London (change)
Today 17°C / 8°C
Tomorrow 11°C / 4°C

Five ways to keep herbs productive

The herb 'family' is a large and varied one from all over the world - from oriental and subtropical herbs, to native British species. What they all have in common is the presence of oils that give them their fragrance and flavour, plus the ability to withstand being chopped regularly.

Once you start using lots of herbs, it's economical to grow your own. Follow our guide to keeping your crops of herbs productive.

Re-sow annuals and biennials

To ensure you have a steady supply of fresh plants for your pots, sow a new batch once you're halfway through using your current crop. Sprinkle the seeds thinly over the surface of a pot of multi-purpose compost, and don't bother pricking out the seedlings. In winter, sow into pots on a warm windowsill. 

Provide the right conditions

Mediterranean herbs love lots of sun and good drainage. More traditional British herbs, such as parsley, mint and chives, plus tarragon and leaf coriander, enjoy lots of light but get stunted or tough if too dry, hot and sunny. Basil is fussy - grow it in good light but avoid strong midday sun and water it carefully.

Re-pot or top dress

Boost perennials with fresh compost in spring. Mint needs good nourishment, so pot up a few strong roots into new compost each spring. Divide chives and tarragon each second spring, and top dress or re-pot woody Mediterranean herbs, such as rosemary, using potting compost and and added grit.

Feed and water regularly

Apply a general-purpose liquid fertiliser to keep your herbs leafy, plus an occasional dose of liquid seaweed, as the trace elements improve flavour. Adding high-potash tomato feed in midsummer helps to toughen up Mediterranean herbs so they can withstand hot dry spells.

Cut back perennial herbs annually

Herbs that die down naturally in winter (such as mint, oregano and chives) need cutting off at ground level in late autumn to keep them tidy. They'll regrow as good as new in spring. Woody herbs (such as thyme, rosemary and sage) become straggly with age, so prune into shape after flowering or in spring. Clip lavender into a neat shape in late summer, removing old flowers without cutting into old wood.

Discuss this plant feature

Talkback: Five ways to keep herbs productive
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step