Q: I am thinking about growing basil. Will it grow well here?
A: Sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum, will grow very well here. It should be planted in the early spring but I have started it later in the season (early summer) and have still been successful. Some forms of basil are used in cooking but other varieties such as Ocimum auranascen are grown for their ornamental qualities. Use soil with high organic content - compost would be perfect. Basil can be propagated from seed or small plantings. It can be grown in garden plots or patio containers in full sun. Basil does not tolerate drought conditions but prefers consistently moist soil. Although, I trained my basil to receive water only once and week and it grew beautifully. However, too much water will easily cause disease issues. Basil is especially rewarding as the aroma can be detected even when walking past the plant. It can be added to sauces, vinegars, breads or soups. Nothing can compare to the improved flavor of adding fresh basil to pasta or sauce dishes. Although, I must admit, I love it sprinkled on top of sliced tomatoes from my garden – yum. We will be discussing growing herbs at the next Nassau County Extension “Landscape Matters” which will be on Wednesday, May 21 at 10am at the Nassau County Demonstration Garden. For more information on growing herbs in Florida see the attached University of Florida publication, “Herbs in the Florida Garden”: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/VH020 or go to the Nassau County Extension website: http://nassau.ifas.ufl.edu
Q: You have borage listed as one the herbs to be grown in November. Please tell me more about this plant.
A: The herb borage, Borago officinalis, is a reseeding annual herb. The leaves can be eaten raw or sautéed like spinach or added to cheese, fish, or poultry dishes. In addition, like many other herbs, it can be added to enhance the flavor of vegetables, salad greens, and salad dressings. The bright, blue flowers make it a pretty addition to any wildflower garden but there is an added bonus of providing nectar to attract bees and butterflies. Borage originated in the Middle East and according to legend considered a sign of bravery. Ancient Celtic warriors supposedly drank wine flavored with borage before battle to make them courageous. Herbalists have suggested this herb can provide us with an inner calm and the Roman scholar Pliny considered it to be an antidepressant. Apparently, the flavor is similar to fresh cucumber, although I have never tasted it.
Q: Can we grow the sweet clove here?
A: Clove tree, Carophyllus aromaticus, is a small evergreen tree. The pink-peach colored flowers appear at the beginning of the rainy season and grow in bunches at end of branches. The calyces, with the embryo seed, are beaten from the tree and when dried form the cloves sold in markets. Calyces are actually the sepals of a flower. They enclose the petals and form a protective layer around a flower in bud. The flowers have a strong refreshing odor. If the seeds are allowed to mature, most of the pungency is lost. Each berry has only one seed. It takes about 8-9 years after planting before the tree produces any fruit. The whole tree is highly aromatic – including the bark. The spice was introduced into Europe from the fourth to the sixth century. The finest cloves come from Molucca and Pemba, where the trees grow better than anywhere else, but they are also imported from the East and West Indies, Mauritius and Brazil. We do not have similar climates to these areas so I suspect the plant would not be productive here.
Q: What herbs can I grow here in the cool months?
A: Cool season herbs are cilantro/coliander, dill, fennel, sorrel, thyme, sweet marjoram, oregano, salad burnet, St. Johns Wort, soap wort, lavender, and viola. Parsley and calendula can take the cold but they will show damage if the temperature drops below 20 degrees, however they will re-grow when temperatures rise again. Nasturtiums, geraniums and lemon balm like cooler weather too but they cannot tolerate frost. Many of these herbs are can be found in our local garden and nurseries. Start out with a small area and try a few of your favorites. Consider first growing those herbs you are fond of using in your favorite recipes. Don’t be afraid to cut or use the herbs they will grow back quickly. I believe everyone will notice how wonderful your recipes taste when you use freshly grown herbs. Growing herbs is one of the easiest and most rewarding garden hobbies. Have fun and good luck.
Q: What can you tell me about the herb marjoram?
