Many of you will be heading to your local nursery to buy herb plants, or if in Victoria you might be buying online for posting or click and collect. Nurseries say they are selling more herb plants in total, and selling them earlier in the season this year. Now is a great time to plant most herbs, get them in early into a sunny position and well-drained soil and as soon as the soil starts warming up the plants will surge ahead. But there are some herbs that you should not plant yet, as its too cold. The main one to avoid is basil. In most of Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and southern WA, and colder regions of NSW, basil planted now will either be killed by frost, or it will sit in the cold soil and sulk! Resist the urge!
So what can you plant? Common herbs like chives, oregano, mint, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory and thyme can all go in now. The ‘Meditteranean’ herbs all like well-drained soil with lots of sun and not too much fertiliser. So put oregano, rosemary, sage, savory and thyme into a spot where they will not stay too wet in winter or after watering. If you don’t have a spot like that, then grow them in a pot. Any good potting mix will do. Don’t mulch, whether you’ve planted in the ground or in a pot, until the weather warms up in summer. Depending on the size of the plant, you can start picking very small amounts straight away. As they start to grow vigorously, you can pick more often. Use the harvesting to shape the plant as well.
Chives, mint and parsley are all more tolerant of a little more damp and a bit less sun, so can be planted in a wider range of positions. I always plant mint in a pot, because they are so good at taking over the garden. Not only will they send out runners, but some cultivars will also self-sow after flowering. If you don’t notice and remove them quickly, you will have a big job getting them out later. Chives make a great border or edging plant, especially along the edge of a vegie bed. Parsley produces leaves in the first year, and then goes to seed and usually dies in the second year. But this results in self-sown seedlings coming up around the garden. Just pull out those in the wrong positions and leave the rest to grow.
All herbs benefit from a handful of organic fertiliser pellets in mid spring, and some will need watering from time to time, but are otherwise hardy, carefree plants for the edible garden. All the flowers of these herbs are also edible, as well as attracting bees and other beneficial insects into your garden.
What to do if you still want to plant basil?? Buy a plant and put it in a pot. Put the pot in a warm, sunny position and don’t over water. If you don’t have a good position then bring it inside and put it on a sunny windowsill until the weather warms up, or create a mini-greenhouse around the plant in the pot by using a plastic tree guard, or sitting it in a deep polystyrene box with plastic or a glass window over the top. With luck you will be able to keep it alive until the weather is warmer and you can plant it in the garden.
By: Penny Woodward
First published: August 2020