Cynthia Meredith has been gardening with herbs, reading about herbs, gardening with herbs and discussing herb gardening in Texas for more than 20 years. She has owned The Herb Cottage (www.theherbcottage.com) for over 10 years, selling herb plants to people all over our state.
It's still hot and dry here in my part of south-central Texas. We had a couple of showers last week, but the tiny bit of rain made very little difference to the overall conditions. It is mid-August, however, and it's time to look ahead to the cooler days of fall (and perhaps even some rain). So, what to do in the herb garden this week?
Well, this week I'm doing lots of seeding of herbs and vegetables for fall!
Even though it's still very hot, by the time any herbs started now are ready for the garden, it'll be late September soon, and somewhat cooler. At least the days will be shorter and perhaps the nights will be a bit cooler. So, what to plant?
Cilantro, a favorite herb in this part of Texas, loves the cool temperatures of fall. And it's one I get requests for at every market, even in the heat of summer. Sadly, cilantro, or coriander as the seed is known, just does not perform well in our summer heat. The seed will sprout but the plant will bolt, go to flower and then seed almost immediately. There won't be any of those spicy, flat, flavorful leaves we love. This one has to be grown from fall into spring. Or if you're in the northern part of our state, in the fall and then again in the spring until the weather gets very hot. (Click here to read more about cilantro.)
Dill is savory, piquant and a must for potato salad, egg salad and with salmon and other fish. Dill thrives in the cool weather of fall. If you live in the northern or western part of the state, dill will not overwinter for you, so now is the time to direct seed it in beds or in containers so you'll have enough to harvest for winter. Dill is very easy to preserve. You can dry both the leaves and flowers—they hold their flavor well—or simply clip the leaves and flowers, place them in a plastic baggy and pop them into the freezer. (Click here to learn more about drying herbs.) When needed take out the parts you desire, close the baggy and put it back in the freezer. Chop or tear the dill and add it to your favorite recipe. (Click here for our recipes for dill.) If you have a long enough growing season, and enough seeds, dill makes an excellent addition to breads and seasoning mixes. If you had a dill patch in the spring that flowered and went to seed, simply water the area and you will be rewarded with new dill plants. If you've been getting rain, perhaps you are already seeing baby dill sprouting. Lucky you!
Chervil is under-appreciated, but so flavorful and dainty looking. (Click here to read more about chervil.) It sometimes goes by the name of French parsley, has a mild anise flavor that compliments fish dishes perfectly, has finely cut leaves, and is very ornamental. Try it planted with lettuce, mesclun mix or edible flowers for a winter salad garden. In the southern part of the state, chervil appreciates a little afternoon shade, but will do well in a mostly sunny spot in other areas over the winter. (Click here to try our Lemon-Butter Sauce with Chervil.)
Parsley is a highly nutritious, multi-use and indispensable herb. If your parsley didn't make it through the summer, this is a perfect time to start new plants from seed. Be patient though as parsley seed can take from 1 to 2 weeks to germinate. If you direct seed it, plant fairly close together so you have a nice, thick row. (Click here to read more about parsley.)
Curly parsley is a very attractive ornamental herb for the winter with its rich evergreen color and complex leaf shapes. Flat leaf, or Italian parsley, is not as ornamental but many people favor it for its culinary uses over the curly varieties. I suggest, "Why not plant both?"
If you've had a challenging summer with your garden, do not despair. Fall will be here, so in the meantime get a head start on your fall and winter herbs by seeding now. If you're very successful, you might have plants to share with friends or you might just have to expand your own herb plantings.