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From Garden to Pantry: Storing, Drying, and Utilizing Herbs

harvesting and preserving herbs

Choosing between the many delightful Herbs

Before you rush off to the plant store to purchase herbs for your home garden lets do some soul searching and decide which herbs are right for you. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the specific herbs you want to grow. From the refreshing zest of cilantro to the intoxicating aroma of basil, each herb brings its unique charm and flavor to the kitchen and garden. In this article we take a closer look at some popular herbs, their features, their preferred growing conditions and the secrets to cultivating them successfully.

Lets take a look at some popular herbs:

  • Oregano prefers full sun and well-draining soil. It thrives in warm climates but can also be grown indoors if provided with enough light.
  • Anise hyssop, on the other hand, enjoys partial shade and moist soil. This lovely herb not only attracts bees but also offers a unique licorice scent and taste.
  • Cilantro is another popular herb that adds a fresh and zesty kick to your dishes. It thrives in cooler temperatures and requires rich, well-draining soil. However, be aware that cilantro tends to bolt quickly in hot weather. To enjoy its vibrant flavor throughout the season, consider successive plantings every few weeks.
  • Lemon balm is an excellent choice if you enjoy citrusy fragrances. This hardy herb favors partial shade but can tolerate full sun as well. It prefers moist soil and grows vigorously once established.
  • Parsley is not only beautiful but also incredibly versatile in the kitchen! It appreciates full sun or light shade and moist soil enriched with organic matter. With its bright green leaves and mild flavor, parsley is an excellent addition to both savory dishes and garnishes.
  • Chives are easy-to-grow perennial herbs that produce delicate pink flowers atop thin stalks. They thrive in well-drained soil under full sun conditions but can tolerate some shade too. Chives make an excellent companion plant for many vegetables as their strong scent deters pests.
  • Thyme has exceptional culinary value due to its aromatic leaves that add a punch of flavor to various dishes. It prefers full sun, well-drained soil, and moderate watering. Thyme is a perfect candidate for container gardening as it cascades beautifully over the edge of pots.
  • Basil is the king of herbs renowned for its intoxicating aroma and taste. This tender annual herb thrives in warm weather, full sun, and rich, well-drained soil. There are numerous basil varieties available, each with its own unique characteristics and flavors. Sage is an evergreen herb known for its strong fragrance and grayish-green leaves. It requires full sun and well-draining soil to thrive. Sage can be used in cooking or simply enjoyed for its ornamental value in the garden.
  • Dill is an excellent addition to any herb garden with its feathery foliage and distinctive flavor. This annual herb enjoys full sun or light shade and fertile, well-draining soil. Dill adds a fresh taste to pickles, salads, fish dishes, and more.
  • Rosemary is an aromatic perennial herb that can be grown indoors or outdoors depending on your climate. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil with moderate watering. With its pine-like scent and robust flavor profile, rosemary is often used in roasts, stews, marinades, and bread recipes.
  • Mint we mentioned a few times in this article but to have a complete list we will include them all. Mint is a refreshing herb that comes in many delightful varieties such as spearmint or peppermint. Mint thrives in partial shade but can tolerate some sun too. It is a vigorous grower and spreads rapidly via underground runners. Because of this it’s best grown in containers to prevent it from taking over your garden beds.

Homemade Dried Spices from your Herb Garden

It’s not just about flavor; using fresh and homegrown spices can elevate your cooking to new heights. Pre-packaged spices gathered dust on store shelves for who knows how long before they even make it into your pantry. In contrast, when you grow spices in your own herb garden, you’re assured of their freshness straight from nature’s embrace. The vibrant colors and robust scents released by these garden treasures will awaken dormant taste buds and invigorate every dish lucky enough to be seasoned with them.

Harvesting Herbs for Maximum Flavor

To elevate the flavors of your harvest when harvesting fresh herbs you must master the art of timing. The key to unlocking the full potential of these aromatic wonders lies in understanding the factors that contribute to maximum flavor extraction. As you being to prepare for harvesting consider the following elements that will help you savor the most vibrant and tantalizing tastes from your homegrown garden. From perfect timing to delicate handling, each step plays a vital role in preserving the potent essences of these natural delights.

To harvest fresh herbs for maximum flavor, you should consider the following factors.

Techniques for Harvesting Herbs

Timing:

Harvest herbs at the right stage of growth to capture the most potent flavors. Generally, the best time to harvest herbs is just before they flower. At this stage, the essential oils that give herbs their flavor are most concentrated.

Morning Harvest:

For most herbs, it’s best to harvest them in the morning after the dew has dried but before the sun becomes too hot. During this time, the essential oils are at their peak, and the leaves are still crisp and fresh.

Pruning Technique:

Use pruning for herbs with woody stems, like rosemary, thyme, and sage. Cutting back the plant encourages new growth and ensures that you have a fresh supply of flavorful leaves.

Pinching Technique:

For herbs with tender leaves, like basil and mint, use the pinching technique. Pinch off the leaves or stems just above a set of healthy leaves or nodes to encourage bushier growth and continuous harvest.

Avoid Overharvesting:

Harvest only what you need and avoid taking more than one-third of the plant’s growth at a time. Overharvesting can stress the plant and reduce its ability to produce new leaves with robust flavors.

Remove Flowers:

If you notice your herbs starting to flower, it’s best to remove the flowers promptly. This prevents the plant from putting energy into seed production, ensuring the essential oils stay concentrated in the leaves.

Handle with Care:

Treat your freshly harvested herbs gently to avoid bruising or damaging the leaves, which can lead to flavor loss.

Rinse and Dry:

If your herbs are visibly dirty, give them a gentle rinse with cool water. Pat them dry with paper towels or a clean cloth to remove excess moisture before using or storing them.

Different herbs may have different harvesting requirements, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the specific needs of each herb in your garden.

Proper Handling to Preserve Essential Oils

Preserving essential oils is crucial in maintaining the quality and flavor intensity of your dried spices. After harvesting your fresh herbs, handle them with care to ensure minimal loss of these precious oils. Avoid bruising or crushing leaves during harvest as this can result in flavor degradation.

Instead, gently hold the stem close to where you plan to cut or pinch off leaves or stems and use sharp pruning shears or scissors specifically designed for kitchen use. Additionally, be mindful of dirt or insects that might have hitched a ride.

Give your freshly harvested herbs a gentle rinse with cool water and gently pat them dry using paper towels or a clean kitchen cloth. This way, you’ll lock in the essential oils and maintain the aromatic excellence of your dried spices.

Drying Methods for Preserving Herbs and Spices

Air drying: Hanging bundles method

When it comes to preserving the flavors of your freshly harvested herbs, air drying is a classic and straightforward method. The first step is to gather your herb harvest into small bundles, tying them tightly with twine or rubber bands.

To ensure optimal drying conditions, find a cool, dark, and well-ventilated space. Ideally, a temperature of around 70°F (21°C) with humidity levels between 40% to 50% is suitable for most herbs.

Hang the bundles upside down in this environment, allowing the herbs to naturally dry over time. The duration required for different herbs can vary depending on their moisture content and thickness.

Generally speaking, delicate leaves like basil might take about one to two weeks to dry completely, while thicker stems like rosemary may take up to three weeks. Checking on the progress regularly will give you an idea of when they are thoroughly dried and ready for storage.

Tray or rack drying herbs

For those who prefer a quicker approach or live in areas with high humidity levels, tray or rack drying methods can be more effective. Using mesh screens or specialized dehydrators allows airflow around the herbs and speeds up the drying process without compromising their flavor. To begin this method, lay your freshly picked herb leaves or stems flat on trays or racks in a single layer.

Make sure there is enough space between them for adequate air circulation. Choose equipment that promotes even airflow throughout the process; mesh screens are suitable for smaller quantities while dehydrators work well for larger batches.

Setting an optimal temperature range between 95°F (35°C) and 115°F (46°C) helps maintain the integrity of the herbs without overheating them. Additionally ensuring good ventilation further aids in removing moisture from the plants efficiently.

Sun drying herbs

Sun drying herbs is an age-old technique that not only preserves their flavors but also imparts a unique depth to their taste. However, this method requires careful attention to prevent any potential loss of essential oils due to excessive heat or damage caused by pests and debris. Begin by gently washing your harvested herbs and carefully patting them dry with a clean cloth or paper towels.

