Herb your enthusiasm!

Ce Cowart Schlicher/ Walker County Master GardenersRosemary is seen in the herb garden at the historic Wynne Home Arts Center in Huntsville. 

The past few days have been scorching. Real and feels like temperatures in the 100’s. You have to get up at the break of dawn to water your plants (if you don’t have a timer on an irrigation system), to keep your plants from laying down and giving up. But there are two herbs that don’t need all that water and are just sneering at the plant killing heat.

Rosemary. I can’t say enough about this woody, evergreen, shrubby herb! I planted two six-inch pots of rosemary in my front yard (faces due North) about 17 years ago. The one by the mailbox is finally starting to look like it might need to be replaced. It sits next to asphalt and concrete. It is routinely bumped by my car and the mail truck.

It has never (yes, never) been watered (other than rain) or fertilized. I didn’t even amend the soil when I plopped it in a hole over 17 years ago. It has taken a serious beating all these years. It is over 4 feet tall and at least 4 feet wide. It was my go-to plant for the woody stems needed for shish-kabobs and the tender tops needed for my rosemary, lemon, olive oil and cracked black pepper roasted chicken.

The other rosemary shrub looks fabulous, darling! It sits on a sandy hill, and was just dumped in a spot by our wooden walkway. It has never been fertilized, and gets a bit of water when I’m giving the lantana a drink about once every two weeks (when I remember). It has had less of a haircut (pruning) than the one by the mailbox. Both shrubs have never been covered during freezes. Both have been snowed on and survived.

The rosemary by the walkway is close to 4 feet tall and every bit as wide. I do remove the fallen tree leaves from under, on and around it. Unlike my other plants and lawn, where I leave my leaves, the rosemary likes air movement, and isn’t fond of dampness around its feet. It receives over 8 hours of sun every day.

Rosemary has several other great qualities. Deer don’t like it. Let me repeat, deer don’t come near rosemary even when they have eaten the lower leaves off of some of my trees. It does fine in some of the worst soil that I have ever seen. It never needs fertilizing. It survives drought better than any plant that I have ever encountered. It works great with other plants such as roses, beans, carrots, cabbage and sage (the herb). I have never seen a pest on it!

It has one downfall. Wet feet. Rosemary will die quicker than you can say, “No!” in gumbo or clay type soils. It has a fibrous root system that adores sandy soil, great drainage and an abundance of sun.

Always trim rosemary after it blooms. Blooms are typically blue, but can be pink or white. I try to leave the blooms for the bees and butterflies, but sometimes I grab a few to put into a salad.

Use the trimmings in several ways. I use it in cooking a wide variety of foods from lemon-rosemary sugar cookies to beef pot roast. Rosemary is great almost all Italian cooking since it is a native to the Mediterranean. I use rosemary in my home-made household cleaner (I also add sliced lemon in the cleaning bottle). I use it in floral arrangements, especially with roses.

My other favorite herb that beats the heat is what we Texans call Mexican Mint Marigold or Texas Tarragon. It is actually Tagetes lucida, a relative to the marigold and the sunflower. It is a perennial plant that is used as a culinary herb and is a favorite of butterflies. I grow it close to my lantana as it flowers a bright yellow bloom in early fall. Most varieties are upright and close to 3 feet tall.

The leaves have a tarragon (the Artemisia family) flavor with a hint of anise. This plant doesn’t particularly like the clay that is in my bed with the lantana, but it still comes back every year. It will freeze in winters, but comes back as soon as the soil temperatures reach 70 degrees. I only water it when I remember to give the lantana a drink. It prefers sandy soil and lots of sun like rosemary. And like rosemary, it doesn’t like to be crowded.

Deer don’t like it! Pest free as far as I can tell. Texas Tarragon is great in chicken salad, pasta salad, foil baked fish (add lemon slices to bring out the flavor) and in tea. The leaves and flowers both can be used in scented sachets. The long slender stems can be woven into braids. Try also using the harvested stems (with flowers) in flower arrangements. They look lovely with other fall blooms that are in the yellow and orange family.

For more information on these sun-loving herbs or other heat tolerant plants in your garden or flower beds, call the Walker County Master Gardeners at 936-435-2426 on Thursday mornings when we are ‘in’ at the Walker County AgriLife office.

The Walker County AgriLife office is also on Facebook. WalkerCoTxAgrilife has been established to provide updates and information to Walker County residents and landowners on a timely basis. The Walker County Master Gardeners are also on Facebook! Check out both of these Facebook pages and hit "like" to join.