few that produce nice flowers if you are not of a culinary bent.

Ginger: You can also grow your own ginger. Just go to your local grocery store and buy several tubers of ginger.

Plant them in good potting soil or right in a well-prepared garden just below the surface. Soon a tropical-looking plant will emerge.

Ginger is attractive enough to be ground in an ornamental garden. After a month or two, gently dig around the base of the plants to find the tubers. You can then cut off a piece for your dinner that evening. Fresh ginger is aromatic and you’ll find it very flavorful.

Garlic: Garlic goes hand-in-hand with ginger for Asian cuisine. Garlic should be planted in October, then harvested as needed the next spring.

For both garlic and ginger, once you have harvested, store in a cool, dry place.

Lemon Grass: One last herb that is good in Asian cooking is lemon grass. Be sure that you look up recipes to learn exactly how to cook with this herb, as it is more complicated than some others. It is worth the extra effort for its lemony taste.

It might be a little complicated to learn to use in cooking, but growing it is very easy. Just plant and stand back. Be careful not to mistake it for a weed. It looks somewhat like Johnson grass.

Fennel: Fennel is a great-looking herb that comes in purple or green varieties. I love it as seasoning with carrots. It will grow very easily and come back year after year.

Fennel is also very attractive, so it can go in a flower garden. Your only trouble will be butterflies, who love to lay their eggs on fennel. Plant enough to share.

Oregano: If you plant oregano, you may want to put it in a pot. Oregano will try its best to take over the whole herb garden. It spreads very fast, so if you plant it directly in the garden, be sure to keep it trimmed back and watch out for runners invading other plants.

Mint: Mint is another herb that is invasive. One thing you can do is plant them where you want a fragrant ground cover and just let them spread. Then you can just go out and snip a little whenever you need them. They will stay green all year here in Central Texas. These plants are so vigorous that they can take a little more shade than most other edibles.

Sage: Sage is an attractive herb with nice lavender flowers. It, too, will grow year-round but might almost die back during a harsh winter.

It will pick up again in the spring and put out a fresh growth. By Thanksgiving, it will be ready for your stuffing and turkey.

Rosemary: You will also want to grow rosemary. Rosemary is my favorite plant. It is very attractive and fragrant. It tastes and smells divine with baked chicken.

You can choose a trailing, low-growing variety or a large shrub. I use rosemary for shrubs in my landscape.

If you put it in the herb bed, be sure to place it on the north side so that it doesn’t shade other plants. It can easily get 3 feet tall and wide. Just trim it to the size and shape you find the most attractive.

Around Christmas, you can buy rosemary trimmed into a Christmas tree shape. If you keep it trimmed, it will continue to have this shape as it grows bigger and bigger.

Roses: Speaking of large herbs, you can plant rose varieties that produce rose hips at the back of your herb bed. Rose leaves are edible, while the hips are high in Vitamin C.

Be sure that you do not spray pesticides on any rose you want to use for culinary purposes. Ask your nurseryman for a good choice. The scientific name is Rosa Rugosa.

In case you are wondering what rose hips are, they are the seed pods left when the rose drops its blossoms. These will be easy to spot, as they are usually reddish orange and quite decorative themselves.

As with any herbs, don’t use them for medicinal purposes until you have asked your doctor and thoroughly researched them online.

Of course, these are not all the herbs you can grow here. A trip to your nursery will yield even more fascinating varieties. Get to know this wonderful group of fragrant plants. An herb garden can be a joy and bring beauty for years to come, with very little care on your part.

Melody Fitzgerald is a McLennan County Master Gardener who has spent more than 35 years facing the challenges of Central Texas gardening.