What needs doing in the herb garden this month? Here’s a handy calendar to help you to get organised..
January is a quiet month for herb gardeners, and it’s no wonder all the seed catalogues begin to arrive. As well as your herb pots or borders, why not plan some special tubs based on your own interests? Try a Thai display with lime leaves and lemongrass, or an Italian-themed kitchen border planted with sweet basil and rocket.
Spring is just weeks away – have you ordered your seeds yet? Around a solid structure of perennials like sage and lavender, you’ll want to sow a selection of annuals – the heart of your summer herb display. Make sure you have enough pots and compost for the sowing that will begin in earnest next month. Visit your local nursery or garden centre to choose your seeds, and don’t stick to the old favourites – try something new and unusual, too!
Invest in a propagator and you’ll be able to start many tender herbs indoors, a little earlier than usual. Basil and coriander will germinate under a gentle heat, forming strong seedlings ready for hardening off later in the spring. This month you can also start many other seeds indoors, from old-fashioned marjoram to parsley, dill and chervil.
When the risk of frost has passed, you can begin sowing some herbs outdoors – or start them on a windowsill and then harden them off. Try something new such as calendula, marjoram or chamomile – or be inspired to create a special pot for someone. How about a Bath Herbs themed display with lemon thyme, lavender and chamomile? Or a Salad Herbs tub filled with nasturtium, rocket and parsley.
It’s the beginning of harvest season and you’ll soon be collecting handfuls of herbs for your delicious spring dishes. Don’t forget elderflowers, which proliferate in woodlands and taste delicious in cordial. You may want to think about other ways of preserving your herbs, too: try a delicate herb oil (remember to strain it before bottling for better endurance), or freeze chopped herbs in ice-cube trays covered with water. Herb flowers make pretty ice-cubes for cocktails, and savoury herb cubes can be melted in soups or stews for fresh flavour.
If it’s a dry June, you’ll need to make sure that all of your herb pots are getting enough water – tubs dry out faster than borders, so water and feed them generously at least once a week and preferably more often. This is the happy time of year that you can sow seeds directly into your soil – good ones to try include rocket (which will feed you right into autumn if you cut it frequently), calendula and nasturtiums for their bright, edible flowers.
Now the weather’s warmed up, you can grow all of your herbs outdoors – sow big pots of basil, coriander, dill and parsley, and you’ll be enjoying their flavours within weeks. As the herbs come into flower and set seed, collect some of the seeds and store them in an envelope for next year.
When lavender flowers begin to dry out, snip them off and store them in a shoebox. They will continue to dry and you’ll be left with a pile of stems and lots of loose lavender heads – perfect for sewing into heart sachets for drawers, or grinding to use in cupcakes. Trim back the lavender bush to a neat shape.
Before the weather gets colder, take cuttings from perennial herbs – lavender, sage and rosemary will all work well. Cut a healthy stem at an angle, about 10cm below the tip and right below a shoot. Dip it into cutting powder or gel and then put it into a pot of compost, at the edge; put four or five in each pot. Now cover the pot with a plastic bag and leave in a warm place until it roots.
When chives have finished growing, you can divide them to get more plants. Lift up plants and you’ll see that they easily separate at the roots – transplant the new clumps to their future positions and water generously. This is also the month to reposition pots of tender herbs – some sages, tarragon and pelargoniums need the shelter of a porch or greenhouse over winter.
It’s time for a clean up: gather up used herb pots and wash them in soapy water, protect your outdoor pots and make sure they aren’t suffering in the bad weather. Top-dress herb tubs with rotted manure or compost – the worms will incorporate it for you during the winter. And it isn’t all grey and dying: you can sow parsley and dill indoors on a windowsill for slow growth.
As some of your herbs begin to drop their leaves, you can give them the best chance of surviving winter by wrapping tubs in bubble wrap or removing tender herbs to the greenhouse.