Herbs for Fall
Herbs are grown for their special flavors and aromas, and they can add seasoning and taste to food. Fall is the perfect time to plant a number of common herbs.
Growing Herbs at Home
Most of the common herbs can be grown seasonally in Florida for home use. In South Florida, many herbs may be grown in the home garden throughout the year.
Herbs are perfect for container gardening because the plants are small and only a small portion is needed at one time. You can also use them as border plantings or as part of a flower garden. If they receive enough sunlight, a few herbs can even be grown indoors.
Herbs in containers take the same care recommendations as growing vegetables in containers.
Herbs for Fall Planting
Throughout most of the state, the following herbs are perfect for fall planting. Some may even be planted during the winter months in South Florida.
Seeds and transplants of most common herbs are generally available at local retail stores or seed retailers. Some may be harder to find, but can generally be obtained from herb specialty businesses.
Anise (Pimpinella anisum) is grown for its seeds. It has many white flowers and is attractive in a flower garden or as a border plant. Leaves may be used fresh.
Harvest the seeds when they turn brown. Separate the seeds from the fruiting structures (umbels). You may need to dry the umbels before the seeds can be separated, cleaned, and stored.
Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a pleasant-smelling herb with a spicy taste. The tender leaves may be used fresh at any time or dried along with the white flowers.
Borage (Borago officinalis) is also known as "burrage" and "common bugloss." The plant has a cucumber-like odor and flavor. It grows into a large, spreading plant with whitish hairy bristles and blue star-like flowers. The flowers may be used fresh as a garnish for beverages and salads.
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is grown for its aromatic, decorative leaves. It looks like parsley in growth habit but tastes and smells like tarragon. Some forms of chervil have thick roots that can be eaten like carrots. Pick the leaves as needed to garnish salads, soups, and other foods.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is a grown mainly for its aromatic seeds. The fresh foliage of coriander is also used in cooking and is called cilantro.
When the tiny fruits mature and turn brown—about three months after seeding—remove them from the plant and dry them on a screen. Once dried, thresh the seeds and store them in a dry, airtight container.
Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a flavoring plant that gives dill pickles their name. It is a strong-smelling, fennel-like plant with yellow flowers that develop into fruiting structures. The fruiting tops, leaves, and stems may be used fresh or dried.
The term "fennel" is confusing because there are two kinds. Common fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is grown for its shoots, leaves, and seeds, used as flavoring agents in foods. Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum) is grown mainly for its thickened, bulbous leaf base, which is eaten as a cooked vegetable.
Except for the swollen, above-ground base of the leaves on Florence fennel, the two are very similar in appearance and their licorice-like flavoring. Both plants look like dill, with narrow, fine leaves, bright yellowish-green hollow stems, and umbrella-like seed structures.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is similar to onion, except that instead of producing a single bulbous stem, it produces a bulb made up of many spicy, pungent cloves. Growing garlic is similar to growing onions.
The suggested planting time for garlic is October through January. Plant garlic by dividing the bulb and planting the cloves.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a perennial plant that produces well from Homestead to Pensacola. It grows from thick underground rhizomes that are very aromatic.
Harvest the roots about a year after planting, when the stalks die down. After cleaning, scraping, boiling, and peeling the roots, dry them in the hot sun for about a week.
Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is a perennial that smells, tastes, and looks like celery leaves. The leaves and stems are used fresh as needed. Other useful parts are seeds and oil extracted from the roots.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) grows well in Florida gardens. The leaves are used fresh or dried as flavoring or a decorative garnish. The rooting types are useful as a cooked vegetable, particularly in soups.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a hardy perennial with a spicy aroma. Small pink flowers form in the second or third year. Use the leaves fresh or dried in cooking.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a hardy perennial with grayish-green, oblong leaves. Purple flowers bloom in the second year. The leaves can be used fresh or dried. In the landscape, sage is an attractive, low-growing border plant.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), a perennial, has a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Usually, it is a low-growing plant with tiny, gray-green leaves. Purplish flowers are formed at the ends of the stems.
Only a small amount of space is required for an herb garden because you will only need a few plants of each type of herb.
Perennial herbs live from year to year, so group these plants together where they will not be disturbed by tilling or digging in the rest of the garden. Annual herbs also may be grouped together so that you can easily replant each year.
Most annual and biennial herbs are grown from seed rather than transplants. Perennials, however, grow best when they are started in plant beds or boxes using seed or cuttings, then transplanted into the garden or growing containers.
Preparation & Care
Most herbs will grow under the same sunlight and soil conditions as vegetables. Check our vegetable gardening guide for more specific information about soil preparation, liming, fertilizing, and watering.
Some herbs are sensitive to soil moisture conditions and need special care. Sage, rosemary, and thyme require a well-drained, slightly moist soil, while parsley and chervil grow best in damp soil. Herbs are shallow-rooting, so adding organic matter to sandy soils will be beneficial.
Keep in mind that some herbs tend to grow rapidly and become weeds if allowed.
Harvesting & Curing
Depending on the herb, its seeds, leaves, flowering tops, or roots are used for flavoring purposes. The flavor comes from oil contained in these parts. Flavors are retained longer if the herbs are harvested at the right time and properly cured and stored.
Young, tender leaves can be gathered and used fresh at any time during the season. To save the leaves for later use, harvest them when the plants begin to flower. Dry the leaves in a well-ventilated, darkened room. If the leaves are dusty or gritty, wash them in cold water and drain them thoroughly before drying.
Harvest seeds when the plants are mature or when their color changes from green to brown. You may want to leave a few of the annual herbs undisturbed so they flower and the seeds mature for planting the next season.
Dry the seeds thoroughly before storing them to prevent molding, loss of quality, or loss of viability for planting. After curing the seeds for several days in an airy room, dry them in the sun for a day or two.
When the leaves or seeds are dry, remove stems and any other debris. Pack the herbs in a glass, metal, or cardboard container that can be closed tightly to preserve the aroma and flavor. Glass jars should be painted or stored in a dark room to prevent the green leaves from being bleached by light.
For more information about herbs or gardening in general, contact your county Extension office.
Excerpted and adapted from:
J. Stephens, Herbs in the Florida Garden (CIR570), Horticultural Sciences Department (rev. 6/2011).