5 Herbs for the Florida Garden
Herbs for the Sunny Florida Garden
Any gardener in Florida will tell you that it is very easy to grow plants in the sunshine state. The first reason is because it is nearly always sunny and plants love the sun. Another reason is because it is humid, and many plants love a moist environment. Florida has some wonderful conditions for growing many different kinds of plants, but that doesn't mean the Florida gardener doesn't run into challenges picking the right plants to weather the sometimes harsh sunshine and harsh rain and hurricane seasons. Some plants that might do well in the northern United States might not do well in the South.
If you are starting an herb garden in Florida, you might be wondering what are the easiest and best herbs to grow. Here are my tried and true five herbs that are easiest to grow, and they do well in the sometimes harsh sun and rain in the state of Florida.
Rosemary is one of my all-time favorite perennial herbs to grow. Because of its Mediterranean origins, it does well in the Florida sunshine and heat. Whether you plant it in full sun (six plus hours of sun a day) or in part shade, rosemary will do well. This herb is truly an easy one to grow, but remember that is prefers a well-draining soil. Don't plant this herb somewhere in your garden or yard where the rain pools or puddles up. Plant it at a higher spot in your garden, in a pot with drainage holes, or in a raised garden bed with good drainage. If it seems to wilt, it is getting too much sun and you might need to move it somewhere with shade in the afternoon or vice versa.
Some of the benefits of growing rosemary in the Florida garden are that it is edible, medicinal, and nearly pest-proof. The bugs leave rosemary alone, as do the squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons. Some say rosemary helps deter pests from other vegetables in the garden; however, the squirrels and raccoons where I live aren't deterred by anything when it comes to fresh veggies (more on that in a separate article).
Culinary sage is another easy, hardy perennial herb to grow in the Florida garden. An herb that loves the sun, it does well in a mostly sunny area with morning or afternoon shade. It loves sandy soil, so it will do well if planted right into the ground. Make sure it has good drainage, though. It is also originally a Mediterranean plant, so its growing behaviors are very much liken to rosemary. The silvery leaves make a pretty addition to any herb garden or can be planted along with other plants to "lighten" the Florida landscape.
Culinary sage is useful for a number of reasons. It is also edible - great to use in flavoring certain meat dishes. But don't use too much, as it has quite a strong flavor and aroma. It has also been used for hundreds of years for medicinal purposes. It is pest-resistant and hardy.
There are many different kinds of mint but I've found peppermint is easiest to grow in the Florida herb garden. It is a perennial herb that is native to various regions in Europe and the Middle East. Mint is not necessarily a Mediterranean herb, so it won't grow in the same conditions as rosemary or sage. While it can handle some Florida sun, you'll want to plant it in an area that gets half shade-half sun. I've found that too much sun can wilt it easily. Because it spreads quickly, it's best to keep it separated from the rest of your herb garden. You can do this by keeping it in a pot, separating it with some sort of barrier, or putting it in a pot in the ground. Regular watering is necessary.
Peppermint is just one variety of mint, but any of the mints can be grown in the Florida garden with the right conditions and care. Mint is aromatic and is wonderful in desserts, ethnic soups, herbal infusions, and as a flavoring for sweet tea. It is helpful for digestive issues and has been used medicinally for this purpose for hundreds of years.
Oregano is a perennial herb that can be grown easily in the Florida herb garden. It compliments rosemary and sage nicely as it is a lower growing plant and will grow around your other herbs in a small garden box (sort of like a ground cover). It is indigenous to the Mediterranean region, so it grows in similar conditions to rosemary and sage. It will do well in a sunny garden or part shade garden. It prefers well-draining soil, but I've had mine in moist soil and it does well. It is a part of the mint family, so it will take over the garden if you don't tend to it.
Oregano is one of my favorite culinary herbs. It is delicious in Italian dishes, but I've used it on nearly everything in the kitchen including poultry, beef, and tuna. Sprinkle it into spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and on roasted veggies. Interestingly, oregano became popular in American cuisine when soldiers brought it back with them after World War II. They enjoyed the taste of the "pizza herb" from overseas. Enjoy it regularly and fresh when you grow it in your garden!
5. Passion Flower
I rave about this plant in nearly every gardening article I write, and this article will be no exception. Passion flower is perfect for the Florida herb garden and any Florida garden, for that matter! Passion flower, also called passion fruit or passion vine, is a perennial fruiting vine that is native to the state of Florida. When a plant is native, this means it is very low maintenance in the garden - tolerates sun and shade, grows in sandy soil, and is drought-tolerant. Not only does the passion flower provide passion fruit that is edible, it also blooms in brilliant bright colors! The maypop passion variety is the native passion vine, but any species of passion vine will grow easily in Florida. Keep in mind that it loves to climb, so plant it next to a fence or trellis to allow it to do its thing!
Passion flower is considered an herb in that it has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes. The fruit is edible, though some varieties aren't the best tasting. I've found the maypop variety's fruit to be the juiciest and sweetest. An added benefit to having this fast-growing vine in your herb garden is that it is a host plant for a couple kinds of native Florida butterflies. This means the butterflies will lay their eggs on the vine and you will get to see the butterfly life cycle - egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and adult! You will have an herb that not only provides food and beauty, but also supports the environment by feeding pollinators.
Don't Stop at 5, Experiment!
Just because I recommend these five herbs for your Florida garden, doesn't mean you should stop at just five. You'll have to experiment to see what herbs work or don't work in your garden. Keep in mind that just because the tag at the nursery or garden store says "full sun" doesn't mean that's the same thing as "full sun" in Florida. The herbs that grow well in full sun in northern states might wilt in the full sun of Florida. So move it to a spot in your garden that gets part shade. Gardening is all about trial and error, and in Florida, you really have to try different plants in different places in your garden to find out what will grow successfully.
Some other herbs you can try to grow in your Florida garden but might be a little more difficult: basil, lavender, echinacea, dandelion, rue, chamomile, lemon balm, st. john's wort, thyme, and sunflower. Sweet bay does well in pots in morning sun. Keep trying out new herbs and have fun!
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