LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Nothing completes a great recipe better than fresh herbs straight from the garden. Have you ever pulled out a recipe that calls for a specific fresh herb, gone to the grocery and couldn’t find it? Or maybe you did find it — but in a mushy, sad state on some obscure shelf in the produce section.
Homegrown herbs to the rescue. It’s easy to grow herbs at home, and you don’t need a great deal of space to do it. Herbs grow well in containers on patios in partial to full sun as well as in landscapes and raised beds. Trendy new aerogardens can be a good option for kitchen counter herb production.
Every herb has a season — pun intended. However, herbs can be grown year-round in Louisiana. They are categorized by the season in which they grow. Cool-season herbs grow best in cooler weather, and warm-season herbs are for the late spring to early autumn months.
You can grow from seeds, or you may choose transplants. Transplants will provide a quicker turnaround on harvest time but are more expensive. Seeds, while more affordable, require more time and planning. If you are starting with seeds, you can begin planting them up to one month before you plan to plant them outdoors. Begin seeds in trays in a windowsill indoors that gets a good deal of light during cold weather for transplanting in early spring.
Before selecting herbs to grow outdoors, it is important to know which ones perform best in each season. Plant warm-season annual herbs for spring and summer in the garden after the last frost date. Those dates are typically March 15 in south Louisiana and after April 1 in north Louisiana.
Most herbs require four to six hours of direct sun a day and soil with excellent drainage. Raised beds and containers are a good for growing herbs. Fertilize with a slow-release, granular fertilizer or with liquid fertilizer — but do so moderately to avoid vigorous growth that can be less flavorful.
Warm-season herbs that grow well in Louisiana include basil, mint, lemon verbena, rosemary, sage, thyme, lavender, catnip and bay laurel.
Plant cool-season herbs for fall and winter in the garden between the months of September and February. Most cool-season herbs can tolerate normal winter freezes in Louisiana. Later in the cool season — in March or early April — plant larger transplants for harvesting in late May to early June.
Cool-season herbs that perform well in Louisiana include parsley, cilantro, chamomile, dill, oregano, borage, chives, garlic, celery, chicory, fennel, arugula and chervil.
Lastly, do not forget about your perennial herbs that will produce year after year in the right conditions. Here is a list of perennial herbs that do well in Louisiana: anise hyssop, bay laurel, catmint and all other mints, lemon verbena, lemon balm, rosemary, Mexican tarragon, burnet, garlic, chives, oregano, pineapple sage and rue.
You can plant perennial herbs throughout the year, but they will perform their best when planted in the fall using transplants. This allows them time to become well established during the less stressful cool season.
Thyme, sage, catnip, scented geraniums and lavender are perennial herbs that require excellent drainage to survive the summer. They may be more successful when grown in containers and placed in a location that gets some shade in the afternoon during the summer. These herbs can be short-lived and are susceptible to root and stem rots in the hot, wet conditions of late summer.
Several perennial herbs that have difficulty surviving our summers are grown here as cool-season annuals. These include French tarragon, feverfew and chamomile.
A rule of thumb to keep your herbs producing and healthy is to be careful not to overharvest the foliage. Take no more than one third of the total foliage at any one time. Don’t forget that the flowers of herbs may also be used as a garnish and flavor dishes. These flowers also attract pollinators and can even be used as cut flowers. Herbs that have gone to flowering and setting seed can be harvested to replant for the next season. Be resourceful with your herb garden.
You can also harvest and dry or freeze herbs for later use before the crops wear out at the end of the growing season. For your own dried herbs, gather, rinse and tie a bunch together, then hang upside down in a cool, dry place indoors with good air circulation. Store in airtight containers protected from light in your pantry or kitchen cabinets.
You may also freeze herbs after cutting, rinsing, drying and then finely chopping. Store in freezer bags laid thin in half-inch layers in the freezer, and be sure to label with the herb name and date.
There you have it. No recipe will ever suffer when you grow your own herbs. Bon appétit!
Harvest herb seeds for planting next season. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Garlic is perhaps one of the most frequently used herbs in cooking. It grows well in Louisiana. Photo by Kiki Fontenot/LSU AgCenter
Parsley can freshen up any recipe and grows wells during the cool season. Plant yours now. Photo by Kiki Fontenot/LSU AgCenter
Pollinators love the flowers of herbs. Let them go to flower, and enjoy the pollinators. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter