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Herb gadening in the SW and Southern California. Success? Failure?

Hi all. I'm starting this thread as an offshoot from a home cooking discussion on trying to grow herbs under the bright sun and relentless heat. Not just here is the US, but for anyone with these conditions.
Be it in the ground or in containers, please share your successes, failures, recommendations and tips here. Maybe we can all have some success at growing our own yummy herbs!!

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  1. Oh, I should probably start.
    My name's al, and I'm an herboholic. Gardening conditions: Phoenix, south facing patio and indoor "greenhouse" in room with large S and W facing windows. All containers.
    Last year and so far this year, I've found that basil and Thai basil do well largely indoors. Chives, mint, and dill are the same. Outdoors, rosemary, thyme and oregano and lemongrass (my fave).
    Cilantro: no bueno. Just absolutely turns to sludge mid-May.
    I also do potted tomatoes with ripening in May, and various hot peppers and ginger outside and a kaffir lime tree largely inside with success.
    No fertilizer, but 3x daily light watering and I rotate things in and out of the sun.
    Last year was my first year doing desert pot gardening, and I'm doing a lot better this year after trial and error.
    Looking forward to seeing what people have living and dying.

    1. Hi Allie!

      Well, after a week of 95-105 degree temps here in L.A., my veggie garden in the backyard (in direct sun) is looking pretty worn out.

      I keep my herbs on the front porch since it's partial shade and they tend to thrive there. As I said in the other thread, my rosemary is strewn about the property in GIANT bushes that do well no matter what. Which is nice. I can grab some fresh rosemary any time of year.

      I do love L.A. because the "seasonal" gardening necessary elsewhere doesn't really apply. I planted an herb garden mid-winter which did so well in a large planter that I couldn't keep up with it and had to start over (first pic).

      Although I usually start my basil plants from seed, this week I just went and bought a little one, along with a cilantro plant (for the bf--he could eat it as a salad and I hate buying it all the time) and some chives. Each got their own little pot and I placed them on the railing in front. Here, they get several hours of direct sun per day. So long as they are watered judiciously (sometimes every other day, sometimes 2 times per day), they do VERY well. I also have a tomato plant which was purposely planted in a little planter... The plants I stick in my raised beds in back do so well that they turn into these completely unmanageable behemoths which shower dozens of tomatoes on me daily. I can never keep up with them.

      The hardest thing for me in terms of herb gardening is remembering/making the time to prune the leaves appropriately to promote growth and prevent flowering. 2 years ago, I had 3 basil plants from seed on the front porch that turned into HUGE bushes and I just could no longer keep up with the time it took, nor make use of the basil.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nothingswrong

        I should add that I'm a total neophyte when it comes to gardening. I've been growing various veggies/herbs/fruits for the last few years in my (rental) house but I'm terrible at keeping them. Don't know much about it. I just see that plants+good soil+water+sun=food. So I roll with it. I'd like to learn beginner's tips on keeping my herbs more than several months at a time.

      2. Allie- I cannot relate to the heat as I'm in boston, but I'm a terrible gardener and have resorted to only containers. One day, I dream of raised beds, but for now it's enough to coax tomatoes and lettuce out of my sad plants.

        4 Replies
        1. re: gini

          Will you explain what each plant is?

          Left container: Parsley/cilantro? And basil I recognize.

          Center container: ?

          Top container: Lettuces?

          Right top container: ?

          Right bottom container: Tomatoes??

          1. re: nothingswrong

            Left container: Basil and flat leaf parsley
            Center container: Mint and cilantro
            Top container: red romain, green lettuce, spinach
            Right top round: lavender, rosemary, purple basil
            Right bottom round: cherry tomatoes

            1. re: gini

              Mmm, purple basil. I haven't seen any at the gardening center nearby and used up all my seeds last year. I'm going to buy some more!

              I think your garden looks wonderful btw.

        2. I'm in north inland San Diego county, and my herbs grow in full sun (at least 12-15 hrs of sun a day). They do fine. Cilantro can poop out in just a few weeks, but I re-seed it frequently. Sadly, my sweet basil is already beginning to flower, so I have to keep it pinched often.

          Perennials, for me, include: dill, parsley, chives, thyme, oregano. As nothingswrong wrote, rosemary is a huge bush, so it's available year round, too.

          We use drip irrigation on the entire yard (xeriscaped, mostly, with drought tolerant stuff, all of which attracts butterflies & hums), so we don't have to fuss with watering the herbs. When the veggies (tomatoes, eggplant, green peppers, jalapenos, cucumbers, okra) droop in the afternoon, they may get a special bucket of water.

