Saturday, 19 June 2010

Growing herbs in the sub-tropics

It took me a few years to learn that most of the gardening books about herb growing were written in the Southern States of Australia or England or America and did not apply to Queensland. So I learnt through trial and error.

Herbs are very easy plants to grow as long as you give them what they need. Most prefer a sunny spot. They’ll grow in pots or in the ground. I have a mixture of herbs in pots and in the garden. I even grow some in styrofoam boxes from time to time. I love the look of the terracotta pots best (especially as they age) but they need to be sealed or too much water is lost and the plants die of thirst.
By keeping most of my herbs in pots I can move them around with the seasons to give them ideal growing conditions. Some that will not survive even half a day in full sun in summer crave the sunshine in winter. Maintenance requires a well drained potting mixture, regular watering and the occasional application of liquid fertiliser such as an organic seaweed or fish emulsion. Also most herbs appreciate a regular trim to stay compact and healthy. If they need to be cut back but I don’t need any for cooking, I give the cuttings to the chooks, the worms or put them in the compost bin.
Chives amongst the lettuce
Mine is not a dedicated herb garden separate to the vegetables. They blend together into a kitchen garden. Plants should be planted where they will grow the healthiest. It probably looks a bit messy sometimes but it works.
The herbs I grow change with the seasons (and what will grow at that time of year) but has 3 distinct themes –European herbs, Asian herbs, Mediterranean herbs. This determines both the growing conditions the plant needs and, to some extent, what I use it for.
In general, if you think of where the herb originates and replicate the conditions, you can’t go far wrong.
Oregano, marjoram, dill, thyme, basil, flat leafed parsley, sage, tarragon and rosemary from the Mediterranean and so will like sunny dry conditions but need shelter from the extreme heat and heavy rain of our Queensland summer.

Vietnamese mint, coriander, Thai basil, curry plant and lemongrass like humid moist warm conditions. In our climate, a hot dry spell in summer will kill them if they are in full sun but they can be grown all year round. In winter they need full sun or they sulk.

Then there’s European herbs like chives, chamomile, fennel, sorrel that really can only be grown here in winter. They like full sun but fry on a hot day and stew on a humid day. I plant them after Easter each year.
Sweet Basil
Many of the herbs seem to last forever. Some are perennial and will grow from a cutting or division. Quite a few spread horizontally and can be divided. Most annuals self seed (if you let them). There are a number of herbs you need to watch that they don’t overtake the garden – particularly the basils and coriander (which self-seeds) and the mints (that spread horizontally) and comfrey. I take advantage of this to make new plants to replenish the garden or give away to friends.


  1. Great post. I've been wanting to start a herb garden for a while now ... but there's no place here anymore where I can have beds that the wallabies and birds couldn't access. We live on the side of a rocky cliff and there's really no flat area left anymore either.

    Having them in pots is a far better solution ... and it's been on my mind for a while now. It's nice to know someone living in similar conditions has made it work.

  2. Your courtyard is the perfect place for some herbs in pots as long as it gets enough sun. Just treat them like your other annuals. They are all doing well.

    I'm a fan of North Queensland. I used to live in Cairns and would love to move back one day.


I would love to know what you think and appreciate your comments.


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