Learn how to select and grow Italian herbs in your northern garden.
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What’s the key ingredient to Italian food? I think it’s all in the herbs. When you’re enjoying your summer dinners potato salad, pizza and grilled meats you can thank some Italian herbs for making them so tasty. While basil gets all the attention (and rightly so), oregano, thyme and flat-leafed parsley also give Italian food that unmistakable flavor.
Oregano and thyme are perennial herbs hardy to zone 5. They can survive the winter in our climate with special care. These herbs grow best in full sun on well-drained, fertile soil. In fact, wet, heavy clay soil is more likely to kill them than a cold winter. Grow Greek oregano and common thyme in raised beds with compost amended soil. Start harvesting leaves before the plant flowers, when the stems are 8 inches long for cooking or drying. Side dress in mid summer with an organic fertilizer to encourage more leafy growth. To overwinter, cover plants in late fall with a mound of bark mulch or grow herbs in pots and bring them indoors. Oregano and thyme make great indoor herb plants when grown in a south-facing window.
Italian parsley is also know as flat-leafed parsley. It has a stronger, sweeter flavor than curly parsley and I love it in salads and soups. Italian parsley is more forgiving of soil and sun conditions than oregano and thyme and it also can be potted up and brought indoors to enjoy in the winter. It will eventually flower and die, but you can harvest the leaves up until then.