Metro-East Living

Here’s what you need to know about growing herbs, keeping them fresh

Q: What are the best and easiest herbs to grow?

T. G. of Fairview Heights

A: If you are new to gardening but want to use a variety of dishes, try these easy-to-grow herbs: Basil, cilantro, mint, parsley, rosemary and thyme. But be careful with the many different types of mint as this one can grow out of bounds. Keep the mint in a container. Most of these can be easily propagated by just cutting a few sprigs and sticking them in the soil as they will root very easily.

You can harvest these herbs when they are about to flower. They will produce lots of natural oils, which add to the flavors and aromas.

You can keep your herbs fresh for an extra-long period of time by freezing them. Chop or blend them and store them in either olive oil or canola oil. Place the mixture in a plastic bag, flatten, and place them into a freezer. If you want to save dill, mix it one part dill and four parts water. Place in the freezer and wait. Once frozen, you will have dill ice cubes, which are perfect on a hot summer day.

Also you can make mint tea which is one of the calming and refreshing drinks all year-round. Dry your mint and let two to four leaves steep for five minutes or so in a mug of water. Serve with honey for a sweet touch.

Q: I have been told that when you place seedlings of vegetables and flowering annuals that these plants are very vulnerable. That these plants should be slowly introduced to sunlight, so you need to keep them partially shaded. Someone told me to use a shade cloth, which can be placed lightly on top of your plants after they get several hours of sunlight. Is this true?s

M. D. of Belleville.

A: Yes, this is great advice. This also protects these tender plants from harsh spring winds and heavy downpours. Many gardeners bend thin wall conduit to protect from weather and place a polyester cloth over the conduit, which will also protect your seedlings from insect attacks.

Q: I have a small Japanese maple in my back yard. There are some branches growing straight up into the air. Can I prune these branches back to shape it up?

E. R. of Fairview Heights

A: Sure you can prune these branches off and remove them in their entirety as they will become weak branches and can be torn off the plant especially with strong winds. You may also want to thin out some of the other branches as well so that the wind can move easily through these small trees.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Department, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to

Things to do this week

  • Plant your small seedlings and also fertilize with about one tablespoon of fertilizer. Make sure to scatter the fertilizer out to the dripline of the plants.