Place the herbs in a single layer on trays or screens, ensuring they are not overcrowded. Next, choose a suitable location for sun drying: a sunny spot with direct sunlight for most of the day is ideal, but if you live in an exceptionally hot climate, partial shade can help protect the delicate flavors.

While sun drying, it’s crucial to monitor the process closely. Rotate the trays periodically to ensure uniform exposure and check for any signs of pests or debris that may have made their way onto the herbs.

If necessary, use protective covers like fine mesh netting to keep unwanted visitors at bay while still allowing air circulation. By following these methods – whether it’s hanging bundles in air-drying, using tray or rack systems for faster results, or harnessing the power of sunlight – you can successfully preserve your homegrown spices from your herb garden while maintaining their delightful aromas and flavors for future culinary adventures.

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Growing Herbs at Home: How to start planting herbs

Growing Herbs at Home

Growing herbs at home can be a delightful and rewarding experience. Even if your just starting out cultivating your own little herb garden brings joy to your culinary works. With the right care you can easily grow an array of herbs right in your own backyard or kitchen. When it comes to growing herbs, understanding the basics will bring you a long way. Most herbs can be grown both indoors and outdoors. Unlike some other produce that may be just the flexibility you need to coordinate with your available space and climate.

If your growing indoors make sure they are in a spot that receives at least six hours of sunlight daily. South-facing windows work best for sun-loving plants like basil and mint.

Now let’s dive into some of the popular varieties of culinary herbs that you can grow at home.

  • Basil is a classic choice known for its vibrant aroma and versatile applications in Italian cuisine.
  • Mints refreshing scent and cooling properties are fantastic for beverages like mojitos or infusing flavor into dressings and desserts. Chives offer a delicate onion-like taste that complements salads, soups, and creamy dips perfectly.

If you’re looking to expand beyond the typical kitchen herbs, consider growing aromatic varieties like anise hyssop or lemon balm. These less common herbs bring unique flavors to various dishes while also adding visual appeal with their beautiful blooms. Sage is another herb worth mentioning. It has a earthy flavor which pairs wonderfully with poultry dishes or even as part of holiday stuffing recipes.

Growing your own herb garden allows you to add an extra layer of freshness and flavor to your culinary creations. With popular herbs like basil, mint, chives, and sage, you can infuse your dishes with an array of tastes.

growing herbs basil

Choosing herbs varieties for growing

Growing herbs at home allows you to explore a wide range of flavors and aromas while providing you with fresh ingredients right at your fingertips. Each popular herb variety offers a unique flavor profile and requires specific care to thrive. Here’s a quick list of the popular herbs and their preferred care to help you choose which plants are right for you:

  • Basil: Sweet and aromatic. Full sun, consistently moist soil.
  • Rosemary: Bold, woody, and pine-like. Full sun, well-draining soil, and moderate watering.
  • Sage: Earthy with hints of eucalyptus and citrus. Full sun to light shade, well-draining soil, and moderate watering.
  • Parsley: Mild and slightly peppery. Full to partial sun, consistently moist soil.
  • Oregano: Robust and slightly spicy. Full sun, drought-tolerant, well-draining soil.
  • Mint: Cool, sweet, and refreshing with a mild peppery undertone. Partial shade to filtered sunlight, consistently moist soil.
  • Thyme: Warm, earthy, and aromatic with hints of lemon and mint. Full sun, drought-tolerant, well-draining soil.
  • Dill: Fresh with a hint of anise and lemon. Full sun to light shade, consistently moist soil.
  • Chives: Mild onion flavor. Full sun to partial shade, evenly moist and well-draining soil.
  • Cilantro: Zesty and citrusy. Full to partial sun, consistently moist soil.
  • Anise Hyssop: Licorice-like with hints of mint and sage. Full sun to light shade, well-draining soil.
  • Lemon Balm: Citrusy with a light lemon-mint taste. Full to partial sun, consistently moist soil.

With these popular varieties at your disposal you’ll definitely elevate your culinary creations. Its great growing herbs at home. Whether you choose chives for their onion-like kick or thyme for its versatile nature, each herb brings unique flavors.

Lighting Requirements to grow herbs

The wonderful thing about herbs is that they are versatile and adaptable, allowing them to thrive in various growing conditions. They are flexible and don’t require a lot of space and they wont put up a fight to go outside. These herbs grow in a container or in the ground.

