Diversity, starting early helps cultivate herb garden

The Associated Press
Friday March 16, 2001

They were growing and gathering herbs in the Appalachians of Western North Carolina probably before the 19th century, when the mountain folk called it “wildcrafting.” 

Now this cottage industry is big industry, generating $40 million or so every year for consumers newly interested in plants that can flavor, scent or maybe even heal. 

Alan Salmon is a veteran herb grower who now advises customers at his retail nursery, the Wildwood Herbal Flower Farm, in the valley just north of Asheville. 

For example: “If you are a card-holding Cilantro lover, you need to sow seeds every two weeks. Sow and cover them lightly in a pot or in your garden in a sunny spot, and water infrequently.” 

Limit the chemical fertilizers, he advises, because these can adversely affect flavor. And watch for late spring freezes. 

Other tips about herbs from Salmon and other growing experts: 

• Start early. Sow indoors during those weeks before early-morning frosts are over. You should be able to count on the heads of seedlings to be up and ready for planting outdoors. Keep in mind some herbs don’t germinate as well indoors as they do outside. 

• Give them a clip. Seedlings need a few weeks to get established, but then start cutting them back. Even if you want to leave flowers on the plants for the bees, cut most back for bushier, shaplier, plants. 

• Know what you grow. Check out books and references about herbs and their uses.  

• Grower beware. Some herbs can be harmful if used incorrectly. Always check with your doctor before trying herbs for medicinal use. And it’s important to know which part of the plant has medicinal benefits (flower, leaves or root). 

• Seasoning. Plant for all seasons, and if you’re in a colder area, try hardier herbs such as lavender, rosemary, thyme and sage. 

• Keep a journal. Make a record of new spring plantings and their care. Draw garden layouts so you’ll know where to look for the perennials to come up again and avoid planting something else on top of the established plant.  

• Diversify. Choose plants for texture, leaf and flower color, scent and taste.