Learn how to herb in Eagle County | VailDaily.com

Learn how to herb in Eagle County

Caramie SchnellVail CO, Colorado
HL Herb Gardening 1 DT 5-28-08

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado Sixteen men and women watched intently as Cheryl Phillips talked about the intricacies of growing herbs in the High Country. Phillips, owner of Earth Songs Gardening in Avon, is a master gardener whos made a career of designing gardens for area residents. The class was the last in a series held at the Eagle Library. As Phillips spoke, people glanced between her and the nine flats of tomato and squash plants and culinary herbs including rosemary, mint, English thyme, parsley, oregano, sweet basil and sage sitting on a table in the room. Attendees varied from never-ever herb growers to green thumbs, and everything in between. Cordillera resident Nancy Alexander and her husband David Staat are no strangers to growing herbs, but Alexander said she thought learning how to do it right was a good idea, which is why she signed up for the class.Her comment was a little modest considering the pair have successfully grown a slew of herbs including rosemary, which they use to season lamb, other meats and stews; oregano and basil, which they add to their spaghetti sauce and salads; and chives, which they pair with fresh tomatoes.No cilantro luck yet, though, she said.

After a quick tutorial on tomato plants (buy tomato plants with short growing seasons; tomatoes do best with south or west facing light; use good soil), Phillips talked herbs. Like most plants, herbs are either perennial or annual. Sage, thyme, chives, mint and spearmint are perrenials, which will come up year after year. Perennials can be brought inside during the cold months to over winter with a 50/50 chance of keeping them alive, Phillips said.Annuals, like basil, oregano, dill and coriander, complete their life cycle in one year.Most of the herbs listed above grow well in Eagle County, except for basil, which can be a little tender and might need to be brought inside at night, Phillips said. Keep in mind that herbs grow best with western, eastern or southern exposure, and at least six hours of sunlight a day.

The good news for condo dwellers is herbs (except for dill and cilantro, which dont do as well in pots, Phillips said) grow very well in containers like pots or window boxes, but you cant forget to water them. Boxes have little soil volume and tend to dry out fast. Some herbs are unforgiving of wilt and re-wetting, according to Tom Glass, Johnies Garden center manager. Glass warns customers that some containers need to be watered every day in the summer time, especially if theyre in full sun; potted plants generally require much more water than if the plants were in the ground, he said. At the same time, be careful not to overwater herbs. Most herbs hail from the Mediterranean so theyre used to the soil drying out between watering, Phillips said. They dont like a lot of moisture around the roots all the time, she said.

The container the plant is in makes a difference, Phillips said. Terra cotta pots typically dry out the fastest, but work particularly well for potting herbs. Phillips plants her herbs in separate pots, though it is possible to combine two or more in a container, just be sure they have similar water/light needs. Basil and rosemary wouldnt make great pot-mates as lush basil leaves require more water than woody-stemmed herbs like rosemary, which likes to dry out between waterings.Make sure the container you chose has drainage holes about a 1/2 inch in diameter. Layer the bottom of the pot with rocks or pieces of broken clay pots to keep soil from coming out the holes when you water the plant.

Native soil tends to be tight and compacted, thats why Phillips uses good quality, all-purpose potting soil with fertilizer in it. Dont get a soil thats just perlite and peat moss. Get something with compost in it and different types of hulls from plants, which helps hold moisture and feed the plant, she said. Phillips recommends Black Gold, a nursery product that you wont find at Wal-Mart or Home Depot, she said. A two-cubic foot bag runs around $20 and its worth the price tag.You get what you pay for, she said. Mix sand in the soil one part sand to three parts soil to provide better drainage for the plant.Next, be sure you fertilize your herbs at least once a month according to the package directions. Phillips likes Miracle Gro. Also, be aware that if you want to use organic fertilizer, youll need to use it twice as often.Pamela Saden, a Vail resident for nearly 27 years, took the class with her sister, Andi. Both women are raw vegans.I want to be as self sufficient as possible. Ive been wanting to grow herbs up here but Ive never had quite the green thumb, Pamela said.Armed with a tomato plant in one hand and a pot full of herbs in the other, Andi smiled.If I could have a real garden I would, but this is the next best thing, she said. Arts & Entertainment Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.

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