Tom Carey: Summer herbs for Florida gardens

Tom Carey

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Considering the culture and climate from where many of the herbs we favor originate (dry, mild Mediterranean), it is no surprise that growing them through our hot, wet summers can be a task destined with troubles! Even with encouragement emanating from legends of music, growing parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme can be problematic. Most of our concerns originate with excessive afternoon rain, leaving the plants wet through the overnight hours and then the morning dew. Toss in weed pressures, insect hoards, neglect from vacation scheduling, and the periodic dry spell; is it no wonder that taking a hiatus from herb gardening is highly recommended? But we do have some options.

Both low growing oregano and thyme have proven problematic, succumbing to moisture driven leaf diseases. Rescue transplanting to nursery containers has kept fresh quantities available for culinary use and then to replant back to the garden in autumn. After several years, this routine has become a chore, almost devolving into real work. As an alternative to both herbs’ flavors, winter savory (Satureja montana) has proven to be a wonderful discovery. It survives through summer’s rain, continues to produce from the original planting, and propagates easily from rooted stems. Winter savory is not commonly found at most retail outlets, so mail order seeds may be the best source.

Rosemary grows as an upright bush. With some judicious pruning, the base and trunk can be kept open and ventilated, encouraging dispersal of accumulated moisture. Harvest branch quantities to both manicure the plant and provide for fresh use and preservation drying.

Mint will grow better in wetter conditions than dry. With due diligence, it will produce quantity enough to use as a vegetable, not just a flavoring herb. Both peppermint and spearmint’s vigorous root growth belies their future destiny of strangling themselves from the center of the planting, emboldening underground stems to explore the terrain beyond the designated growing bed. As decline becomes evident, exhume some volumes of root and stem portions and transplant to new areas. By staggering this cycle, perpetual harvests will be the norm.

The ultimate taste of summer is the green goodness of basil. Just about any plant exposed to the pounding rain of a thunderstorm will take a beating, but even more so for tender basil. Luckily, basil excels while growing in a container. I have been known to procure a plant at the grocery produce department and upon arriving home, separate the individual sprouts to pots of their own. Grown under a canopy in partial shade, starting a new batch every few weeks will keep the kitchen sweet with the luscious smells of summer.