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Published July 15, 2009, 12:00 AM

Herbs add texture, aroma to Minnesota gardens

If you’re like me, you love to cook with fresh herbs, but buying them at the supermarket is often cost prohibitive. The good news is that there are many herbs you can grow in your Minnesota garden.

By: By Robin Trott, Extension Educator, Alexandria Echo Press

If you’re like me, you love to cook with fresh herbs, but buying them at the supermarket is often cost prohibitive. The good news is that there are many herbs you can grow in your Minnesota garden. Interspersed with flowers or veggies, herbs can add texture, interest and aroma to your garden. Herbs aren’t limited to kitchen use, they can also be used as pesticides, dyes, potpourri and medicinally. Which herbs should you grow in your garden, and how should you use them? Let’s explore the possibilities.

If you love Italian food, you might want to select annuals such as basil, oregano, marjoram and rosemary. I usually plant these in late spring, harvest bits and pieces throughout the summer, and then bring them in to over-winter in my kitchen. Another option is to dry or freeze your herbs before the first killing frost. Rinse herbs in cool water and hang the harvested herbs upside down in a warm, dry spot. For freezing, place the rinsed herbs on a cookie sheet and freeze. When completely frozen, transfer leaves to a freezer bag. Chop the herbs while still frozen for use in your culinary dishes.

There are also many perennial herbs to choose from. Thyme, tarragon, sage, chives and mint varieties can be planted this year, and will return, in force, for years to come. Mint, chives and tarragon tend to take over, so choose wisely and plant with restraint. For a change of pace, try garlic chives. These chives have a white bloom and taste mildly of garlic. For serious garlic lovers, plant cloves of garlic in the third or fourth week of September. Cover your garlic bed with straw several weeks after planting to assure a good harvest the following July.

Flowering herbs attract beneficial insects, butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden. Pungent, Mediterranean herbs such as lavender, thyme, rosemary and sage are also less attractive to deer, making them a good choice for country gardens.

Still not sure which herbs to plant? I suggest a trip to the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska. The arboretum has extensive gardens that display herbs for fragrance, for culinary purposes, for dying, and as ornamental plants. Make sure to bring your camera and a notebook for future reference.

Whether you plant herbs in your garden, on your windowsill, or in a patio container, I strongly urge you to include herbs in your plans. For an amazing selection of herbs and detailed information on how to plant and how to use them, visit the Shady Acres Herb Farm, located near the Arboretum in Chaska, or visit their website at http://www.shadyacres.com/.

Until next time, happy gardening!

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