The reward just keeps coming: some herbs return year after year

NEW YORK — If you love to cook, chances are you’re painfully aware of the price of spices at the grocery store. But for the price of a 1- or 2-ounce plastic clamshell packet, you can buy a plant that will produce aromatic herbs for your kitchen all summer long—and even year after year.

Perennial herbs are among the easiest edible varieties to grow at home. All they need is sunlight (with some shade in the deep south), modest amounts of water (more during hot, dry periods) and well-drained soil. Usually they don’t even need fertilizer.


You can create a special herb garden or use herbs as edging plants in your perennial flower beds; many of them are beautiful enough. Think of the fluffy, purple-tinted leaves of sage, the purple spring flowers of onion chives or the white summer flowers of garlic chives. Heck, just stick them wherever you have space, as long as the sun can reach them.

My thyme, oregano, chives, sage, tarragon and Roman chamomile fill most of a 4-by-4-foot raised bed near the back deck stairs, leaving just enough room to tuck in some annual herbs . They are all hardy to zone 4, with chives pushing the limit into zone 3.

Rosemary, technically only hardy to zone 8, sometimes surprises me and makes a comeback, but in my zone 7 garden I don’t count on that.

And they can all handle the heat down to zone 8 or 9, with oregano returning reliably down to zone 11.

Mint and lemon balm are fast-growing perennials that are hardy in zones 4-9, but they will take over your garden if you plant them in the ground. Grow them only in pots and keep the pots on a porch, deck or patio.


Some annual herbs also return frequently. When self-seeders such as dill and cilantro (also known as cilantro) drop seeds at the end of the season, leave them where they are. They will germinate and sprout more plants the following spring.

Other herbs are biennials and complete their life cycle at the end of their second growing season. Parsley produces lots of fragrant leaves in the first year and slightly stunted but still perfectly edible leaves in the second year before flowering and stopping.

Caraway, another biennial, doesn’t produce seeds until its second year, but if you boast about growing your own herbs, the wait is worth it.

At the end of the growing season, you can dry or freeze your home-grown herbs so that you can obtain fresh ingredients from the garden all year round.

Another bonus? They all attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, making the rest of your garden more productive.

Jessica Damiano regularly writes gardening columns for the AP and publishes the award-winning Weekly Dirt Newsletter. You can sign up here for weekly gardening tips and advice.

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