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Starting small with an herb garden

If a full-fledged garden sounds like too much work, consider scaling back and springing for an herb garden. Find a sunny windowsill, or plant them alongside a bigger plant and enjoy fresh herbs instead of store-bought ones.

The list of herbs to grow includes basil, thyme, rosemary, cilantro, chives, sage and oregano. Assess the spices you cook with most often and go from there. Growing herbs is relatively low-maintenance, takes up minimal space and can save you money.

And growing your own herbs can protect you from the harmful pesticides that have recently been discovered in herbs. According to a 2009 U.S. Department of Agriculture report, more than 90 percent of 184 cilantro samples tested positive for at least one pesticide.

Ashley Giles, manager of garden center Sturtz & Copeland, says that some of the benefits of growing herbs include needing less light and fertilizer because you’re only harvesting the leaves, so the plants aren’t going the extra mile to flower. That also means that once you plant an herb, you can start harvesting quicker.

One common snag gardeners run into with herbs, says Giles, is their natural instinct to grow.

“It’s just in their nature to flower, and typically, the flavor of the leaf changes,” Giles says. “You can cut off the flower spike, and that puts it at bay a little bit, but it's not going to last forever."

After an herb flowers, you should consider uprooting and replanting, she says, because to maintain its flower the herb will produce chemicals, forever changing its flavor.

Herbs do require minimal, but constant, upkeep to maintain their taste. Rosemary needs to be harvested frequently, says Julie Hauser, owner of Indigo Landscape Designs, otherwise the plant gets woody.

"The longer you wait, the harder and bitterer the stems get," she says. But Hauser also advises keeping a balance and not harvesting the herb down to the stem.


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