Put Your Herb Garden On A Diet

The goal of any garden is to create the “perfect” environment in which our plants will thrive in health and production. In January, I wrote about how to easily identify the type of soil in our gardens and a few ways to amend it. But, would it surprise you to know you could make and keep your soil healthy by just planting a few important herbs?

Planting these remarkable herbs, known as “dynamic accumulators,” will do much to invigorate the nutrition of your soil. Accumulators are a special group of plants that have a special ability to absorb large amounts of micro- and macronutrients from the soil and store them in their roots, tissues, and leaves. These plants not only give back to the soil as they grow but also when they are returned to the garden as compost. Great news for organic gardeners! Some of the more outstanding herbs to plant are:

Borage (Borago officinalis) Borage breaks up compacted soil as it grows with its large taproot and stores potassium. This one stays where it is planted so be sure of its position in your garden.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) This fast grower has a complex, thick, fibrous root system that penetrates upper soil layers and accumulates phosphorus.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) This is an outstanding accumulator that is able to concentrate macronutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and micronutrients of copper and calcium from the soil at the same time. Beware that most yarrows spread via rhizome and seed and sometimes grow very high. Leave lots of space for this one.

German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla, Matricaria recutita) This is the larger Chamomile, unlike Roman or English Chamomile. It also grows more upright and accumulates calcium, phosphorus, and potassium from the soil.

Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor, Poterium sanguisorba) This herb is mostly considered a culinary and medicinal plant. It does not spread fast, but it does spread by rhizomes. It has the ability to absorb several important micronutrients such as iron, sodium, magnesium, and calcium.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) This herb can reach 5 feet and does need regular water, but it can accumulate silicon from the soil. Most soils don’t require this nutrient, but silicon helps plants to fight pest infestations and other stresses.

Other Dynamic Accumulators are Chives, Comfrey, Sorrel, Mullein, Summer and Winter Savory, Parsley, Peppermint, and Caraway.

Use spent leaves and trimmings throughout the growing season as mulch around your plants. Also, enjoy the benefits their root systems will give your soil.
Finally, after your garden’s growing season is over for most of your herbs, feed these spent herbs back into your soil as an enriched diet of nutrients. . . compost.
Most of the time, one growing season is all it takes to see improvement in your soil.
Knowing what minerals are lacking in your soil is very helpful, and a simple soil test will tell you. Then plant the herbs needed to provide the necessary nutrients.
It’s easy and it works for veggie gardens too. Remember, great herbs gar-dens all begin with a healthy diet.

By Cheryl Balster

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