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Herb gardening is all the rage these days, especially with foodies who love to cook. But those who are into garden design are also growing them for decorative purposes. 

The good news is culinary herbs are easy to grow and remain relatively free of pests and diseases. 

Most herbs grow best in fast draining loose soil that has been amended with good quality compost. They will not tolerate wet feet so planting in a raised bed is wise.

Water – the right amount, is one key to good growth and flavor. Though many are drought tolerant they will do best if they get an inch of water a week. 

If you’ve had trouble with diseases in the past, overhead watering should be avoided. Underground irrigation works best, but care during installation to regulating the amount of water may take the help of a professional. Amount needed will have to do with kind of soil your planting it. Watering with a sprinkling can will allow you to direct the water to the base of the plant.

When growing herbs, it’s best to mulch them after planting. Mulches conserve water however use of organic materials such as bark chips, rotted sawdust or peat moss should be avoided because they encourage disease. Studies at Delaware State University found that lavender mulched with an 1 inch of sharp sand  increased flower production, aided growth and significantly improved winter survivability.  

Fertilizing is another key to quality of taste. Too much fertilizer causes excessive growth and lack of flavor. Herbs grown in soil freshly amended with compost may not need  additional fertilizer. However, a weekly feeding of well diluted liquid fish and kelp fertilizer (1/4 strength recommend on the container)  per gallon of water will do the job. 

Growing herbs in containers are the perfect way to make herbs easily accessible for immediate use. Professionals recommend growing in large pots that will hold at least 10 inches of soil. I used a good quality sphagnum peat moss based potting soil amended with quality compost at a rate of 1 to 4. Cheap potting soil contains Michigan peat that holds excessive amounts of water in wet weather. 

Container grown herbs can be mulched with sand, small stones or even crushed sea shell.  

For best flavor herbs should be harvested in early in the morning or at sunset. 

The best way to dry them is to single layer the branches on a screen or hang in small bunches that are place in a dark room such a garage, barn or large shed.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. E-mail her at Yardener.com , Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.

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