Fresh herbs are one of the most versatile plants available to home gardeners. Iowa State University Extension Program specialist in Value-added Agriculture, Linda Naeve, says they're an easy way to add color and texture to the landscape without the risk of a plant getting too big. The exception to that rule is mint, which is very aggressive. Naeve says it should be planted in a container, and then added to the garden, to help keep it in check.
It's helpful to know which herbs are annuals and which are perennials. Basil and cilantro are annuals. If planted together, a container of annual herbs can simply be dumped at the end of the season to start over the next year. Naeve recommends planting perennial herbs in the same container, cutting them back and moving the container indoors during the winter. Or, cut them back and put them next to an interior wall in the garage, and they'll come back nicely the following year. Mint, chives, and rosemary are examples of perennial herbs.
Most herbs are very forgiving, but some, like thyme, don't want to be over-watered. Make sure your containers have adequate drainage to prevent the herbs from sitting in water. Most herbs need at least four hours of full sun a day to thrive.
From the home garden, harvest herbs as needed for cooking. If you buy them at the farmers' market you can bundle them and put them in glass of water. You can also wrap them in a moist paper towel and seal in a ziplock bag. Kept refrigerated, Naeve says the herbs should last a week. An exception to this rule is basil. Naeve says it's very cold sensitive and will quickly turn black if refrigerated.
On this episode of Talk of Iowa's Horticulture Day, Host Charity Nebbe talks with Naeve and ISU Extension Entomologist Donald Lewis, and they answer listener questions.