          1. II am near Sacramento. Redwoods suck the life out of most things, so at this point I do mostly self watering planters. Exceptions are rosemary, oregano and thyme.

            Garlic, shallots, chives, parsley, green onions, cilantro in the winter. Winter savory, oregano year round. Basil, cuban oregano, and mint in the summer. Last year was my first with mint.So so.

            Trying to master tarragon.

            1. In the last couple of days, I lost a part of my mint, but I'm sure it was getting too much sun.
              I bought a small dill plant that I'll repot today. I understand that's quite a delicate one, so it will largely be indoors.
              I love dill, so I'm crossing my fingers!

              1 Reply
              1. re: alliegator

                I'm envious! My dill is done for the season and I can't have plants inside because of the cats.

              2. When I lived in the desert SW, various cities including Phoenix, I found my plants did much better in the ground than in pots. Pots just dry out too fast and my tomatoes especially would require watering at least twice a day. In the ground they were fine being watered once a day.

                1 Reply
                1. re: rasputina

                  I agree, but I prefer pots for my herbs so they don't get too out of hand. The soil in my raised beds is like steroids for plants and last year my herbs grew into literal bushes and I couldn't keep up with them. In planters on the porch, I pass by them a lot and can tend to them better, and they don't outgrow the size of the pot I put them in.

                  The one tomato plant I put in a planter this year is putting out about 6 tomatoes a week, which is very manageable. I do have to water it twice a day though, and it still seems dry. The one in the ground has hundreds of tomatoes on it and I can easily get away with watering every other day.

                2. I'm in North Texas and what is working for me is an herb/lettuce garden on the northeast corner of the house and a vegetable garden in the northwest corner.

                  Pots work in late winter/early spring but dry out too fast in the heat. I'll move my potted herbs that I've kept inside during the winter to the patio, but my rosemary just died even with regular watering.

                  I'm thinking of using shade cloth over the herb/lettuce garden, so I'll let you know how that works. I have a cheap sprinkler in the center of each garden and water for about 10-15 minutes a day. That seems to be working for now, but I may have to do it twice a day as it gets hotter. We are still in a horrible drought with no end in sight.

                  1. Glad to see some replies! I thought I was the lone ranger with desert herbs.
                    Barbara76137, I recognize that code, I moved to Phx from FW last year :)

                    I bought already growing rosemary earlier in the week that is doing well, but my dill quickly died. I have to do containers as I'm in a rental condo.
                    I'm finding that it's all location rotation and tons of water. I'm out of town for a few days, I hope I have anything useable when I get back.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: alliegator

                      I've found that dill can be finicky--I have its pot in a spot that gets morning sun, but some afternoon shade. It also revives with extra water, when I think about it.

                      1. re: alliegator

                        Have you seen this paper towel trick for watering herbs while you're away? http://lifehacker.com/5921718/keep-pl...

                        I haven't tried it, but I hear it really works.

                        You can also use a diaper: http://thesecretyumiverse.wonderhowto...

                        P.S. Have fun on your trip!

                        1. re: alliegator

                          Now I'm 76258, but didn't think I needed to change my name :)

                        2. Yikes.
                          I *think* I just replied to your post in that other thread:


                          I claim old-lady-itis.

                          Happy cooking!

