The Best Herbs to Grow in the Pacific Northwest
If you live in the Pacific Northwest and are thinking about starting an herb garden, you’re in luck: you’re coming up on the best month to do it. Starting in May, temperatures are consistently higher and long past any threat of frost, and while there’s plenty of sun, it’s still early enough in the year for rainfall before the typical dry summers. And after summer, there are quite a few herbs that can still thrive even in cloudy and wet PNW climate.
Herbs add healthy freshness and flavor to any dish (or drink) while saving you money. Because of their essential oils, they tend to repel invaders—but still attract pollinators like bees and butterflies. But one of the best things about an herb garden? You can grow it indoors and get a similar harvest. Since there’s no need for deep soil or fertilizer, growing herbs in a container garden is a great alternate option for limited space or poor yard conditions. And when potted in a large enough container for roots, many herbs can flourish at a window or on the front steps.
So even if you don’t consider yourself a gardener, fear not. Both indoors and out, these herbs are easy to grow in the PNW. And with the exception of basil, they’re all perennials, which means they’re expected to live at least two years with no replanting needed.
Despite the fact that it loves dry and warm climates, rosemary is ubiquitous in the PNW—these shrubs are likely to be found in every neighborhood. Rosemary lives for decades, does best in the sun with drier, aerated soil, and will survive all the but the harshest winters when sheltered from cold winds. Rosemary is slow to seed, so it’s recommended to start your plant from cuttings. Before the end of summer, you may be able to make some rosemary lemonade, and you’ll likely have plenty for seasoning festive fall dishes.
Since this perennial shrub’s English variety can withstand cold and wet winters for many years, it does very well in the PNW. But as it’s originally a Mediterranean plant, all lavender varieties do best in the sun and prefer soil on the drier side with good drainage. However, it’s also difficult to grow from seed, so a small starter plant will be more successful. You may want to grow lavender for its calming aromatherapy and naturopathic medicinal properties—and for flavoring delicious desserts.
Another drought-friendly herb hailing from the Mediterranean, thyme thrives in full sun, heat, and well-drained soil; because of this, it can easily share space with rosemary. It can be harvested in early fall and left outside in the winter. Thyme is another herb that is hard to grow from seeds, so it’s best to buy a starter plant or ask a friend for cuttings.
A mainstay of Italian recipes, oregano also loves the sun: the more sunshine it gets, the stronger the flavor produced. Oregano is another easy herb to grow because it requires less water and no fertilizer. It starts easily from seeds and can tend to produce a lot, so regular trimming and harvesting each summer can control the spread and ensure it comes back year after year.
In addition to being the perfect garnish with their springy, onion-y flavor, chives bring extra bounty: their colorful flowers are edible too. They grow best in the cool temperatures of spring and autumn, which makes them ready for harvesting as early as June. They tolerate light shade but thrive in full sunshine. Chive seeds can take a few weeks to germinate, but you can get a head start in the winter by starting chive seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last spring frost.
There’s nothing quite like the refreshing flavor of mint and what it adds to food, drinks, and even bath products. Unlike the other popular PNW herbs, mint actually prefers some shade and may even need regular protection from the sun. They are native to streams, so they do best in light, damp, well-drained soil. And don’t sleep on regular care: mint grows vigorously over time, and when not regularly pruned or contained within physical barriers, they can sprawl to lengths of several feet.
Sage requires well-drained soil and a spot in full sun. Young sage dries out easily, so it needs an ongoing water supply and an efficient drainage system in the first few weeks of growth. Other than that, it’s fairly low maintenance. The easiest way to start sage outdoors is from a small plant; in its first year, it’s best to leave a few leaves while harvesting to help ensure that it can fully grow. Later in the year, that Thanksgiving stuffing may taste even better with your own sage, whether fresh, frozen, or dried.
Basil (Annual; expected to live for one year and needs replanting)
A warm-weather herb that’s just another reason to look forward to spring and summer, basil does best outdoors in warm soil and needs steady heat to grow. Those with pesto ambitions will want to invest in several plants, but the good news is, it grows quickly and can be harvested within weeks. Basil can also be started indoors in early spring, and then transferred outside a few weeks after the last frost. Give it a sunny, warm spot in late May or early June, and then regularly clip those leaves for pesto, sauces, and garnishes.
We hope you get inspired to start or nourish your own herb collection! For further reference, we gathered most of this information from the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which has plenty more facts on caring for and renewing your garden so you can enjoy it for years to come.
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