The Essential Culinary Herbs for Summer
● By Justin Butts
Words: Justin Butts Photos: Rachel Benavides
The kitchen herb garden is an essential tool for the home chef. Herbs bring flavor, nutrition, and even medicinal properties to your cooking. Best of all, they are beautiful and easy to grow!
A small 4’x8’ bed close to the kitchen door is plenty of space for an herb garden. Plant herbs in rich, well-tilled, well-drained soil. Use high-quality organic compost as fertilizer. Herbs emit powerful natural aromas to repel pests. No pesticides are necessary for herbs grown in healthy soil.
Most herbs are difficult to start from seed. Plant well grown transplants into the soil. Dill, cilantro, and parsley are cool weather herbs; save them for the fall.
This month, plant the heat-loving herbs listed and they will grow through summer, fall, and even winter (if there is not a freeze or heavy frost). These herbs are perennials, which means they will grow for two years or longer. Once established, harvest the leaves as desired. The more you harvest, the lusher the plants grow!
These herbs require full sun (7 to 8 hours per day), but they prefer evening shade in the hottest part of summer to ease heat stress.
Water the soil beneath the herbs when it is mostly, but not completely, dried out —usually three times per week during summer. It is imperative to heavily mulch the bed (at least 4 inches thick) with raked-up native leaves to insulate the soil and prevent weeds.
Essential Kitchen Herbs for Summer
Basil: Space 12” to 15” apart; grows bushy up to 36” tall. Easy to grow. Best varieties are Italian, sweet, and Thai. Lemon basil can become pungent. Remove blooms and routinely harvest upper leaves to stimulate leaf growth and bushiness.
Oregano: Space 15” apart. Greek oregano has smaller leaves, grows up to 15” tall. Cuban oregano has larger leaves, grows taller, with slightly different flavor.
Mint: Space 12” apart. Easy to grow, aggressive ground cover—once established will spread rapidly. Best varieties are spearmint, peppermint, apple, orange, and pineapple.
Thyme: Space 12” apart. Upright thyme grows up to 15” tall; creeping thyme spreads like a ground cover. Delicate plant until established. Harvest by clipping top quarter of stems to promote growth.
Rosemary: Space 18” apart. Shrub grows up to 4’ tall. Baby the plant for a few months, but once established, it is nearly indestructible. Harvest often to promote growth.
Sage: Space 18” apart. Plants grow up to 24” tall. Harvest lightly in first year until established. There are many colorful and tasty sage varieties. Pinch any blooms to concentrate flavor in leaves.
Mexican Mint Marigold: Space 12” to 15” apart. Grows to 24” or higher. The anise-like flavor is similar to tarragon. Easy to grow, lush, and covered with beautiful yellow flowers.
Lemongrass: Space 36” apart. Grows up to 36” tall, like a large clump of grass. Essential for Asian dishes. To harvest, clip several stalks of grass at base.