FrontRangeLiving.com -> Garden -> Culinary-herbs
Culinary herbs: tough and hardy
gardening in Colorado is a new and unsettling experience for you, consider the
lowly culinary herbs. It’s hard to go wrong. Many love the dry Colorado
climate and, although some, like sweet basil and rosemary, are not winter hardy,
even those will flourish as annuals.
Herbs grow abundantly in
Colorado’s dry summers and prefer our lean, rocky soil. That’s because most
originated in the Mediterranean, and the Front Range supplies nearly all their
needs with one important difference: our winters are cold and windy. Mulch will
help ease the rigors of winter and your herbs will thrive.
“We have less fungus
problems—mints, oregano, rosemary—those are susceptible to mildew
elsewhere,” says Karin Winans, founder of the Rocky Mountain unit of the
National Herb Society. “We don’t have problems here like the South has,
where herbs die out from wetness. In fact, stressing herbs slightly by not
watering too much will concentrate their oils.” (See Karin's complete
BASICS TO GET STARTED:
Although sweet basil (Ocimum
basililcum) is associated with Italian pesto, the plant originated in the
Pacific islands, not in the Mediterranean. It’s sensitive to frost and
requires five hours of full sun with a moist soil that drains readily.
Soil should be amended with compost and new growth pinched to encourage a
bushier plant. Your best bet is to plant it in a large container or among
vegetables. Similarly, parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is in the carrot and parsnip family. By nature,
it's a biennial, but it flourishes best as an annual in the vegetable garden.
Other herbs belong by themselves in an herb and perennial bed where they will
not be heavily watered. In the Mediterranean,
(Rosmarinus officinalis) is a shrubby evergreen, but not usually in
Colorado. It may survive extremely mild winters, but the general rule is to dig
up rosemary and winter it indoors in pots. Germination is low for seeds, so
buying a plant is recommended. Rosemary needs five hours of sun and slightly
damp soil. Allow the soil to dry out before watering.
Garden sage (Salvia
officinalis) is a perennial in Colorado. It needs five hours of direct sun
in well drained soil. Seeds are slow to germinate, so buying the plant is
advised. Every four or five years, in the spring, divide the woody clumps to
rejuvenate the plant.
Thyme is particularly hardy in
Colorado and comes in many varieties. The common garden culinary herb is Thymus
vulgaris. Again, germination of seeds is slow, so buy the plant. Cut back
the plant by half in the spring to encourage new growth. Mulch plants during
the winter. All thymes require excellent drainage. Water soil until moist, allow
to dry before the next watering.
Mints (Menta spicata for
spearmint, Menta piperita officinalis for peppermint) are hearty herbs
that may become invasive. They grow best in five hours of sunlight or partial
shade. Renew the plants every three years by dividing. Soil can be moist but not
soggy. Spearmint is the most strongly flavored and there are many flavors such
as pineapple and chocolate. Some gardeners submerge the entire terracotta pot in
the ground to prevent the roots from spreading.
French tarragon will grow taller each year until it's reached over
three feet. Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa grows under the same
conditions as other Mediterranean herbs. And it's recommended to buy a plant
rather than seed.
angustafolia) should be mulched during the Colorado winter and some
varieties are not winter hardy here. They grow well in direct sunlight, in dry,
sandy, well-drained soil. Planting lavender is heavy clay is a disaster. Clay
holds too much water around the roots and lavender is sensitive to rotting.
Avoid excessive fertilizer. See growing lavender in
Colorado for more details.