Master Gardeners: Benefits of adding herbs to your garden

Sandy Lentz is an advocate of incorporating herbs into your garden.  As a Master Gardener with the University of Illinois Extension for 15 years she is also a member of its Speakers Bureau. Lentz shares her extensive knowledge of herbs in a presentation, “Herbs for Illinois Gardens.”

“Most of the herbs that grow well here evolved on the dry hillsides of the Mediterranean. They need a lot of sun, adequate water and no fertilizer,” Lentz noted. “Over watering or fertilizing will dilute the essential oils in the plant, producing leaves that are low in flavor.”

Few diseases or insect pests bother herbs. “Herbs are easy to grow, beautiful and useful plants that were some of the first things I grew when I started gardening. Begin with herbs that you’re familiar with and you’ll be more apt to use them,” notes Lentz.

“If you can only grow one herb due to a lack of sun or space try parsley, as it can take less sun.” Flat leaf Italian parsley has a strong flavor and is especially good for cooking with. Harvesting outer leaves of a plant can start once they are 6” tall.

Lentz likes Pineapple Sage with its strong scent and beautiful red flowers in late September. Hummingbirds are often migrating through our area when this flowers and are happy to find it in bloom. The leaves can be used for hot/iced teas and added to salads. This is a good container plant in high use areas where the aroma can be enjoyed.

“There are many mint varieties now that are fun to grow and have lovely scents and flavors,” states Lentz. Fruit mints include orange, apple, lemon and pineapple flavors. Chocolate fans should enjoy the chocolate mint variety. All mints are aggressive growers and might best be grown in pots to contain them. Don’t let them go to seed.

Many butterflies are attracted to herb flowers. They lay their eggs on the plants which later hatch into caterpillars that feed on the herbs. Yet, in order to maintain their best flavor, herbs shouldn’t be allowed to flower. So what is a gardener to do? “Let a couple of plants go to flower and to seed. Dill, parsley and cilantro are good choices for this,” notes Lentz. Attracting butterflies is a bonus to herb gardening!

Email your home garden and lawn questions to uiemg-dupage@illinois.edu or phone the Master Gardener Helpline at 630/955-1123. Visit our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/.

Julie Moore has been a Master Gardener volunteer with the University of Illinois Extension in DuPage County for 10 years and has a degree in Ornamental Horticulture from the University of Illinois.

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