Gardening Dopers: please help

I’ve never planted anything before except for an ill-fated attempt to grow dope about 20 years ago. I’ve planted a bunch of herbs in pots outside and they are doing well here in sunny warm Oaktown.

My question is: how do I harvest? Can I just clip the tops off, or clip individual branches? It might seem like a dumb question, but I loves me my little beauties and I don’t want to kill them.

Right now I’ve got thriving:

Italian parsley
Italian oregano

I’ve got sage seedlings, and I’ve just germinated basil, mint, and sorrel. Are the techniques the same for all? Thank you in advance for your responses. I am so proud of these little guys!

Rosemary & thyme, in my experience, can cope with fairly brutal dismemberment. Marjoram I pluck individual leaves - clipping branches seems to stunt regrowth. Likewise with sage. Tarragon is one thing that I’ve managed to kill :wink: Mint, on the other hand, is virulent enough that it would be considered a pest were it not fragrant, so if you manage to kill it, I’ll be very impressed!

Well, it depends how big the plants are. Are they still under 12 inches? If so, let them grow just a little bit more. It probably won’t take long. Some advice just off the top of my head:
You don’t want to let the herbs flower.

tarragon - I’d clip off the tops. But you can go down fairly low.
Italian parsley - ditto.
marjoram - ditto.
Italian oregano - not too low.
rosemary - I do the individual branches, but this is because my rosemary plant is gigantic.
thyme - what kind? Is it bushy or hugging the soil? I wait until it gets high enough to be close to (but not) flowering.

It’s great that you have them in pots. I grow quite a few of my herbs this way, including basil. I would not grow mint any other way; it can be quite invasive.
Herbs do not need a whole lot of TLC. I think your climate is probably very good for the herbs you are growing. I’d let the basil get pretty big before I clip, but that’s just me.

I’m puzzled by this. I’ve seen it two feet high and not flowering, and I’ve seen it flush with blossom at 4 inches. The height seems to be a good indication of the quality of the soil (but not of the additions made to it - like mint, it’s got weed-like properties).

If you keep growing the rosemary, eventually it will be a ginormous bush, and you can just pluck what you need from it. It will be unkillable after it hits a certain critical mass.

The general rule is not to pick off more than 1/3 of the green. But you do want to pick and use your herbs. Picking encourages them to branch out and grow much fuller and bushier. But let them get a decent growth going first. You don’t want to pick too much too early. Like I said, no more than 1/3 of the green.

Once you get your sage going, you won’t be able to kill it. It’ll last about 3 years. (I find that after that, the taste somehow alters, and becomes more bitter.)

Mint will invade everything in your garden once you let it loose. Be careful of mint. It propogates by spreading runners through the soil, so once it takes root, it’ll be everywhere unless you take good care.

Basil is my favorite. It will want lots of sun, water, and well-draining soil. Don’t drown it, but keep it from getting too thirsty. This is the plant that benefits the most from religious picking. By the end of the summer my four basil plants grew to three feet high by about three feet wide. Lots of pesto last year! And don’t let it flower!

Also, do not use fertilizer for herbs. They taste better by being a little bit deprived of nutrients.

Some other herbs you might want to consider for your gardern:
Lavender–lovely smell, and you can use the flowers or green for herbes de provence

Chervil–a very delicate green herb, similar to parsley with an anise-like taste to it; one of the French herbes fines. prefers part shade in my experience.

Dill–make some homemade pickles this summer and use your fresh dill!

Summer savory–the “bean herb”, also good mixed in tomato-based sauces with basil, cilantro, and mint

Cilantro–although it’s so cheap at the supermarket here, it’s not worth growing

I think I could coat my garden in roundup, and it probably wouldn’t touch the mint. It grew under the foundation of the house at its thinnest point and came up on the other side!

My only advice is keep an eye on anything in a pot (and not in the ground) as it tends to dry out much faster and more critically.

Oh, and I suggest lemon balm as an addition to your happy little herb garden. I love making tisanes with lemon balm. I also agree with the recommendation of lavender. All three of my bushes bloomed twice last summer, and I’ve been up to my eyeballs in sachets, teas, and lavender jelly! It’s heavenly!

thyme - what kind? Is it bushy or hugging the soil? I wait until it gets high enough to be close to (but not) flowering.

I’ve seen (and even, here in the high desert plains, grown) some herbs which really flourished, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen thyme that was two feet high, not even in England or California.

I had tons of pesto last year, too, but I have to let it grow awhile before I start clipping. I think my basil takes longer to get going: summer nights can be quite cool here–this is one of the reasons I grow basil in pots on our sunny patio.
The flagstone retains the heat.

Another nice herb is lavender. Recipes for Herbes de Provence vary, but I always put some lavender buds in mine.
scroll down for Herbes de Provence recipe

Thanks all. It looks like it will be an all day every day sun season for us already. The tarragon is getting a little yellow so I moved it into shade. How often should I water do you think? Differently for different herbs or the same schedule for all?

You all have been extremely helpful. I knew I could count on the Dope.

OK, I went and checked the bush I was thinking of, and I was massively overestimating :wink: - it’s 14 inches high.

That is still pretty good! :slight_smile:

I know! It’s been there since before they moved into the house in 1982, and is overshadowed by a five-foot rosemary bush. Like I say, nothing will shift 'em. (As kids, we discovered you can grow rosemary from ‘cuttings’, by taking random branches and shoving them into the ground.)

“Five foot rosemary bush.” Wow.
And I was proud of my almost-three-foot-if-you-look-a-certain-way rosemary.
Had to bring it in for the winter.
Ah, gardening in the UK.
Or California.
So different from arid Colorado.

There’s a bunch of rosemary bushes on a nearby streetcorner that are much taller than I am; I’d say they’re more than 6 feet. I hesitate to use them, however, because they’re on a busy road and I’m sure there’s nasty stuff coating the leaves.

I’ll give you the basic rule of thumb I use…which is actually my thumb. I wiggle my thumb down into the dirt and check the soil condition. Hard and chip dry is too little water / Spongy and wet is too much water.

Some plants also have differening preferences on soil dampness, and can tolerate dought (non-watering) condition much better than others. I recommend a trip to the bookstore to pick up a cheap herbal (or sometimes eBay will have some for sale) for information on cultivation, as well as propogation, over-wintering, rooting, and suggested uses. If you get really into it, there’s even info on soil pH, tandem planting for natural pest control, and, well…lot of other stuff you’ll probably never do or try if you’re like me. It’s interesting reading, though!

I get loads of enjoyment out of my herb garden. Some of my most relaxing Saturday afternoons are spent on my hand and knees in the garden working with the herbs. Even the work of weeding and pruning is a treat because of all the wonderful smells!

Further thyme-boasting: Today I ventured into my garden for the first time this year, and my common thyme (from a 5cm pot a year ago) is a foot high, and two feet across. I had to chop it back to stop it swamping everything!