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Picking herbs

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
I grew some basil (and other "Italian" herbs) in the past with great sucess. When I needed some, I just picked the leaves off. All seemed well, then winter hit. They were window sill plants, but I was thinking maybe the room wasn't warm enough or didn't have enough light. The little guys almost died. They looked really bad and lifeless. No new growth. I just tossed the container in the trash since nothing seemed to revive them.

I just bought a basil plant this weekend. No picking yet. My husband remembered seeing something on a gardening show about picking lettuce. You pick the leaves leaving about an inch behind and new leaves will grow. I started to wonder, is it the same for other things as well? Maybe that is what also contributed to my sickly herbs? B/c herbs obviously survive through winter since I used to know a couple of people who had the same plants year after year (wish I still kept in touch with them now for advice!) I also have a big basil plant (not the cooking variety, it's a part of the basil family but has branches like a small tree) that has been through a few winters. While it went through a dormancy of dropping leaves and stunted growth, come spring, she was healthy as anything. I also had a different one back when I grew my herbs. They were both kept under the same conditions and both need the same care (more or less). But the plant lived and the herbs died.

So what is the best way to pick herbs if you don't want to kill the whole plant, if indeed, there is such a thing. Or was my dying herbs just me being a bad karma?
post #2 of 14

Where are you located? You need to figure out what hardieness plant zone you're in, sounds like somewhere between 4-7.

Lettuce is different than basil, and there are hundreds of different varieties of lettuce which fall under 5 main types: Looseleaf, Butterhead, Romaine, French, and Crisphead. They are not all harvested the same way and I would be cautious about assuming so. With most of them, you'll let it grow so the outer leaves are at least 4-5 inches tall.

There are over 150 species of basil. Your other basil which is more tree like must obviously be more hardy than the common sweet basil used for culinary purposes. They are not all alike.

Allow the plant get healty, strong, and established, before you start harvesting leaves. It sounds to me like you're picking leaves off too early. You need to let the plant grow at least into a medium sized plant with lots of leaves as in this picture:

Then, just pick off the biggest leaves as you need them, leaving the small and medium leaves to grow. In the fall, if you want to bring it inside, provide a grow light for them. Just about all herbs need full sun (6-8 hours of direct sun) to flourish. When you brought it in, it was probably too cold by the window with not enough light.

The plant's life goal is to set seed. Once it does, the stem will form bark and not produce as well. So you need to pinch off the seed heads to prevent it from setting seed. You can see them at the top of the stems in this picture:

The plant will grow more stems on the lower branches as a result.

Now, as for "same plants year after year", those are called "perennials". This means that they are like a tree in that they loose their foilage in the fall and come back in the spring because of the root system which has become established underground. The more years it has been there, the bigger the plant will be each year, like oregano, thyme, sage, and mint. Rosemary is a tender perennial meaning it doesn't like cold weather and may not come back so bring it inside. It also depends on where you live and what the temperature ranges are there. Rosemary may do fine in zone 7 thru the winter because theirs is more mild than say in a colder zone 5.

Basil is what is known as an "annual" and will not come back. You need to start new plants each year from seed. Or you can try to keep the one you have alive, or you can propogate cuttings. Once you get a strong healty plant, you can cut off a stem which is about 4 inches long. Pull off the bottom half of leaves and put it in a cup of water until roots start to form and you have another basil plant.
post #3 of 14
Thread Starter 
Thanks so much for all the info! The photos are very helpful.

When I had the first basil plant, I lived in Annapolis, MD. It was never kept outside. Like I said, it was a windowsill plant. It was kept in the same room as our tulsi plant (the basil-minitree plant I mentioned earlier). The tulsi needs to be kept warm and get a lot of light so in the winter, we had the heat on in that room all the time. Also it got the most sun coming in from the corner window and had a humidifyer in there as well. As soon as the sun went done, we turned on the grow lamp and regulary rotated the plants. So the only thing left is the picking since the kit I bought didn't say anything about letting it grow to a certain size before picking. It was like, "just plant, grow, and pick!" type of directions. Water, lots of light, blah blah, but not much else. And because it was so small, then I obviously picked too much to have enough for pasta sauce and things like that.

I now live in Philadelphia and because we live in an apt., all plants are indoors. Since I bought the basil plant instead of growing it, it's already a pretty big size and too big for the 7" pot, and about 12" in height. Hubby will be moving Mr. Basil into his new bigger home by the end of the week. Any suggestions for special type of pot or anything?

Once again, thank you so much for the info. I usually try to stay away from any plants as much as possible and just let my husband take care of them b/c I am a notorious plant killer, but somehow I just can't give up. I am convinced that we buy a house, I am going to have a big garden dammit! ;)
post #4 of 14
Plants will grow to the size of the pot. The bigger the pot, the bigger the plant because it has more room to grow roots. The better the root system the better it is able to support what is growing above ground.

Do you have a balcony or a rail where you could hang a window box? As far as pots, usually when you repot a plant you go at least one inch of new soil in width around the entire root ball. Since your plant is "indoors" this should be fine. If it were to be outdoors, I may go two inches unless of course you could get it in the ground.

The type of container is up to you. The deeper the better. If on the balcony, or outdoors, plastic will retain water much longer than clay will and container plants lose water to the plant and evaporation very quickly. If your plant will be indoors, clay may be better because basil likes to "dry out", the roots need air as much as they need water. No matter what you get, make sure there is good drainage.

