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Spice up the garden with herbs from the mint family

If you love to garden and cook, add a few herbs to your plant collection.

While chiefly grown for food seasoning, herbs have many uses as well. They can be used for medicinal purposes and are valued for their oils and fragrances. Dried materials from herbs also are used in craft arrangements.

In the garden, herbs are companion plants to edible vegetables. They repel insects and small animals and keep the foods intact.

But for the discussion purpose today, the main focus will be on the variety of mint family herbs, how to care for them and their use in the kitchen.

Mint family herbs

Several plant families exist in the herb world, including culinary herbs from the mint family Lamiaceae.

Other culinary herbs such as chives, tarragon and sorrel are from different plant families.

Most herbs are annuals and can be brought indoors during the winter.

Now is the time to plant warm season herbs for summer meals. Start with herbs from the mint family such as basil, oregano, catnip and marjoram.

Other herbs in the mint family such as rosemary, thyme and garlic chives are perennial plants. They will grow outdoors all year. Hardy perennial herbs include rosemary, thyme and lemon balm.

Growth and care

Some mint family herbs can become invasive. So give them a lot of room or plant them in a large container to keep them from spreading. Putting a large unglazed pot with the bottom removed and partially sunk into the garden is another way to contain winter hardy mints. Herbal mints such as catnip, lemon balm, oregano, peppermint, spearmint and marjoram can take over a garden, so always plant in a container.

While most herbs thrive in the warm summer months of excessive heat and dry soil, cultural requirements demand well-drained soils for herb gardens. Follow these tips to begin your own herb garden.

* Avoid planting in clay soil. Herbs grow best with a pH of 6.0–7.5.

* Herbs require at least six hours of direct sunlight. A southern or western exposure will meet the needs of most herbs. Herbs can be grown inside but must be in an area with good direct sunlight.

* Water outdoor herbs several times a week to a depth of 8 inches if the days are sunny and hot. A good soaking irrigation is essential for good root growth.

* Fertilize sparingly. Garden beds can benefit by using a 5-10-5 commercial fertilizer once in the growing season. About 3 ounces to every 10 feet of planting.

* Mulching is beneficial during hot dry periods in the summer to maintain soil moisture.

Harvest times

Culinary herbs can be harvested throughout the growing season by snipping sprigs and leaves as needed. Many herbs contain the best flavor if harvested just before flowering. Midmorning hours are the best time to pick herbs as their oil content is the highest.

Once picked, herbs should be kept out of bright light.

Wash the herbs and use them fresh or use a drying process. Air, oven or microwaving can be used to dry herbs. Herbs can also be stored frozen as well.

Herbs offer great versatility for the garden enthusiast. Grow them in pots close to the kitchen in a sunny location and enjoy the fresh taste and wonderful culinary seasoning herbs can provide throughout the summer.

Wanda Cannon serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. Contact her at 770-535-8293 or Her column appears biweekly and on

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