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Herbs: More to explore than just basil and oregano

Surprises and delights at the Herb Garden during Harvest Day

Cloudy sky over several plants in containers and a purple-leafed tree
Clouds earlier in the week softened this view of the Herb Garden's south side. The round patio where mini talks will be held Saturday is in the background. The empty planter to the left will be the site of the new Scented Geranium area, which will debut on Harvest Day. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

Gardening engages all the senses, but certainly smell takes the lead when it comes to growing and enjoying herbs.

Rub an herb's leaf and then sniff: What does it entice you to do? Put it in stew, or make a tea with it, or maybe dry it and fill a sachet with it?

Since I joined the Herb Team at the Sacramento County master gardeners' Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, I've learned that herbs are much more subtle and varied than the Genovese basil I always grow to accompany my tomatoes. The basils alone are diverse: Thai basil for Asian dishes, African blue basil for the bees, and tulsi basil (also called holy basil) for calming teas.

One of our delights during Open Garden days is sending visitors to the small tree that's actually a well-trained lemon verbena. When they rub a leaf and take a lemon-scented whiff, a surprised expression comes over their faces. The scent is soothing and refreshing all at once. (I like to stop there at the end of a workday, too.) That's the power of a wonderful herb.

So during Harvest Day on Saturday be sure to visit the Herb Garden, which is just inside the Chuck Ingels Memorial Gate. The Herb Team will have great handouts, informational displays, and a whole array of plants to sniff. Early birds also will receive a lavender sachet filled with dried lavender from our plants.

Two of our experienced herb growers will present mini talks during the morning, at the round patio that's just above and south of the Herb Garden:

-- Ruth Ostroff, 9:30-9:45 a.m.,  "Amazing Herbs for Low Water Use Gardens." Mediterranean herbs are especially useful in a water-efficient garden; Ruth will have some ideas for gardeners.

-- Vivian Sellers, 10:45-11 a.m., "Pruning Herbs for Better Yields." Vivian is our herb guru, who guided the pruning of the amazing lemon verbena into the shape it is today.

Other mini talks by the Vegetable, Berry, Grape, Compost, Orchard and Water Efficient Landscape groups will be presented during the day in various locations; the three main Harvest Day speakers will present their longer talks under the large tent near the parking lot. The full schedule can be found here . A map of the site also is on that page.

Harvest Day is free and runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center,  11549 Fair Oaks Blvd.

And if you want to take home some herbs of your own, Morningsun Herb Farms of Vacaville will have a vendor booth open during the event. You might spy a few Herb Team members there, shopping for new delights.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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