By H.I. Jean Shields
Special to The Breeze
This change in the weather is the best for starting some herbs in a pot or in the soil. Most of them love the sun; some will need more water than others and all of them are more resistant to insects and disease than veggies and flowers. Temps under 50 degrees are not welcome. You can cover plants or take them inside garage. It's hard to find a sunny window with a large window ledge to set a big pot of herbs.
They do not like the humidity and all the torrential rains. Read your plant tags to understand which ones like a little more moisture than others. If you do not cook much nowadays, like me, grow a nice pot of herbs on lanai for looks and scents.
My favorites, rosemary, basil and Greek oregano, are more apt to be found lying on my kitchen counter than cooking on the stove. The basils come in several colors and flavors. Oreganos the same. Rosemary pretty much the same but they will grow tall and stately among the lower herbs which will cascade over the edges of containers.
Those three herbs grow well together, and make a striking container on the lania or the front entry. Just remember they need sun and good drainage.
The one of those three that likes to be the most dry is the rosemary. Just mound it up a little into the middle of the pot and do not drown the basil and oregano.
You will need to keep clipping and snipping on these herbs to keep them busy and fresh. That is why I have them on the kitchen counter. If they do get too long and straggly, just cut them back they will be fine.
Once in awhile we do hit 30 degrees during the next few months. These herbs should withstand that low temperature for one or two nights. You can lightly cover them with some newspaper or a light sheet. Remove the cover as soon as possible in the morning. You would do that with anything you need to cover.
I have spent a few hours every winter in sunny Florida making newspaper caps and covers for tomato and pepper plants and a few flowers that I did not want to replace because of a cold breeze. Cold winds are worse than low temps.
Roses do fine covered up overnight. I use newspaper wrapped like a tent and held together with clothespins. When you do it just right you will have this big cone of newspaper you can just widen the bottom as you put it on and off.
You must go all the way to the ground with coverage on a rose bush.
Something in a pot you can cheat a little because of the soil and pot fending off the cold. I know roses are not herbs, but are special to me.
More about ways to keep things from freezing up as we move into the colder season. We are right now only getting a whiff of cool, low humidity weather. We will be swinging back and forth for a few more weeks.
I saw some neighbors this afternoon, nice bulky sweatshirts on, with shorts and bare feet walking around cold driveways and sidewalks. Only in Florida.
I am always cutting off a 1 or 2-inch tip of my Greek oregano (Origanum spp). This is a bright green with white edges plant. The leaves are kind of fuzzy.
They make a nice "give-away." I usually set mine in water a couple of days, repot in loose soil that is nice and damp, at the time of planting. You do not need to saturate the new transplant but it needs to be moist for a week or two until it starts to form roots. Put it right back in a sunny spot. The wet soil needs the sun right away.
Basil likes a little afternoon shade during the hot summer sun months but that time is passing now so should do well. A nice healthy rosemary plant will even provide a little shade anyway.
There is another way to plant herbs. That is called mound planting. You laye soil, compost, a little slow release sprinkling of fertilizer, or wonderful worm castings and repeat over and over until you have a nice high, say, knee-high mound.
It's easy to pull any possible weeds, easy to spray everything with some moisture and fun to have. The mound can be big or small to suit your space.
This mound planting is not a new thing, but it gets forgotten and then has to be re-introduced in garden circles. The Edison Ford Estates just recently had a class on how to prepare a mound planting. They went from a bare spot of ground and layered and layered until they were satisfied with the height, and allowed class participants to plant something. They actually have a permanent mound planting near the plant sale section. They also have literature on how to do mounds and a lot of other things. ECHO also has done mounds. Watch the papers for classes at a nominal fee. Remember no heavy soil of course the Lee county Extension Service in Fort Myers has a variety of classes and information available. They also have a nice botanical garden that is free to stroll.
I have already noted that I am a novice or irregular herb gardener, but I enjoy it and learn a little bit more every year. Read up on herbs and you will learn about their fertilizer needs (not much needed), how hardy they can be and how very nice it is to flavor a chicken cavity, or the up coming traditional turkey with your own home-grown herbs.
There is much more to learn than I could ever do in a couple of columns. The nice part is you can start growing while you are learning, and not have to make a large investment.
Another nice thing about herbs, some, like fennel and parsley will attract butterflies. I keep a pot of parsley outside as a host plant.
It is time to fertilize fruit trees with 6-6-6 or 8-8-8. Keep ground under trees clear of fallen leaves. I do not have any fruit trees, just know someone who does.
Our frangipani trees are pretty bare now; they sure do have a lot of big leaves to drop around. Some people do not like their bare limb look but I think they are really an artistic part of the landscape, and I know they will always bloom again.
Please do plant some Florida winter annuals. I especially love the many colorful impatiens. I know they are thirsty little beauties, but I save a lot of water around the house so do not feel bad about sharing some with them.
Check out nurseries, etc., to see if there is something new this year, or a new way to grow something old.
Happy gardening until we meet again.
H.I. Jean Shields is a past president of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.