Expert Tips on Planting and Preserving Herbs from Noelle Johnson
Phoenix is usually seen as a barren place. However, horticulturist, landscape consultant and certified arborist, Noelle Johnson, is out to change that.
“My passion is to show people how to create beautiful, drought-tolerant gardens using plants that will thrive in our climate,” says Johnson.
As the writer behind the blog AZ Plant Lady, (AZPlantLady.com) Johnson shows her readers that, yes, you can have a thriving, lush garden in the desert. It just requires some work.
Herbs love the sun, and need six to eight hours of sunshine per day. The best environment for herbs is a vegetable garden, but if you don’t already have one, you can place them in a pot. Johnson recommends a container that’s one-and-a-half to two-feet wide at the top so the herbs have space to grow.
When it comes to watering, remember this: herbs hate soggy soil. Avoid potting soil, as it tends to hold on to moisture. Water deeply—or let the irrigation drip run for about two to three hours—and allow the soil to dry out before you water again. You’ll want the top inch of the soil to be dry. Stick your finger in to about the first knuckle, which is roughly once inch, to test it. If it’s barely moist, it’s time to water again.
To extract the best flavors, use the herbs within six months after cutting. Above all, you’ll want to spend time researching ways to maintain a thriving garden.
“It really matters to do just a little bit of research about the plants before you put them in the ground,” she says. “My passion is showing people that a garden in the desert can be so much more than rock and cactus.”
If you can’t use your herbs immediately, dry them.
“What’s really great about living here is that herbs dry very quickly because we’re hot and dry,” says Johnson.
You can tie the herbs together with twine and hang them. Consider covering the herbs with a paper bag to keep dust off. You can also lay them out on a baking sheet, covering it with a towel then leaving them to air out. You’ll know they’re finished drying when the herbs are brittle or crumble after being touched.
Another preserving option is to chop-up the herbs, put them in water or olive oil, freeze them and then add the cubes to cooking.
Here are some of Johnson’s favorite herbs to grow in Phoenix:
Seeing as basil dies after Phoenix’s first frost, plant it at the end of February or the beginning of March. Although basil doesn’t do well in the cold, Johnson say it’s one of the easiest plants to grow and has a nice fragrance that many people enjoy. Putting basil on most foods can help “dress them up.” Johnson advises placing it on top of pasta sauce or pizza to elevate those dishes. You can also make basil salt.
This herb grows year-round. Johnson says she likes chives because of their “delicate onion flavor.” Like basil, chives also look great sprinkled on top of pasta. However, she says chives need to be used immediately, as they lose flavor when cooked. Chives also can be used on a baked potato or eggs.
Parsley is a classic garnish that can make any dish a little more vibrant. “It adds a little bit of fresh color,” says Johnson. She also suggests adding parsley to Italian dishes like pizza or pasta.
This herb grows year-round, and Johnson says it tastes great with poultry and pork. She suggests adding thyme to gravy too.