Let us know if you have questions about other herbs.

post #5 of 14
Thread Starter 
Tulsi and the basil are on tables right next to the window. We don't have a balcony, but even if we did, I don't think I would keep any plants on it right now. We are in the middle of a heat wave.

As for other herbs... I am going to see if I can find potted rosemary, sage, parsley, oregano and all the other herbs you put in pasta sauce. Since you mentioned mint, that sounds good too. Tastes good in iced tea. Is the care of those similar to basil? Or do some need less sun than others, or less water, etc.? You mentioned that those herbs (except the basil) are perennials (wow, I finally know what that word means!). How many hours of grow lamp time should they get in the winter? Would they benefit from being in the same room as our Tulsi plant? We have to keep the room warm, grow lamps, and humidifyer on. The Tulsi gets about 10 hours of grow lamp light a day to keep her healthy (2 lamps from different angles). Do the herbs need about the same amount? If so, our living room is going to look awfully silly this winter with all the extra grow lamps. ;)

When I get more confidant, (hopefully next year), I will try growing from seeds. Speaking of which, when is ideal time to start? Like when the temperature hits _ _ degrees?

Thanks again for your help. I grew up in the country in Hawaii and was used to growing things by accident. We would pick papayas from our trees, scrape out the seeds and throw them out the window. Sure enough, a tree would grow. (Ok, not every time, but it was very, VERY common). No watering necessary. No care whatsoever. So when I moved away and did try to grow things that weren't papaya trees, needless to say, it was rather frustrating trying to figure out this "plant care" thing.
post #6 of 14
I planted peppermint early in the season, and was told to get it out of the ground, and into a pot, because it tends to take over and suffocate all the vegetation around it. Well, it is thriving, and cascading out of the pot. I think it will eventually become rootbound if I don't do something, but where do I trim? At the base of the stem? or do I pull some out from the roots?
post #7 of 14
Momoreg, All the mints are 'creepers', and will try to put out little branches that will take root somewhere. Take your plant out of the pot, and look where the roots meet the soil. You'll probably see 'clumps' of root and stem that are separate (or in the process of becoming separate). This is where you can divide the plant, and give little plantings to all you know! If you just cut off the leaves at the base, the plant will try to grow more and more 'creepers', in it's struggle to propagate.

I made the mistake of planting some chocolate mint in the ground; now I've got it coming up in the yard a good 25 feet away from the original planting! The roots have creeped underground for that amount of distance!

Another plant family to be wary of planting in the ground is the 'balm' family; lemon balm, bee balm, etc. They're sneaky - look like a bushy type plant, but they too put out underground creepers and pop up everywhere!
"Like water for chocolate"
"Like water for chocolate"
post #8 of 14
I appreciate the advice. It's a very big pot. Can I just ram a shovel into the roots and remove the surrounding roots and stems, to prevent it from getting to big for the pot? Or will that kill the plant entirely?
post #9 of 14
"Ram a shovel into the roots" - ouch!!!

You can do a root prune, which is what we do with bonsai. But you still have to take the plant out of the pot and 'rake' the roots first. Then just take some scissors (not good ones - the dirt will ruin them!), and trim away some of the root. Then repot, and trim the leaves back, too; remember, you've taken away some of the 'support system' the roots, so you need to trim back the leaves to compensate.

You could also just repot into a bigger pot! Always an excuse for going out and buying a pretty new planter!!! "But honey, the plant was just too BIG for that little bitty pot!":D
"Like water for chocolate"
"Like water for chocolate"
post #10 of 14
Did you know you could trade any extra peppermint for other plants or herbs? Check here.

Ramming a shovel thru the roots of the peppermint won't hurt your peppermint. Mints are tenatious.

momoreg and marmalady,

If you do want any mints in the ground, just dig a hole big enough for the a container with very small drainage holes. Put the container in the ground and this will prevent the mint from spreading. No one will know it's in a container and your maintenance will be much lower.

post #11 of 14
Cchiu, Tried that pot in the ground thing, and the darn plants just grew above ground creepers and rooted!
"Like water for chocolate"
"Like water for chocolate"
post #12 of 14
That's a healthy plant marmalady, you should trade your extras with other gardeners!

Yes, maybe 2.5" - 3" would help above the top level of soil..... less maintenance but not maintence free....

post #13 of 14
Lots of ideas.

And that's a cool site, cchiu. I plan to look through it more later.:cool:
post #14 of 14

That site has a lot to offer. Have fun!


>How many hours of grow lamp time should they get in the winter?
At least 6-8 hours, they'll probably do fine with your Tulsi plant.

>Would they benefit from being in the same room as our Tulsi plant?
Sure! Plants seem to know then they have friends around them. It's also easier for you to care for them when they're all in the same place. Put them in front of a south facing window if possible.

As far as starting herbs from seeds. Do your research. Some herbs are much easier to start from cuttings. In which case, when spring comes, just get a starter plant for anywhere from $1.00 - $2.50, less than the cost of purchasing herbs which aren't even rooted at the grocery store and possibley less than the cost of purchasing a packet of seeds. Check your local farmer's market, green houses, nurseries, and garden centers.

>when is ideal time to start? Like when the temperature hits _ _ degrees?
You can always start them indoors. Depends on the plant as far as timing. Look here for more info. You'll need to find out your area's frost dates.

Every climate has plants which are native in that area. If you are in the states, check with your local extension office for more information. It's free and they are there to help.

You're very welcome for the advice, keep us posted on how it goes.
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