Successful herb gardening packs a double-whammy: not only do many herbs produce lush, fragrant flowers, but harvesting of these multi-taskers is a jackpot on many levels. Those interested in honing their cooking skills have endless varieties of culinary herbs to sample. If one desires a natural, holistic way to treat common ailments, medicinal herbs are a “triple threat’: They look great while growing, and many can be used in the kitchen as well as the apothecary.
Another benefit: Herbs grow practically anywhere. Many prefer drought conditions and some downright thrive on neglect.
But some tender annuals, such as basil, will not survive even a light frost. It’s important to know your area’s “hardiness zone”.
Hardiness zones appear on the back of seed packets as those pleasantly-colored areas swirling across a map of the United States. There are actually eleven main zones which include the contiguous U.S., Canada, Alaska and points north. Hardiness zones are based on average area temperatures.
The USDA Plant Hardiness map, developed in 1993, is considered the standard, although somewhat outdated.
Those living in the western U.S. may wish to consult the Sunset Western Garden Book. Air currents from the Pacific Ocean transform greatly as they travel through mountain ranges, which makes defining western climate zones more challenging than in the eastern states.
But it doesn’t take a genius to figure out, after consulting either map, why aloe, a Zone 10 plant, probably won’t thrive in Saskatoon.
Many herbs are hardy perennials, meaning they will happily live where you put them year after year, growing to a ripe old age. With these sturdy fellows, it’s wise to know approximately when you can expect the first killing frost, as many perennials need to be mulched afterwards. Exposing the plant to the first frost is necessary to prevent it from thawing and re-freezing throughout the cold winter, if you’re zoned for one. Also, tender annuals will not survive a frost, so you need this information in order to get them harvested or moved into the house. It’s best to rely upon local weathermen for this data, as killing frosts are wildly unpredictable.
Most Hardiness Zone maps will offer more reliable information regarding the first killing frost, however. This is important as you establish your garden in the Spring.
In addition to Hardiness Zones, there are also microclimates within these zones. A microclimate is a climactic variation within an area, which explains why early morning fog pops up in different places. By understanding the microclimate of your area, which can be completely different from your neighbor’s, you will have the upper-hand with herb culture. Some things to consider:
Is your garden protected by hedges or fences? This will impact the amount of sun your plants will absorb.
Do you live next to or near a large body of water? Water absorbs heat slowly, but a great deal of it. This is why lake and coastal areas tend to have more moderate temperatures than inland areas. However, there will be more humidity.
Is it windy? In a cold zone, winter winds can add a chill factor, but in warmer zones, hot, dry winds are just as damaging. Gardens in canyons, bluffs and shorelines may need protection from blustery winds. You may need to build a windrow, or rely upon existing structures for help.
Whether you’re considering growing herbs for nutritional reasons, are a Shakespeare scholar, love the Bible or just love food, grow a garden near your kitchen door where herbal beauty and tantalizing fragrances will contribute to your overall health and spiritual wellbeing- no matter what zone you’re in!