Growing common herbs is best done by your back door.

If you like cooking with fresh herbs you can easily grow many of your own in containers or in the garden. This is much more convenient than going to the store because a recipe you want to try dictates this or that fresh herbal ingredient.  Starting herbs from seed is not difficult, but purchasing young plants at plant sales or a nursery is also an option. Every year I grow parsley, culinary sage and basil from seed for myself and for plant sales. Herbs like full sun and tolerate drought as most are native to Mediterranean climates. They also don’t need rich soil or a lot of care.

Basil is easily started from seed either in the greenhouse in early spring or later in the garden and there are various cultivars available. It is must-use-herb for many dishes.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a biennial herb of two types, Italian flat-leaf, and curly leaf parsley. The Italian flat-leaf is used for a variety of flavoring whereas the curly leaf is more often used as a garnish. Parsley seeds can be soaked overnight to facilitate germination which is slow. Plant seeds in the greenhouse 8-12 weeks before frost date at a soil temperature of 70 ºF. 

Culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) is a leafy green herb of which there are golden and purple variants if you desire more color. Seeds are planted about 1/8 inch deep and best started in February and take about 2 weeks to germinate. Soil temperatures should be 60-70 ºF. It can also be started by cuttings or layered. It is used to flavor meatloaf, stuffed pork roasts and turkey stuffing, soups and stews.

Culinary thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a low, woody perennial, highly aromatic Mediterranean herb. The three most common varieties of culinary thyme are French, lemon, and caraway. It does well in somewhat dry, sunny conditions. It holds its flavor in cooking and blends well with the flavors of its native region, such as garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes. It can be grown from seed or propagated from cuttings.

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) also known as Chinese parsley is a very popular herb in Mexican cuisine and it can be grown from seeds usually planted in succession as the plants tend to bolt to seed rather quickly. If you really like Mexican food and cilantro, then it might be worth your effort to plant it over and over again. There is a slo-bolt variety, but slo-bolt isn’t no-bolt. If you don’t catch it before going to seed, no worries, the seeds are coriander another useful spice for breads, Asian, Middle East and Latin dishes as well as pickling.

Oregano is an herb used commonly in Italian, Morrocan and Mexican cuisine. There are several species and cultivars; Mediterranean or common oregano (Origanum vulgare), and a variant —Origanum vulgare Aureum, golden oregano; Greek (Oregano heracleoticum).  Mediterranean oregano can best be grown from seeds in late winter in the greenhouse with bottom heat and a soil temperature above 60 degrees. Germination takes about 7-14 days.

Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is a milder sweeter tamer version of oregano. It is started from seed much as oregano.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) can be started from seed but is more easily propagated by using cuttings taken from a neighbor or friends plant. Rosemary seeds can take 3 months to germinate so not an easy method to pursue. Rosemary cuttings are best taken in the spring or summer when actively growing. Cuttings of young growth work best. Cuttings can be 4-8 inches long; the leaves are stripped off the lower two-thirds of the sprig leaving at least several leaves.

I use rooting hormone a powder that can be dipped into and then tapped off of the rooting portion of the twig. Rooting hormone is not absolutely necessary, but a good practice. With a pencil make a hole in the well-draining potting medium in the pot and place the rosemary cutting in the hole and then tamp down the medium. This will help keep the root hormone on the cutting.  

Water and drain well and then place a plastic bag over the pot to keep the cuttings moist and place in indirect light. When growth is observed, either by roots coming out the bottom of the pot or by tugging on the cuttings to see if rooted, it is time to plant in a larger container or in the garden. Rosemary makes a reliable shrub in the landscape. For more on herb propagation see:

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is an herb grown for its aromatic leaves and is used to flavor dishes and is popular as flavoring for vinegar. Most tarragon cultivars can be grown from seed in the greenhouse but French tarragon, which has an especially desirable anise-like flavor, is one of those rare plants that is not grown from seeds. It must be grown either from cuttings or bought from a nursery.

May your future include growing delightful herbs.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website:  

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