Avoiding Herbal Apocalypse: Keeping Herbs Alive

Even under optimal growing conditions, most herbs need regular maintenance and nurturing to fight the four horsemen:melting out, invasiveness, legginess, and seediness.

| April/May 2000

Good grooming can enhance and prolong the beauty and productivity of herbs. Even in an informal garden, ungroomed plants look weedy and slovenly, not charmingly carefree: there’s a difference between a natural look and a natural disaster.

The four horsemen of the garden apocalypse are melting out, invasiveness, legginess, and seediness. These evil traits can make an unhappy mess of your herb garden.

Melting out

Many herbs, especially lamb’s-ears, thyme, and catnip, melt out (contract a fungal disease) under prolonged heat and humidity. Foliage and flowers turn brown or black and may die away from the center, leaving an unsightly bare patch.


Picture a 6-foot-4-inch adolescent who weighs 145 pounds—that’s legginess. Leggy herbs look skinny and have elongated stems that flop over readily. The plants may receive inadequate light due to excessive shade or overcrowding. The competition for light and soil nutrients often results in inferior flowers and oil production.

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