Cynthia Meredith has been gardening with herbs, reading about 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.
The spring equinox (or vernal equinox) arrived Saturday, March 20 at 12:32 p.m. CDT. That day we had a rain that lasted all morning. Almost an inch of rain fell—wonderful, beautiful, nourishing rain. Then later that day, the wind began. And did it ever blow!! Even though the temperature wasn't terribly low, it was quite chilly and uncomfortable outside. I should know, I was at a farmer's market in Richmond that day. I kept putting tender vegetable seedlings back into the truck to keep them from being destroyed by the wind.
It's spring in south central Texas as the redbud trees and bluebonnets bloom.
The herbs, being as tough as they are, survived just fine. Although I did put the basil back in the truck because it was looking very peaked in all the wind. When I returned home from market, I was pleasantly surprised to see the herbs in the beds and the containers looking just fine. The wind was dying down at that point too.
Most herbs have small leaves, basil being the exception. (That's why the plants are so tough and can survive less than perfect conditions outdoors.) The leaves do not lose a lot of moisture to the wind as larger leaved plants can. So cold, windy weather does not adversely affect thyme, oregano, rosemary, dill or fennel the way it affects basil with its tender leaves.
The chamomile is stretching and beginning to flower.
Monday dawned clear and cool but warmed up quickly. What a beautiful day! It was a joy to be outdoors. I almost decided to put the vegetable seedlings back outside but decided against it. The basil is nice and toasty in the greenhouse, too. It's not quite time to plant basil outdoors, although I have one type of basil that seems to be perennial and is coming back from the roots. That is the green pepper basil (Ocimum selloi). Green pepper basil is used as a culinary herb and is a nice addition to a green salad, soup or salsa. Tip: It is also an effective mosquito repellent and isn't irritating to the skin.
Green pepper basil leaves.
Other basil types that I like to grow are lemon, lime, cinnamon, purple ruffles, Ararat (with its bi-colored leaves) and of course everyone's favorite sweet (or Genovese) basil. Just as tomatoes are the favorite home gardener's vegetable, basil is the favorite summer herb to grow. I sell more basil plants than any other herb during the warm months. People just love it, and what's not to love? Its savory, complex flavor accents summer vegetables perfectly. Slice a perfectly ripe home-grown tomato, sprinkle a little olive oil on the slices, add a dash of salt and pepper and top it off with chopped basil leaves. What could be a better summer salad? Especially here in my area where lettuce cannot be grown during the summer months because the weather is just too hot and the leaves turn very bitter, we focus on salads with fewer leafy greens.
I plan to wait for another couple of weeks before I put my basil outdoors. Last year, we had a hard freeze around April 6 that damaged many tender plants. So, don't be too anxious to get those summer plants outdoors. Or if you do, be ready to bring them in or cover them. Spring weather in Texas varies and brings many surprises.
Last time I wrote that I thought my two big Kaffir lime trees were irreparably damaged. I gave them a closer inspection and now I believe they will recover. There are quite a few branches that are still green toward the main trunk. I'll probably have to do a lot of tip pruning, but I plan to wait until they start leafing out so I can see what to prune off. I'm thrilled though to learn that they will recover.
Little pink roses are beginning to bloom.
I hope your gardens are springing to life and giving you great joy and herbal treasures.