                          1. I live in Sherman Oaks - extreme hot summer, sub-freezing winter nights. I started gardening with literally zero background knowledge and solely the yearning to grow veggies & herbs. I also live literally 100 yards from an Armstrong Garden Center so have that as an (overpriced) resource on a daily basis. That said, I like to try basically everything because our climate allows 'most' produce to grow, given good soil and attentive watering. Here are the herbs that have and have not worked for me (all outdoors):
                            *basil - awesome. purple basil, thai basil, cinnamon basil. grows with full sun, partial sun, ton of water, not so much water. really good for me.
                            *marjoram - grows like a weed in partial sun, light watering.
                            *oregano - grows great in full sun but loses strength of flavor. in partial sun grows less robust but keeps the flavor. if overwatered, will spot.
                            *cilantro - used to be my go-to but recently hasn't grown as well. I figured out that my soil is too tight and thus it causes the plant to bolt. Ideally 4-6 hours of sun per day and consistent water. the good thing here is when cilantro bolts, it becomes coriander and its good to have a nice stash of coriander seeds.
                            *parsley - a bit heartier than cilantro, but same 'ideal' growing conditions.
                            *mint - the truest of weeds, grows overabundantly and I learned to ONLY plant this in containers. the more water, the happier it is. weird.
                            *epazote - also a pest, especially considering I never need more than a sprig. plant in container only.
                            *rosemary - easy. does well with full sun, little water.
                            *fennel - one of my favorite. a perennial that keeps coming back heartier and heartier - I'm in year four and five of two plants, and the larger one reached six feet this year before bolting into beautiful pods, buds and pollen. what a treat. probably the most apt for valley growth - I pay little attention to the fennel, and it just turns out perfect season after season.
                            *chives - grow well in shade, believe it or not. light water, but consistent (year around).
                            *lavender - funny because I can't grow it where I want but it pops up elsewhere as an invasive plant. luckily it's pretty.
                            *garlic (not an herb, but) - grows with limited water, partial sun. easy to grow.
                            *shallot - I've had trouble growing shallots. they stalk but don't bulb.
                            *sage - I have had one plant in five years and it's stayed a nice, two foot bushy size that provides literally the perfect amount of sage I need. average water, full sun.
                            *tarragon - moody. i've overwatered and killed it and underwatered it and killed it. best I can tell, partial sun and infrequent water (unless it's dry)
                            *thyme - does not grow well (for me) in full sun, though that's what Armstrong tells me. My best growing thyme (also invasive) grows in mostly shade and two/week deep watering.
                            *peppers - not really an herb but can be utilized as such with chile powder, chile flakes, etc. my absolute favorite to grow in our climate - full sun, about 18" of space on each side and twice/week deep watering. you can literally grow 100s of varieties, and if you want to get fancy with it mix up the colors - purple, yellow, red, green, orange, literally the entire spectrum is represented with chile peppers and they're ornamental as well as useful.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: MagnoliaGardens

                              Hello neighbor! That Armstrong is the one I frequent too.

                              Funny about the lavender; I have it growing as weeds all over my back yard. The dogs like to roll around in it for some reason, which is fine by me, as they always smell nice and floral.

                              Still haven't had any luck with peppers of any kind over here for some reason. The plants shrivel up and die within a month or two.

                              Herbs grow like crazy here; last year I had them all out in the raised beds, direct full sun. This year I have them in containers, partial sun on the porch, and they're still doing amazing. They get watered lightly every day.

                              I planted one lone pumpkin seed this year in direct sun in back several months ago and it's got six 4" pumpkins on it and one 9". Can't wait for harvest time!

                              1. re: nothingswrong

                                Are you close to the coast? I'm just under an hour from the beach so it's hot and dry here- perfect pepper weather. Maybe you get too much moisture for them.

                                My ghost peppers just started setting pods- I'm so excited!

                                1. re: weezieduzzit

                                  And we're going to be up to our eyeballs in Thai bird chilis shortly!

                                  1. re: weezieduzzit

                                    I'm in Burbank. So not too close to the coast at all.

                                    My mom is in Beverly Hills and she grows peppers of all kinds no problem. I have no idea why I can't do them here!

                                    Yours look great--hope you have plans to pickle or can! No idea how you'll go through all of those!

                                    1. re: nothingswrong

                                      I've been a pickling/canning/vac sealing and freezing fool lately. I have somewhere around 40 pepper plants.....

                                    2. re: weezieduzzit

                                      weezieduzzit--I grew ghost chilies a few years back, and they made incredible incendiary jam. Was great brushed on grilled chicken. Just an idea!

                                2. I'm sorry others haven't had much success with dill, but this year my dill is going crazy! I planted a small plant as well as some from seed, and I have more dill than I know what to do with!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Barbara76137

                                    Me, too! I've said my dill thinks it's a redwood. And I don't even care for dill flavor much.

                                  2. I've found that as long as I have them well established before it gets too hot they do fine, even planted in the holes of cinder blocks. I started trimming them back today (to dry some,) and grabbed my camera since I haven't taken too many garden pics this year.

                                    I also inter-plant them with veggies both for the companion planting pest management/ pollinator attracting benefits and because the close planting shades the stems and roots during the hot times.

                                    The parsley has gotten seriously out of control again (planted in the holes of cinder blocks,) so it'll be time for a big batch of chimichurri soon!

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: weezieduzzit

                                      Looks very green and lush, like a gardening center! I spy some gigantic squash/zucchini leaves??

                                      1. re: nothingswrong

                                        The zucchini is outta control, I can't get through the walk way anymore!

                                        1. re: pine time

                                          Thank you, little by little the backyard will become my little oasis in the desert.

                                      2. fyi first bhut jolokia popped today; only one on the plant, the rest are starting to bud

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: MagnoliaGardens

                                          That's so exciting to me! (I'm a serious garden geek these days.)