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.

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Re-sow annuals and biennials

Ensure a steady supply of fresh plants for your pots, by sowing a new batch once you're half- way through your current crop. Sprinkle seeds thinly over the surface of a pot of multi-purpose compost, and don't prick 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. Herbs like parsley, mint, chives, tarragon and coriander, enjoy plenty of light but get stunted or tough if too dry and hot. Basil is fussy - grow it in good light but avoid strong midday sun and water 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.

Feed and water regularly

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

Cut back perennial herbs annually

Herbs like mint and chives die down in winter, so need cutting to the ground in late autumn. Woody herbs like 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 by removing old flowers.

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