Thursday, June 13, 2013

Guilt-free gardening: Letting herbs to to flower

There's benefit in letting some of your herbs go to flower. Not if you plan to use them in cooking, which requires keeping the flowers pinched off to retain their flavor. So my basil doesn't get far in blossoming--if I can help it.

But dill, fennel, cilantro, parsley--you don't have to feel guilty about getting behind in harvesting these herbs because the flowers are food for beneficial insects.

If you don't already have some, trying adding dill to a spot close to your veggie garden. Preferably a designated Beneficial Garden.

Dill is easy to grow and the flowers attract lacewings, ladybugs and Ichneumon wasps, hoverflies, and tachnid flies--all good bugs.

Buying herbs this time of year (mid-June) is a little problematic, but I often find the only time herbs look all fresh and perky at the nurseries is when I'm not ready to plant.

I wanted to buy another dill for my garden, but considering the bedraggled state the herbs were in at the nursery, they should be free. I consoled myself that those herbs left too long in their 2" pots needed me to save them. I wanted to take them all home. Maybe not in the same warm, fuzzy way I want to adopt all the kittens at Pet Smart. But if they were free, I would have.

I was a little embarrassed by my plant choices at the check out counter. But I had my reasons. The dill was already flowering. I could already imagine ladybugs and hover flies waiting in anticipation for a tasty snack.  

Garden note: Good bugs love umbel type (Umbelliferae) flowers, a family which includes nice feathery green foliage of anise, caraway, carrot, celery, chervil, coriander, cilantro, cumin, dill, fennel, Queen Anne's lace, parsley.


  1. Dill-I haven't planted dill in years. Every year I let the dill go to seed and throw a seed head down where I might want it the following year-which is never where I do want it, but that's okay because it comes up everywhere. Same with cilantro.This year the dill is in the tomatoes and beans. As they get bigger, I pull the dill out and we have a nice salmon dinner with it.

    Dill also attracts swallowtail larvae, which have a big appetite for all the umbelliferae. I figure the tradeoff is worth the cost.

    Free plants-One time I was in Walmart at the end of the gardening sales season. (In Minnesota that's July) Their plants were pitiful. I suggested to the teenager working there that they should be giving them away because no one would buy them in this condition and they would just be throwing them out in a few days. He said he would check (probably with ole Sam himself, considering how long he was gone). He came back with a great price on a big stack of perennials, all of which looked awful at the time, but survived and thrived (throve?).

  2. Sis: I like your planting style--throwing seed heads out and letting nature take over. Of course we both have the luxury of space to allow for this kind of reckless abandon. I emptied a whole box of sunflower seed heads into my Beneficial Garden a couple weeks ago. They are sprouting now and will need to be 'weeded' soon, but I'd much rather have sunflowers weeds than bermuda grass which is insidious.

    As for the providing food for swallowtails, I'd plant a whole field of umbelliferaes just to give butterflies a home here. Thanks for that info.

    Isn't ol' Sam dead? That teen might have had to go farther than you originally thought.

  3. Just read your e-book Garden Wars... Thanks for the great advice! I don't have a much room to plant alot of the beneficial plants you suggested but I'm definitely gonna put my planned potted herbs outside near the veggies. Also looking forward to raking up the leaves that I didn't get around to last fall to mulch a nice bed for the lady bugs. I'm also gonna look into using rye grass round my mulberry tree like you suggested. I thought it was the shade that was the problem but I'll be interested in seeing how rye works. Btw did you ever find a solution for your weeded walkway? A sprinkle of salt or a squirt of vinegar works great :)

  4. Hi Charley: It's great to hear from you. Glad you liked Garden Wars.

    Potted herbs are a great addition to your garden. Remember to let some go to flower. Keep in mind that insects like 'wild abandon' more than tidy.

    I'd like to know how your rye grass does round the mulberry. My mulberry tree sucks up ground water like nobody's business and I have to keep the grass well watered & California doesn't get rain in summer. Fortunately the area that needs this much attention is relatively small.

    Walkway still needs to be weeded. :)

    Happy gardening!