Thymus vulgaris

Six essential perennial herbs

Get advice on growing and harvesting rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, chives and marjoram.

Perennial herbs are easy to grow and will enhance your garden, and your cooking, year after year. They are easy to grow and need very little looking after and can be grown in beds and borders, or in containers on a patio or balcony.

Discover how to pick herbs.

Giving herbs the right growing conditions helps to ensure they have the best flavour. Plant them in full sun, if possible – this will bring the essential oils to the surface of the leaf, giving a strong flavour. Mint, rosemary and chives will tolerate some shade, but if grown in damp, cold soil, they may suffer over winter.

To keep perennial herbs healthy and productive, pick them regularly. All of the herbs featured here also have edible flowers, so pick those too and enjoy them with salads, in drinks and as a garnish. Once they have finished flowering, cut them back. Cutting back evergreen herbs, like rosemary, helps prevent them becoming woody. Discover more about keeping herbs productive.

Herbaceous herbs, such as mint, which die back over winter then regrow in spring, should be cut back to about 4cm above the soil after flowering. You will then get a second crop of fresh new leaves through to the first frosts.

Discover how to get the best from six perennial herbs.

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Mint

Mint grows best when it is left to spread naturally. It can be invasive, however, so if this is likely to be an issue, grow it in pots. Growing it in full sun will give it the best flavour, although it will also grow in partial shade. Pick the leaves before flowering or after the plant has been cut back in summer.

Care

 The easiest way to preserve mint is to freeze the leaves, whole or chopped. Mint rust produces small, rusty spots that usually start on the underside of the leaf. Cut back hard and remove any fallen leaves from the soil – the new growth should return clean. If mildew becomes a problem, move the plant to a sunny, airy position. Mint leaf beetle can also be an issue.

Rosemary

Evergreen rosemary can be harvested throughout the year. The flowers are also edible, with a light rosemary flavour – delicious in rice dishes. Grow in a warm, sunny site in well drained soil. It will also grow well in a container – use a soil-based compost and pot up annually in the autumn. 

Care

To keep it productive and to stop it becoming woody, cut back after flowering. Rosemary beetle may be a problem – the beetle and its larvae feed off the leaves from autumn to spring. To tackle an infestation, place sheets of newspaper under the plant, the tap or shake the branches to knock the critters onto the paper, making them easy to dispose of.

Sage

The leaves of culinary sage can also be used all year. The flowers are edible and can be scattered in salads or fruit puddings. Sage leaves can be preserved in oil and butter. Plant in a warm, sunny site in well-drained soil. Sage also grows well in a container – use soil-based compost.

Care

Cut back after flowering in summer to encourage new growth and to prevent the plant becoming woody. Sage can be prone to leaf hopper – there is not much you can do about it, except to remove damaged leaves. If plants in pots are affected by mildew, move them to an airier situation and remove the damaged leaves.

Thyme

Thyme is evergreen and can be used all year round. It makes lovely oils and butters. Plant in a well drained soil in a sunny spot. Thymes do not like wet winters or sitting in water, so make sure that the soil has adequate drainage. To grow in containers, use a soil-based compost mixed with horticultural grit. 

Care

Cut back after flowering to help plants survive the winter. Thyme rarely suffers from pests, although aphids can attack new growth – spray them with soft horticultural soap.

Chives

Cut fresh leaves throughout the growing season, and scatter the pretty flowers over salads – they have a mild onion flavour. Preserve the chopped leaves in butter or freeze in ice cube trays without water. Plant in a well-drained, fertile soil in a sunny position and keep well watered throughout the growing season. 

Care

Mulch with well-rotted manure in autumn. Chives grow well in containers – use a soil-based compost and pot up annually in the spring, when the new growth appears. Onion fly, downy mildew and rust can be a problem – in mild cases, cut back hard, and in severe cases, dig up and bin the plants, taking care not to plant more members of the allium family in the same spot. Find out how to rejuvenate chives.

Oregano / marjoram

The leaves can be picked nearly all year. Oregano originated in the Mediterranean, so plant in a well-drained soil in a sunny position. It will grow happily in a container, using a soil-based compost that has been mixed with a handful of horticultural grit. Preserve it in butters, oils, or dry some sprigs. 

Care

Oregano is fairly free from pests and diseases, but die back or powdery mildew can be a problem if planted in heavy soil or partial shade. There are fewer edible leaves when in flower, so cut back the plant after flowering to promote new growth.  
Perennial herbs are easy to grow and will enhance your garden, and your cooking, year after year.

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Growing herbs in pots

All of these herbs grow really well in pots – just make sure the compost has some grit added, for good drainage.

Discover more ideas and inspiration

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How to plant herbs

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