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Planting Herbs from Seeds—A lot of herbs, basil, catnip, Roman chamomile, chives, coriander, dill, lavender (but it takes a long time to germinate and grows slowly), lemon balm, sweet marjoram, oregano, parsley (this one also takes a long time to germinate unless you soak or sandpaper the seed lightly), garden sage, and garden thyme, to name a few, can be grown from seed. If you are planting perennials, make sure they are suitable to your zone. No particular hardiness zone is needed for annuals. If you are willing to wait, this is a good route to go. These can be started indoors or seeded directly in the garden. I like to start indoors as this gives me more control over the growing conditions. Coriander, dill, and parsley do not like being transplanted so you may consider seeding these directly in the garden. If you are seeding out directly, it is important to have a well-prepared bed. Break up clods and smooth the soil. Seeds need to come in contact with the soil and remain moist.

I mix my own potting soil, and it is not sterile (free of weeds and other organisms) because it has composted manure as an ingredient. If you are planting on a small scale, you can buy a sterile germinating mix, which will be more expensive but you won't have to bother with weeds or worry about diseases. Prepare your flats or pots. If you are reusing pots, soak them in a solution of 10% bleach and water for 20 minutes. Add moistened mix to the pot, level, and tamp down. Add a few seeds. Do not overcrowd your pot. The following need light to germinate: catnip, marjoram, and thyme, chamomile, and lemon balm. I do not cover the seed of these, but I have to make sure they do not dry out. Just press the seed lightly into the mix.

Other seeds need dark to germinate. The rule of thumb is to cover the seed two to three times the seed's diameter. The mix should be moist, not soggy or dry, during the entire time it takes for germination to occur. You can mist pots and flats or water from underneath so as not to dislodge the seed. You can cover pots or flats with plastic to keep moisture from evaporating. If your seed is very fine, you might try adding some sand before planting so you do not overseed. Label each container. Optimum germination temperature for most herbs is 65 to 70 F. Start seed 6 to 8 weeks before they are to be set out.Because my mix is not sterile, I spray seedlings once they are up with chamomile tea to help prevent the soil-borne fungus disease damping off.

Once the seedlings are up, remove any covering, and move to a brighter environment. If you do not have enough light, you can use 4' shop lights with cool, white fluorescent bulbs. The bulbs should be 3" from the seedlings. Not enough light will result in leggy, unhealthy plants. Seedlings need 12 to 15 hours of light a day to grow well. Thin crowded plants by snipping. Do not just pull them out because you will disturb the roots of the other plants. Allow the soil surface to dry before watering. Over-watering will encourage diseases. Once plants are to be set out, they must be hardened off for 1 to 4 weeks.

Hardening off is acclimatizing seedlings gradually to stronger light, winds, and generally cooler night temperatures before planting them out in their permanent locations. Make sure plants are well established before you start the process. Place pots or flats outdoors in a sunny area, protected from the wind for a few hours the first day, gradually increasing the time for about 2 weeks. Cold frames, unheated, four-walled structures with a glass or plastic roof, are perfect for this. If you are using a cold frame, uncover it during the day, and do not forget to cover it at night.

Mulching—Once your seedlings are transplanted, it is a good idea to mulch them. Mulch will slow down evaporation, and you will not need to water or weed as often. In the fall, the mulch can be turned under to add to composting material for soil improvement. Straw is a good mulch, especially salt marsh hay, which has no weed seeds. It's hard to lay down though, unless it's shredded. Grass clippings are a good mulch. I like to spread them thin or mix them with straw, otherwise they dry into a matted clump. Sawdust and bark chips are OK only in the aisles between plants. They will rob your soil of nitrogen if you mulch around plants with these. Be careful not to mulch against plant stems-just around the plant, not touching it.