While most herbs crave plenty of sunlight some will crave more than others. A good option is to find a window with a good balance of daylight for the herb you plan to plant.

Here’s a breakdown of the benefits of each type of window orientation for sun-loving herbs:

  • South-Facing Windows: South-facing windows receive the most sunlight throughout the day. While this level of sunlight might be too intense for some plants. Sun-loving herbs like basil and mint thrive in such conditions. Placing herbs like these in a sun-drenched window encourages healthy growth and robust flavors. Remember that even though mint enjoys sunlight exposure, it’s essential not to overdo it. Too much direct sunlight can cause the leaves to wilt or burn. Keep an eye on your plant’s response to the light and adjust accordingly if needed.
  • East-Facing Windows: East-facing windows receive gentle morning sunlight. Herbs like thyme will do well near these windows. It allows them to enjoy the soft morning ray, setting a refreshing and invigorating atmosphere in your kitchen.
  • West-Facing Windows: West-facing windows receive afternoon sunlight. This exposure is particularly beneficial for sun-loving herbs, as they can soak up the warm rays during the afternoon. This will promote photosynthesis and helping them flourish.
growing herbs in window

Another excellent alternative are Grow lights if you do not have access to natural light. These specialized lights mimic sunlight and provide the necessary spectrum for optimal herb growth. With grow lights, you can raise a thriving herb garden even in spaces with limited natural light. So whether it’s parsley, chives, lemon balm, or any other herb you’ll be able to grow them indoors.

Full-spectrum grow lights for indoor herb gardens

While natural sunlight is always the best option sometimes our indoor spaces don’t provide enough light for our herb garden. That’s where full-spectrum grow lights come in handy. These lights mimic the complete spectrum of natural sunlight. Its a good alternative to ensuring that your herbs receive all the wavelengths necessary for healthy growth.

Full-spectrum grow lights are designed to emit light across the entire spectrum, including both warm and cool colors. This is crucial because different plants respond differently to specific wavelengths of light. For example, rosemary and thyme prefer cooler colored light while basil and mint thrive under warmer colored light. With a full-spectrum grow light setup you can ensure that all your different herbs receive the proper light.

To set up a full-spectrum grow light system, you’ll need a few key components. Firstly, you’ll need the actual grow lights themselves. LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights are highly recommended as they are energy-efficient and have a long lifespan. You can find LED grow lights specifically designed for herbs. You can opt for adjustable ones that allow you to customize the color temperature.

grow lights

Considering the placement of your grow lights

Additionally, you will need to consider the positioning and placement of your grow lights. A good rule of thumb is to position them about 6-12 inches above your herb plants. Placing the grow lights about 6-12 inches above your herb plants. This distance allows for adequate coverage of light without overheating or burning the plants. Alternatively, opt for full-spectrum grow lights as they provide a broad range of light wavelengths that are beneficial for plant growth.

You may also want to invest in adjustable hanging fixtures or stands for flexibility in height adjustments. As your herb plants grow taller, you can adjust the height of the grow lights accordingly. It’s important to note that while full-spectrum grow lights are beneficial for indoor gardens they should not be left on 24/7. Sunlight would naturally cycle throughout the day and night. Mimic the natural sunlight cycle by providing your plants with a suitable amount of light and darkness. Aim for around 12-16 hours of daily exposure to simulate daytime and allow your herbs some darkness at night.

Therefore, if you’re growing herbs indoors and struggling to provide enough natural sunlight, full-spectrum grow lights are an excellent solution. By replicating the complete spectrum of sunlight, these lights ensure that your herbs receive the ideal wavelengths for healthy growth. With the right setup and placement, you can create an environment that allows your herbs to thrive.

On the other hand, If outdoor gardening is more up your alley, don’t worry! Herbs are more than happy to embrace the great outdoors. They will flourish when given ample sunshine and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Find a corner in your backyard. There you can plant rosemary bushes beside oregano patches and mint runners intertwining with cilantro leaves.

growing herbs  outdoors

Growing herbs: Getting started with planting

There are many methods for getting started growing your herbs. From starting from seeds to cuttings or using starter plants, each method offers its unique advantages for cultivating a thriving herb garden. Starting from seeds is an excellent option for many herbs, especially annual varieties that offer a quick and bountiful harvest. Annual herbs, such as basil, cilantro, and dill, grow rapidly from seeds.

