Ten Easy Tips
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Growing Herbs in the Shade
Tip: Think 'great soil', and for even better results, raise the herb beds. Always keep in mind that the soil must be well drained. You can test this by dumping a bucket of water in a hole dug at least two shovel lengths down. If you find that the water is still sitting there after thirty minutes, think about raised beds or containers for your garden efforts.
- Sweet Woodruff
This is one of the best of the shade plants, and an aggressive neighbor. It is a ground cover that will really cover the ground and take over the neighborhood. It is also a perennial that usually dies back in the winter and springs up in the spring with pretty star shaped white flowers. Traditionally, it has been a flavor enhancer for May wine in Germany.
Angelica is a broad plant that stands five to eight feet tall, and though it is technically a biennial, it seeds itself and "plantlets" appear year after year. If you have not cut the stalk of the plant before the seed heads form, the original plant will also revive each spring. This herb grows best in partial shade. If it is grown in a container it will not grow as tall, but it will still become fairly broad. If you live among evergreen trees, it's best to put a little lime in the soil in late winter or early spring, because Angelica prefers alkaline soil. Aphids tend to enjoy the sweet flavor of this plant, so have your ladybugs on hand. Historically, Angelica has had culinary uses, but currently culinary use is no longer recommended. This means no candied stems!
- Lemon Balm
Related to mint, this hardy perennial grows in mounds about two feet tall. Like all members of the mint family, Lemon Balm also grows well in containers. It's a lemony herb that looks a little bit like mint- although Lemon Balm flowers are not significant. It grows easily and plentiful, unlike some other lemon herbs such as Lemon Verbena and Lemon Thyme. In addition to serving as a tealeaf (add to a green or black tea or brewed alone), Lemon Balm can be used wherever a lemon flavor is desired. Try rubbing some on your hands to remove unwanted odors like garlic. Lemon Balm is a very useful and easy herb to grow. Remember to clip regularly to maintain a busy appearance.
Foxglove, or Digitalis, is a poisonous yet beautiful plant. It will grow two to eight feet tall with white to purple bell shaped flowers, depending on the sun (plants usually grow shorter with less exposure to sun). This is a beautiful cut flower as well as a stunning garden plant. It seeds itself and in no time at all foxgloves will be everywhere, but not to worry- they pull out easily. This plant is a biennial and will flower in the second year, although buying plants will provide flowers in the first year. Good drainage is required. Foxglove can also be grown in containers for size control.
- Sweet Cicily
Similar to dill or parsley with big white flower heads and feathery fern like leaves, this three to five foot tall, broad plant is licorice flavored. It is a hardy perennial and likes partial shade. Seeds may be difficult to grow so starting with plants is recommended. The leaves can be used for tea, the seeds for licorice flavor, and the attractive fern-like fronds for flower arrangements.
- French Tarragon
Start this herb from plants to avoid buying Russian Tarragon, which has no flavor. This slender non-flowering plant will grow to around two feet tall quite nicely in partial shade. Plants may even grow on the north side, in mostly shade, with just a bit of the setting sun. It will be possible to make many bottles of tarragon vinegar from one small Tarragon patch, and it grows well in containers.
- Shade Growing Tips #1
Some plants simply won't flower in the shade. Moving them into the sun in the spring or fall will give the flowers a chance. Reflective mulch-like white rock will help in a shaded area. Raised beds help to provide a higher soil temperature. Water early in the day to allow the leaves to dry before the cool temperature of the evening. Soil preparation is critical in the shade. Extension services test soil if there is a question regarding soil composition. An exception is Bee Balm. Bee Balm is an exquisite flowering herb which thrives in the partial shade in the ground or in a large container.
This beautiful feathery dill-like licorice flavored herb will grow four to six feet tall in partial shade. Fennel is a great herb to grow just for its feathery beauty. It re-seeds itself and fennel plants will pop up around the main fennel plant yearly. Branches are used to brush marinade on fish when barbecuing, and dried seeds are used for culinary purposes or chewed on as a natural breath freshener. In flower arrangements it serves as a great filler, creating a feathery background.
- Shade Growing Tips #2
All shade is not created equal. Consider the shade of an evergreen tree verses a deciduous tree. Though the actual shade may be similar, the soil under each tree is quite different, from acid soil under the evergreen to a more neutral soil under the deciduous tree. Plant the same herb in different areas and see which grows best. Herbs with less sun need more fertile soil and always remember to water early in the day so the leaves have a chance to dry- Good advice always, but especially so in the shade.
- Lady's Mantle
The beautiful leaves surrounding the yellow to green tiny flowers of Lady's Mantle catch and hold dewdrops and sparkle in a reflection of the sun. This is a good plant for fresh or dry flower arrangements, and though it is not for culinary use, the flowers will dry as they appear in the garden. It will grow in the sun, but does very well in areas of shade with only a few hours of dappled sun. Keep in mind- moist, rich, soil. This is not an herb to miss out on.