(BPT) - The end of summer doesn't have to mean the end of your gardening enjoyment, even if you don't have the time or climate for a full plot of food plants. Herbs are perfect fall crops; they are prolific growers, can satisfy your desire for fresh, garden-grown greens and are one of the easiest ways to elevate your recipes from so-so to so good! Plus, they're ready to harvest and growing your own will make a dent in your grocery bill.
The fall gardening experts at Bonnie Plants offer some gardening guidance for planting herbs this fall:
Multiple factors will influence your choice of herbs, including fall temperatures, where you live, and your taste in seasonings.
If you decide to plant outdoors, it's important to know when to expect the first hard frost. You can find the estimated first frost date in your area by checking out Bonnie's online frost map.
You'll want to choose herbs that like cooler weather, such as parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, mint, chives, lavender and oregano. They're all prolific producers and some, like mint and rosemary, are especially easy to grow. Availability of Bonnie's fall varieties is limited to specific regions, so check your local garden retailers.
Pick a place
You may envision pots full of leafy, green herbs sitting on a sunny windowsill, while colorful autumn leaves, or even snow, fall outside. However, windowsills aren't always a best bet for indoor herbs, especially if your windows are drafty or the herbs brush the cold glass.
Herbs need at least four to six hours of natural light per day to grow indoors, so choose a sunny spot near a window where they'll be protected from drafts and cold. South- and southwest-facing windows will give you the most natural light throughout the day. Windows facing north won't provide enough sunlight.
Picking the right pots
If you really love rosemary, you may be tempted to try to plant the largest pot appropriate for your kitchen, but stick with manageable-sized pots that will fit better indoors, allow you to keep your herbs more organized, and still produce plenty of yield. Be sure to choose pots that have good drainage and always use a premium potting mix.
Caring for container herbs
Any type of plant growing in a pot needs water, and herbs are no exception. You'll need to keep a close eye on your herb plants' watering needs. Remember, dry topsoil is not an indication plants need water. A quick and easy test is to stick your finger, or a pencil, into the soil right where the stem enters the soil. If the soil is moist at 1.5 to 2 inches deep, do not water. If dry, it's time to water! Always water in the morning, at soil level and avoid watering the leaves, as bacteria can breed in cool, wet, damp and dark conditions, like night time.
Fertilize your food plants. Water is an obvious must, but irrigation can wash nutrients out of the soil. Plus, some potting mixes only have a short-term supply of fertilizer while others are slow-release. Read the label on your premium potting soil mix and follow the brand's recommendations for fertilizing frequency. Timed-release granular fertilizer or a plant food you mix with water will help keep herbs nourished. Remember food plants are hungry!
Best bets on basil
Although basil is the most popular herb, it can sometimes struggle growing indoors. Start off growing it outdoors on a sunny deck. Be sure to continually pinch-off the prolific leaf growth, which encourages more growth and harvest, until the weather turns cool, then bring the pot indoors. Harvested leaves can be continually dried, although freezing does a better job of preserving the herb's flavor. Tip: Try using old ice-cube trays, inserting basil leaves in cells, filling with water and freezing. When weather gets cold, you can easily pop your 'basil ice-cubes' in recipes throughout the cold weather season. Basil is also tasty in some drinks, like lemonade and tea.
While clipping sprigs when cooking is a great way to harness the freshness of any herb, you can also store them and they'll maintain their flavor. Preserving by drying and freezing aren't your only options; try adding herbs as seasoning to cooking oils.
Whether you're an expert gardener or a first-time fall grower, autumn is the perfect time to fall in love with the freshness, flavor and ease of herb gardening. You've still got time to get growing!