On the other hand, perennial herbs, like rosemary, oregano, and mint, may require a bit more patience and care. While they offer the advantage of returning year after year, they often take longer to establish from seeds. To ensure a strong foundation for these herbs, starting from starter plants or cuttings is a wise choice. These methods provide well-rooted plants that have already taken root, reducing the time it takes for them to mature and be ready for harvest.

Start Growing Herbs from Seeds

Starting herbs from seeds is a popular and cost-effective way to grow a wide variety of herbs at home. Here’s a step-by-step guide to germinating herb seeds:

  • Obtain herb seeds: Purchase herb seeds from garden centers, nurseries, or reputable online sources. Consider opting for varieties that you want to grow and that are suitable for your climate and growing conditions.
  • Prepare the growing medium: Use a well-draining potting soil mix for starting herb seeds. Fill seed-starting trays or small pots with the potting soil, leaving some space at the top for watering.
  • Sow the seeds: Gently press the herb seeds into the soil at the recommended depth, usually just below the surface. The seed packet will provide specific instructions on the ideal planting depth for each herb variety.
  • Cover the seeds: Once the seeds are sown, lightly cover them with a thin layer of soil or vermiculite. This helps to maintain consistent moisture and protect the seeds.
  • Water and mist: After planting, mist the surface of the soil with water to ensure adequate moisture for germination. Try to avoid overwatering, as this can lead to water-logging, which may cause the seeds to rot.
  • Maintain moisture and humidity: To promote germination, you can create a mini greenhouse effect by covering your seed trays or pots with plastic wrap or using a humidity dome. This helps to retain moisture and create a suitable environment for the seeds to germinate.
  • Provide warmth and light: Place the seed-starting trays or pots in a warm location with sufficient indirect sunlight. A temperature range of 70-75°F (21-24°C) is generally ideal for most herb seeds to germinate.
  • Monitor and wait for sprouts: Regularly check the seeds for any signs of germination. Germination times can vary depending on the herb variety, but most herbs should start sprouting within 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Remove cover and care for seedlings: Once you see tiny sprouts emerging, remove the plastic wrap or humidity dome. Continue to provide ample light and water the seedlings as needed, keeping the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged.
  • Transplanting: As the seedlings grow and develop a few sets of true leaves (leaves beyond the initial seed leaves), you can carefully transplant them into larger pots or your garden, spacing them appropriately according to their mature size.
growing herbs  planting seeds

Furthermore growing herbs from seeds can be a rewarding option, but as we mentioned earlier perennial herbs can take a little longer to establish from seeds compared to annual herbs.

Start Growing Herbs from Starter Plants

Starting herbs from starter plants can be a convenient option, especially if you want to speed up the establishment process. Here are two common ways to start growing them:

  • Purchase young plants from nurseries: Many garden centers and nurseries sell young herb plants, making it easy for you to kickstart your herb garden. Look for healthy and well-established plants with no signs of pests or diseases.
  • Divide and transplant from your garden: If you already have these herbs growing in your garden, you can propagate them by dividing mature clumps or taking cuttings. Carefully dig up a small section of the herb plant and transplant it into a pot or a new area in your garden.
growing herbs  parsley flat

Start Growing Herbs from Cuttings

Propagating herbs from cuttings can also be a fun and rewarding way to expand your herb garden. Propagating herbs like basil and mint from cuttings is a simple and effective method to create new plants without the need for seeds or starter plants. It’s also a great method for preserving the characteristics of a specific variety of herb you particularly enjoy.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it:

