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A is for Annuals ~ Herbal ABC’s ~ Blogging Through the Alphabet

As I write this, the calendar tells me it is spring, but the weather is not in agreement. We have had cold spells and even some snow later than what is normal. Our last frost date is in the first half of May, but I want to get out and start planting now (late April). There are some things that can be started from seed before the garden is ready. Some of my favorite annual herbs do well started from seed. A is for Annuals, part of the Herbal ABC’s series, shared with Blogging Through the Alphabet.

Annual herbs are those that do not survive the winter outdoors under normal conditions. They typically have their complete life cycle in one growing season. The germinate, grow, bloom, produce seed, and then die within one year. Perennials continue growing year after year. Biennials are those plants which have a two-year life cycle. Mullein is a biennial that we (allow to) grow. It grows a low leafy rosette in its first year and then sends up a stalk that flowers and turns to seed in the second year.

We have some annuals (and biennials) that will seem as though they are perennials because they keep coming back in the same spot year after year. They have self-sown, casting seed into the surrounding soil that germinates the following year. This is the easy way to grow annuals. Cilantro is a prolific self-sowing annual. I’ve only planted this once and we are still enjoying it a few years later.

When it comes to starting your annual herbs, you have three options. You can start seeds indoors, you can direct sow seeds in the bed, or you can buy seedlings and transplant into your garden. Depending on the herb and the length of your growing season, that decision might not be yours. Basil is an herb that does not always start from seed easily – some varieties are said to do better than others. I still buy seeds and attempt it, but we have not been successful – yet.

When starting seeds indoors, you need heat and light. Our home is warm (we heat with wood, so the room with the wood stove is always warm), but that is not always enough for germination. A heat mat can be placed under the tray to help this. Good light is the next needed ingredient. We have nice sunny east-facing windows. Unfortunately, in late winter/early spring, the sun is still too far to the south to be bright enough for things to do well for us. You can supplement with grow lights, but I would only consider this expense if my growing season is short. You can cover your trays with plastic wrap and then a clear plastic dome to maintain good humidity.

Direct sowing is the easiest and least expensive option. Once the soil has warmed a bit, most seeds will germinate. Herbs don’t seem to need the soil to be as warm as some of the vegetables we plant. Follow the directions for spacing and planting depth, then water them in. Unless it is raining the day we plant, we always water seeds in when planting. We seldom water beyond that, but with a good start, things do well.

Some herbs are just easier to buy as seedlings or small plants. We have a local greenhouse that I shop at first. The varieties available are different each year. Once I’ve found what I wanted at the local nursery, I fill in the rest from the farm store or big box store. Our grocery stores even have some limited selections. I recommend getting them early if these stores are your option. Even a few weeks after their arrival, some of the plants start showing stress. Storefronts may not have the best light or watering might be inconsistent as the herbs wait to be “rescued”.

Experiment and have fun with growing your own herbs. There is nothing like grabbing some basil leaves and making a simple pesto for your dinner. Or picking calendula blossoms to steep in olive oil for medicinal use. Start small and add to what you plant each year. With annuals, it is easy to change things up year after year.

Don’t miss the other “A” posts from my co-hosts.

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