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The Low Water Perennial Herb Garden

Gardening in Tucson, Phoenix, Arizona and Southern California

The Low Water Perennial Herb Garden

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Overview

Rue in flower

The following plants are low water, perennial, culinary herbs, mostly from the Mediterranean. Unless stated otherwise, they need full sun, very well drained, poor soil, no organic mulch, and once established for two years, no water except rain. Some plants, however, will look better with monthly water and gravel as mulch. Many do best in raised garden beds which provide better drainage. Most attract butterflies and bees and have ornamental cultivars. Edible plants, of course, must NOT be treated with pesticides.


Low Water Herbs

Bronze Fennel - Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum' or 'Nigra'
Fennel is a short-lived perennial herb in the celery family. Having yellow flowers and feathery leaves, Fennel can grow to 6' tall. Bronze Fennel is often considered a decorative version of Fennel, but has the same flavor and is more drought tolerant. The yellow flowers, leaves, stems and seeds are used in cooking. Avoid planting near Dill, because they cross easily with poor results. This plant does better in slightly acidic, sandy, dry soil. USDA hardiness zone: 3-10.


Garlic Chives flowering
Garlic Chives:
Allium tuberosum


Garlic Chives / Chinese Chives - Allium tuberosum
Originating in Asia, Garlic Chives is an herbaceous perennial with a bulb growing from a rhizome. It has solid, flat leaves, rather than the hollow leaves of most of its onion family relatives. The leaves can be cooked, or eaten raw, imparting a mild flavor between garlic and chives. They are often used as a dumpling filler, to flavor seafood dishes, and more. The unopened flowers are edible, raw or cooked, and used as a green onion substitute. The fibrous bulbs, while edible, are rarely used. An oil is extracted from the seeds. Once established, it can be cut to ground for harvesting and regrows quickly. Invasive in moist conditions, so plant away from anything needing moist soil and do not mulch. Prefers slightly acidic to neutral soil. USDA hardiness zone: 4-9, depending on cultivar.



Lavender:
Lavandula angustifolia


Lavender - Lavandula angustifolia
A perennial herb and member of the mint family, Lavandula angustifolia has uses beyond the medicinal. The fresh flower buds, when boiled, can be used as a flavoring component in limeade or to make tea. They can also be frozen in ice cubes for drinks, and can be used as a marinade component for chicken or lamb. Dried, ground flower buds can be mixed with sugar to make cookies. Once established, Lavender will need water once or twice a month. It prefers neutral to alkaline soil. USDA hardiness zone: 5b-9, depending on cultivar.

Oregano - Origanum vulgare
A perennial herb and member of the mint family, Oregano prefers neutral to alkaline soil. USDA hardiness zone: 5-9.

Rosemary - Rosmarinus officinalis
A perennial shrub and member of the mint family, Rosemary prefers slightly alkaline soil. Difficult to transplant and usually propagated by cuttings, it is extremely hardy once established and thrives on neglect. USDA hardiness zone: 7-10.


Rue in flower
Rue: Ruta graveolens

Rue - Ruta graveolens
An evergreen shrub, Rue is grown mostly for its fragrance. The leaves and berries are used sparingly in cooking in some European countries and in Ethiopia. Toxic and bitter in large amounts, it is employed as a garden border shrub to keep insects, rabbits, dogs and cats away. It also serves as a caterpillar host plant to the Giant Swallowtail and other butterflies. Some people develop a photosensitive skin allergy in contact with the plant, so handle with care. Grows best in neutral to alkaline soil. USDA hardiness zone: 4-10.

Sage - Salvia officinalis
A perennial evergreen shrub, and member of the mint family, Sage was once considered one of the essential herbs along with parsley, (sage), rosemary and thyme (remember the song?) Tolerates acidic to moderately alkaline soil and does best in slightly acidic soil. USDA hardiness zone: 5-10.

Sage, Autumn - Salvia greggii
A perennial evergreen shrub, and member of the mint family.

Sage, Pineapple - Salvia elegans
A perennial deciduous herb, and member of the mint family.

Salad Burnet - Sanguisorba minor
A perennial herb, and member of the rose family, Salad Burnet has naturalized (grown wild) in most of the United States. The young leaves and shoots, best picked before the plant comes into flower, are used in salads, soups, cooling drinks and to flavor wine in claret cups. Avoid harvesting in the hottest part of the year when it is most bitter. In alkaline soil it has a mild, cucumber flavor, while in acidic soil it is said to have a bitter taste. Once established, it can be watered monthly to weekly depending on taste preferences. USDA hardiness zone: 4-8.

Thyme - Thymus species
An evergreen shrub and member of the mint family. Many flavored cultivars exist and are used as culinary herbs and ground covers. USDA hardiness zones range from 4-8 to 3b-11.

Winter Savory - Satureja montana
An evergreen shrub, and member of the mint family, Winter Savory has a peppery, savory flavor used with beans, meats, vegetables, vinegars, stuffing and tea. Summer Savory, a close relative, is an annual with a milder, sweeter flavor. Winter Savory prefers neutral to slightly alkaline soil. USDA hardiness zone: 5-11.


Reducing Water Needs of High Water Herbs

Mint - Mentha species
A high water herb, such as mint, can be placed in a 6" pot with bottom holes which is then buried to the rim in a raised garden bed. The pot will keep moisture next to the roots and prevent it from being leeched away by the surrounding dryer soil. The bottom holes release excess water and allow the herb roots to go deeper into the soil for buried moisture. The buried sides keep the sun from warming the pot and increasing evaporation. Mint plants planted like this in spring, and watered once a day, have survived winter without being watered at all in USDA zone 8b.


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