  • Select a healthy stem: Choose a strong and healthy stem from the herb plant you want to propagate. The stem should have a few sets of leaves and should not show any signs of disease or damage.
  • Take the cutting: Using sharp scissors or garden shears, make a clean cut just below a node. The node is the point on the stem where leaves emerge. This is where the new roots will develop.
  • Remove lower leaves: Strip off any leaves on the lower part of the cutting, leaving only a few sets of leaves at the top. This helps to reduce moisture loss and focus the plant’s energy on root development.
  • Optional: Use rooting hormone powder: While not necessary, using rooting hormone powder can increase the chances of successful rooting. Dip the cut end of the stem into the rooting hormone powder, following the product instructions.
  • Plant the cutting: Prepare a small pot with moist potting soil. Make a small hole in the soil with your finger or a pencil and insert the cut end of the stem into the hole. Gently press the soil around the cutting to secure it in place.
  • Provide the right conditions: Place the potted cutting in a warm spot that receives indirect sunlight. A windowsill with filtered light or a spot in your home that gets bright but not direct sunlight is ideal. Avoid exposing the cutting to harsh sunlight, as this can cause stress.
  • Keep the soil consistently damp: Water the cutting gently to keep the soil consistently damp. Be careful not to overwater, as excessive moisture can lead to rot. A misting spray can be useful for keeping the cutting moist without saturating the soil.
  • Root development: Within two to three weeks, the cutting should develop roots. You can gently tug on the stem after this time to check for resistance, indicating that roots have formed.
  • Transplanting: Once the cutting has well-established roots, you can transplant.
propagation

Transplanting Seedlings:

Transplanting herb seedlings is an essential step in their growth process, ensuring they have enough space for their roots to develop and continue thriving. Here’s a summary of the key steps for transplanting herb seedlings:

  1. Timing: Transplant your herb seedlings when they have grown larger and have developed their true leaves (the second set of leaves that appear after germination). This is usually a few weeks after germination.
  2. Prepare new containers: Get individual pots or larger containers ready for each seedling. Ensure the containers have drainage holes to prevent waterlogging.
  3. Separate seedlings: Carefully separate each seedling from the crowded tray, using a small spoon or your fingertips. Be gentle to avoid damaging the delicate roots.
  4. Planting: Create a hole in the soil of the new container and place the seedling in it. Firmly press the soil around the seedling to stabilize it and ensure it stands upright.
  5. Labeling: Label each pot or container with the herb’s name and the date of transplantation. This helps you keep track of their growth progress and avoid mixing up different herbs.
  6. Sunlight: Place the newly transplanted seedlings in an area that receives optimal sunlight. Most herbs require at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day to grow well.
  7. Water and care: Continue to provide the transplanted seedlings with adequate water and care. Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged.
  8. Watch them grow: As you care for your herbs, you’ll witness their growth and progress, which can be an exciting and rewarding experience.

Additionally, remember to tailor the care for each specific herb variety, as they may have different water and sunlight requirements. By providing proper care and attention, you’ll soon have a thriving herb garden.

Benefits of giving each herb its own pot

As we mentioned earlier give each herb its own pot allows you to customize the care for each individual herb. They may have different watering and sunlight requirements. Providing enough room for growth is essential for their overall health and productivity. So by planting them in separate pots, you can tailor the care for each individual herb, ensuring they receive the specific conditions they need to grow and flourish.

Take lemon balm for example prefers moist soil but dislikes being waterlogged. By planting it separately from other herbs like which might prefer drier conditions you can regulate the watering accordingly.

growing herbs plants in to their own pots

Preventing invasive tendencies

Another reason why separate pots are beneficial is that some herbs tend to spread vigorously or have invasive tendencies. Take mint for instance. This aromatic herb has a knack for rapidly taking over any available space if not contained properly. By confining mint in its own pot you can prevent it from overpowering other plants.

Sunlight requirements

Moreover, by having individual pots for each herb, you can easily rotate them according to their sunlight requirements. For instance, cilantro prefers partial shade whereas dill thrives under full sun exposure. Therefore by keeping each herb in a separate container you can move them around your patio based on their sunlight preferences.

Disease and pest management

Having separate pots allows better management of diseases and pests that might affect your precious herbs. If one plant becomes infected with a fungal disease or attracts pests like aphids or whiteflies it can spread rapidly. By isolating it in its own pot prevents these issues from spreading throughout your entire herb garden. So you can maintain the health of other herbs without worrying about cross-contamination. Giving each herb its own pot is a simple yet effective way to simplify care for your herbs.

Customizing the care for each plant ensures they receive the right amount of water, sunlight, and attention they need. It also helps prevent invasive herbs from dominating the space and allows for better disease and pest management.