Herbs where its hot
Herbs Where Its Hot
It is commonly called the ‘lavender lament’ – that all too common
cry from gardeners in warm, humid regions complaining that their
lavender bushes do not grow and flower as well as they would
like. There are strategies for improving the performance of
Mediterranean herbs in tropical and subtropical climates, but
warm climate gardeners can grow an impressive range of other
herbs that make them the envy of their southern counterparts.
Imagine having a year round supply of garden fresh, culinary
herbs such as ginger, galangal, lemon grass, basil, turmeric, bay
and Kaffir lime leaves. These and many other herbs thrive in
warm climates. Preparation, position and propagation are the keys
to growing herbs successfully in humid regions.
Preparing to Plant
Put the same effort into preparing your herb garden as you would in preparing an area to
grow vegetables. Incorporate plenty of compost and well decomposed animal manure. In
regions with high summer rainfall it is particularly important to incorporate plenty of organic
material. This helps to open up and increase the air spaces within the soil. It also provides
the bulk needed to build up the soil above that of the surrounding area and facilitate improved
drainage. Get the Balance Right
Be sure to check and adjust the soil pH to accommodate the species of herbs to be grown.
This is something that is often neglected by gardeners. Many herbs prefer slightly alkaline
conditions. The soil in coastal tropical and subtropical areas tend to be acidic and you may
need to add wood ash or lime more regularly than would normally be required for other
garden plants. Keep Them Growing
Remember that herbs grow quickly and have a high demand for nutrients when they are
being regularly harvested. Don’t be afraid to harvest your herbs, just be sure to allow your
plants to develop to a reasonable size before beginning to remove leaves, stem or tubers.
Adjust the amount of the plant harvested according the growth it supports, avoiding
completely defoliating the entire plant at any one time. Keep the growth of your herbs strong
and increase resistance to fungal and bacterial diseases by applying soluble organic seaweed
fertiliser or home made comfrey fertiliser each week.
Group your herbs together according to their preferred climate, soil type and position. Here
are some examples: Hot, Dry with Neutral to Alkaline Soil
Mediterranean herbs such as thyme, lavender, rosemary, oregano enjoy this environment as
do catmint and aloe vera. Think of those impossible garden beds that always seem to be dry
because they are protected by the eaves of the building. What could be more ideal for these
dry climate herbs? Damp, Semi Shaded with Neutral to Acid Soil
Herbs such as lemon balm, mint, comfrey, watercress, chervil, annual coriander and salad
burnett prefer a little protection. Choose positions with filtered light or garden beds that are
sheltered from the hot afternoon sun. Moist, Well Drained in Full Sun
Basil, lemon grass, ginger, chilli, chives, parsley, bay, rocket, feverfew, dandelion, yarrow and
Kaffir lime thrive in full sun. They need regular watering, but demand good drainage.
Grey foliaged Mediterranean herbs such as lavender and sage should be grown in terracotta
pots. Not only will this provide them with improved drainage, but they can be moved about
the garden according to the season. Place them out in the baking sun during the drier
months, and shelter them from torrential downpours during the wet.
Place pots on or against light coloured backgrounds such as terracotta tiles or painted
concrete walls. Avoid placing pots close to pools or other water features.
These plants typically grow in slightly alkaline conditions, so remember to provide regular
applications of dolomite lime or wood ash. Rather than just applying it to the soil, sprinkle
directly over the foliage. The fine hairs that give plants a grey appearance help to trap
moisture close to the surface of the leaves. This is a great attribute in a dry climate, but is
disastrous in humid regions.
Sprinkling an alkaline material over the foliage about four times during the most humid period
of the year helps to keep the foliage dry. Try it on lavender, sage, rosemary and curry plants
). The effect is quite dramatic. Within a day or two you will observe
plants standing more erect and generally looking more robust. This technique works well for
any grey foliaged plant grown in humid areas. Care with mulch
Mulch the tops of the pots with a layer of coarse, white, washed river sand. The sand retains
some moisture on the surface of the soil without creating excess humidity underneath the
foliage and around the base of the stem. The white sand actually reflects sunlight up through
the inside foliage of the plant, helping to reduce the humidity. Propagate or Perish
The terms annual and perennial used in most books
describe the habit a plant when grown in its country
of origin. Gardeners in warm climates delight in the
fact that so called ‘annual’ salvias behave as
perennials, yet cry foul when ‘perennial’ herbs don’t
last the distance. Become a Seed Saver
Learn to collect seed of short-lived plants such as
sweet basil, borage, coriander, fennel, parsley,
feverfew, calendula and echinacea. Sow small
amounts of seed regularly.
Adjust your planting schedule to better accommodate the needs of your plants. Herbs such
as coriander and dill are intolerant of heat and humidity, but grow well if sown during late
autumn and winter. Search out the cool, shaded areas of your garden for these and other
tender herbs. Take a Cutting
Never allow your plants to get too woody before you have managed to take a few tip cuttings.
Always have some young plants coming on to replace those that become old and weak.
Learn how to take cuttings of Greek and Thai basil, salvia and sage so that the premature
death of a plant is not such a tragedy. Spice Up Your Life
Growing your own ginger, galangal and turmeric is as simple as calling in to your local organic
fruit and vegetable outlet and purchasing some propagation material. Look for older sections,
avoiding pieces that show any signs of damage or rot. You can often find rhizomes that have
already begun to shoot. Plant out into prepared garden beds or pots. Be patient and avoid
over watering. Plants take 4-6 weeks to shoot and small pieces of the fresh rhizome can be
harvested from the parent plant after about three to four months. Don’t waste the small,
knobbly pieces of root herbs that are too small to peel, save them for replanting.
In some cases you may have to learn to substitute other species for plants you have difficulty
growing. If your garlic cloves rot off over summer, plant and harvest them earlier and
substitute garlic chives when they are out of season. If your coriander goes to seed during
the summer heat, plant the more perennial, but equally delicious Mexican coriander
). Winter tarragon (Tagetes lucida
) is virtually unkillable and makes an
adequate substitute when French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus
) refuses to survive.
What is a Herb Spiral?
Creating a herb spiral involves planting herbs in a spiral pattern on a raised circular mound.
Do herbs grow better in circles? Who knows? What I am convinced of, is that many herbs
appreciate the improved drainage afforded by building up the soil. Plants that need
absolutely perfect drainage should be established towards the top of the mound and those
needing more moisture planted at the base. Scented Geraniums
Flowering geraniums and pelargoniums are plagued by rust and other fungus diseases in
warm climates. Surprisingly, a myriad of scented geraniums can be grown with ease and are
largely unaffected by the problems that plague their purely ornamental counterparts. Liquid Comfrey
Comfrey is renowned for its ability to speed the
healing of broken bones, but is also an invaluable
addition to the compost heap and makes a great,
trace element enriched, liquid manure. Fill a large
bucket with as many comfrey leaves as you can
harvest. Cover with water, weighting down the
leaves if necessary and covering to prevent
mosquitoes breeding. Stir the mix vigorously each
day for two to three weeks. The resultant, rather
smelly brew can be diluted to the colour of weak tea
and used as an organic liquid fertiliser over other
herbs, vegetables and garden plants.
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