Top 12 Kitchen Herbs

If you want to grow kitchen herbs — and why wouldn't you? — these are the top 12.

| October/November 2006

You might favor a different set of kitchen herbs, but based on long experience and consultations with many other gardeners the consensus view is that these are the top 12. The preferred methods to start them are indicated by the colors of their corresponding titles below and in our Garden Design plans:

Green = sow herb seeds or use transplants
Blue = sow seeds only
Orange = use transplants only 

Seeds or seedlings of basil, a warm-season annual, can be planted at the same time as tomatoes. Pinch back flowering spikes to encourage new leaf production, and make a second planting from direct-sown seeds in early summer. The flavor is best when used fresh.
Selections: ‘Genovese’ is the gold standard for cooking; other varieties feature burgundy leaves, compact growth habits or foliage with frilled edges.

A mild-flavored perennial allium hardy to Zone 3, chives produce edible pink flowers in spring. Chives can be grown from seed, but it’s faster to start with plants. Keep leaves trimmed to prolong production, and divide and replant clumps in early fall. Can self seed too vigorously in cold climates. Preserve chives by freezing them.
Selections: Compact ‘Grolau’ (windowsill chives) is great for containers; ‘Grande’ features big, broad leaves.

A fast-growing annual, cilantro can be planted twice a year, in spring and again in late summer. Cilantro is among the easiest herbs to start from seeds sown directly in the garden, but it suffers badly when transplanted. Plants are hardy to Zone 7. Leaves lose their flavor as the plants grow tall and develop flowers. Leaves are best used fresh. The ripe seeds are the spice known as coriander.
Selections: ‘Santo’ bolts later than other varieties; ‘Delfino’ has lacy, fernlike leaves.

This cool-season annual bears flavorful leaves when young, then quickly produces flowers and seeds. Plant seeds in spring and again in late summer, or allow the spring sowing to shed ripe seeds. Tall varieties grow to 4 feet tall, though there are also dwarf types. Leaves are best used fresh; seeds dry well.
Selections: Dwarf ‘Fernleaf’ is great for containers; ‘Vierling’ bears beautiful bloom clusters for flower bouquets.

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