Herbs, like other herbaceous plants, fall into three groups based on how they are grown: winter annuals, summer annuals and perennials.

A classical mixture of bay, thyme and parsley is called a “bouquet garni” or a bouquet for garnishing. In this case, the garnish goes in the dish as it’s cooked, not on the serving platter. Bay and parsley are on my “easy to grow” list, but thyme, unfortunately, is not, unless your soil drains “perfectly.”

The book "Southern Herb Growing" (Shearer Publishing, 1987) provides a wealth of details about selecting, growing and using herbs. The authors, two of whom are a mother-daughter team, describe how to make a well-drained bed for growing herbs in the humid South. My favorite pesto recipe comes from this book.

Summer annuals

Basil is probably the most popular summer herb. However, due to severe, widespread problems with downy mildew disease, it is no longer easy to grow in most parts of the eastern United States.

Even reportedly resistant cultivars still get some downy mildew.


Bay, rosemary and chives, like most perennial herbs, prefer well-drained soil in a full to partly sunny spot. Chives is a bit more tolerant of moist soil than bay or rosemary, while rosemary is less tolerant of moist soil than the other two.

Bay (Laurus nobis) is a large to very large shrub, although the several plants I’ve grown over the years never reached that size. Nevertheless, I’ve harvested plenty of bay leaves that are more pungent than any from stores.

Bay is an essential herb for flavoring beef pot roast and vegetable soups. For drying, harvest firm, dark green leaves, as newly formed leaves will wilt before they dry.

Rosemary is a small to medium-size shrub, depending on the cultivar.

"Tuscan Blue" is the largest cultivar, growing 4 feet tall by 6 to even 8 feet wide. "Chef’s Choice" is a new smaller cultivar with fine leaves from Southern Living Plant Collection (http://bit.ly/2J84Qu5). My wife and I use rosemary liberally when we roast our Thanksgiving turkey.

My "Tuscan Blue" rosemary grows around my mailbox, and the mail carrier enjoys the scent. Remarkably, this plant survived four floods, including 24 hours submerged in water 2 feet deep. I attribute this feat to the sandy soil in which it grows.

Rosemary flowers at irregular intervals, including in January, when few other flowers are available for bees.

Chives are surprisingly tough for a small herbaceous herb. I had a clump for many years, although I could never find a spot exactly right for them.

Chive seed germinates poorly, so it’s best to purchase plants.

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Like rosemary and parsley, chives also serve double duty as an ornamental herb. Plump lavender flowers appear in May. They can be picked and steeped in boiled vinegar to make an herb-infused salad dressing.

Winter annuals

Parsley, a cold-tolerant herb that struggles in the heat, should be transplanted in October. Seed are slow to sprout, so they should be planted in mid-August. Seed stored in the refrigerator remain viable for 10 years.

Parsley also is useful as a bright green filler plant for leafy contrast in beds of flowering winter annuals. It is a larval food plant for swallowtail butterflies. Parsley should be dug up by June 1, however, and not allowed to over-summer to avoid problems with root-knot nematodes.

Garlic is another cold-tolerant herb. Growing garlic is as simple as dividing a garlic bulb into individual cloves and planting the cloves one inch deep in the second half of October in the Lowcountry or the beginning of October in the Midlands. For people who prefer a milder flavor, elephant garlic also grows well in South Carolina.

Garlic will be ready to harvest when the stem dies back the following June. If the prefers large bulbs, they can be left in the ground to grow another year. Bulbs can be used fresh or left in a warm garage for a week or two to cure them for longer storage.

If the plant produces a flower bud, break it off so the plant’s energy goes to enlarging the bulb rather than producing seed.

For information on growing herbs in South Carolina, see Clemson’s Home Garden Information Center (bit.ly/2JsGavy).

Anthony Keinath is professor of plant pathology at the Clemson Coastal Research & Education Center in Charleston. His expertise is in diseases of vegetables. He is also an avid gardener. Contact him at tknth@clemson.edu.