A: There are three kinds of marjoram commonly used as herbs: sweet marjoram (Origanum marjorana), pot marjoram (O. onites), and wild marjoram (O. vulgare) (see Oregano). Sweet and pot marjoram are the ones usually grown in herb gardens. The perennial plants are very similar, except sweet marjoram tends to grow upright while pot marjoram runs along the ground. Marjoram is similar to oregano, but it has a finer texture. This tender perennial has a dense, shallow root system and is grown as an annual. Marjoram attracts bees and flowers late spring to summer. When planting pot marjoram, space the plants about 12 inches apart in the row, and sweet marjoram should be placed every 6 inches. Plants can be started early in the spring from seeds, cuttings, or clump divisions. The leaves are used fresh or dried; they are similar to oregano but more delicate. Marjoram is sufficiently attractive to make an excellent border planting for a flower garden. Aromatic qualities led to its historical use as a strewing herb which means it was spread across floors of homes and buildings. Marjoram has mild antiseptic properties and is often added to herb bath mixtures. The leaves and flowers are used fresh or dried in cooking many foods, including beef, veal, lamb, poultry, fish, green vegetables, carrots, cauliflower, eggs, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Marjoram can be used to flavor stews, marinades, dressing, vinegars, butter, and oils. The plant can be grown in containers in cold hardiness zones 9-10, in full sun and well drained, slightly acidic soil. Dried marjoram can be added to herb wreaths, especially culinary wreaths. It is said to have some medicinal qualities. In ancient Egypt, marjoram was used in healing, disinfecting, and preserving. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was said to treasure this herb. The Greeks called this plant “joy of the mountain” and used it to make wreaths and garlands for weddings and funerals. For more complete information about growing herbs in Florida, read the University of Florida publication: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/VH/VH02000.pdf
Q: Can we grow the herb marjoram here in Northeast Florida?
A: Yes, we can grow the herb here. Marjoram is similar to oregano, but it has a finer texture. This tender perennial has a dense, shallow root system and is grown as an annual. It is a woody relative of Oregano with a more delicate, sweet flavor. The leaves and flowers are used fresh or dried in cooking many foods, including beef, veal, lamb, poultry, fish, green vegetables, carrots, cauliflower, eggs, mushrooms, and tomatoes. It can enhance the flavors of stews, marinades, sautés, dressing, vinegars, butter, and oils, or you can add it to just about anything in which you would normally use sage or oregano. Marjoram can easily be grown in containers. Many people believe it to have medicinal qualities. There are several varieties and forms such as Sweet marjoram, Winter Marjoram, Pot Marjoram, and Creeping Golden Marjoram. It can be propagated from seed but works best when grown from transplants or root cuttings.
Q: Can I grow mint here? I see it in all the stores and I would love to have some for cooking.
A: The mints are some of the most easy-to-grow perennial herbs for Florida gardens. Spearmint (Mentha spicata) and peppermint (M. piperita) are two of the more popular along with apple and orange mints. I have seen chocolate mint and several variegated forms – all beautiful plants. The flowers of the mint family are small and are white, pink, blue, or violet. Mint should be started in moist soil, using surface or underground runners as sprigs for new plants. In Florida, many of the mints grow profusely in shade or full sun. The leaves and flowering tops are the useful parts, both fresh and dried. We would suggest you consider planting the mint of your choice in containers. If you plant them in the soil, they have a tendency to become weedy and grow where you do know want them to grow. Do not be afraid to pinch off new leaves as these provide the best flavor. Mint leaves can be cut up and placed in freezer bags then stored in the freezer so they are ready to use whenever you need them. Mint plants are also great additions to classroom projects as they can be grown in a containers easily, they attract butterflies and provide sensory lessons – smell, taste and touch.
Q: I cannot seem to get thyme to grow from seed. What am I doing wrong?
A: Most likely you are doing nothing wrong; thyme is notorious for being difficult and slow to grow from seed. The easiest thing to do is get it from cuttings or small plants. You can find them at local garden centers are specific times of the year. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), a shrubby perennial herb, is represented by a fairly wide variety of shapes and sizes. Usually, it is a small-growing plant less than 1½ feet tall, with very tiny, one-fourth-inch-long, gray-green leaves. Purplish flowers are formed at the ends of the stems. In Florida, start the plants from seeds sown one-fourth inch deep in the fall or early spring. Space plants 12 inches apart. Replant thyme every three to four years for best growth. To use, remove the top one-third portion of the plant when in full bloom and spread on newspaper in a well-ventilated room to dry. Then, strip the leaves and flowering tops from the stem and store in tightly closed containers. Use on poultry and in stews and soups.