Growing the garden of your dreams is possible when you learn a few gardening fundamentals and local growing zone principals.
ZONE 7 HERB PLANTING GUIDE: The U.S. Department of Agriculture divides the U.S. into eleven growing zones. These are determined by weather patterns, and this system helps gardeners identify plants that grow well in their region. Those who are planting a garden in zone 7 are able to choose among a wide variety of herbs, flowers, vegetables, crops, and ornamentals. Zone 7 has a moderately long growing season that lasts about eight months, with an annual low temperature of about 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The first frost is around November 15th, and the last frost is around April 15th.
How much time do you have to devote to the garden?
Be realistic about the time you have to devote to gardening tasks!
• 2 Hours Per Week: Small Herb, Container, or Ornamental Garden.
• 2-4 Hours: Small Vegetable, or Medium Ornamental Garden.
• 4-10 Hours: Small or Medium Vegetable & Ornamental Garden.
• 10-20 Hours: Large Vegetable or Large Ornamental Garden.
If you must hand water, the time investment increases significantly!
What Type of Garden Do You Want to Grow?
Do you want to grow edible plants, ornamental plants, or a combination? Vegetable gardens take more time than flower gardens. If you want to start a vegetable garden, plant vegetables that you and your family enjoy.
What plants would you grow in your dream garden?
What plants make you the happiest?
Do you want plants on your porch, deck, or patio? Container Gardening is an easy way to start a garden. Herbs and annuals grow well in containers.
Do Specialty Gardens Appeal to You?
• Cutting Garden for Bouquets: Daffodil, Gladiola, Lily, Rose, & Tulip.
• Drought-Tolerant Garden: Bee Balm, Purple Coneflower, Daylily, & Yarrow.
• Medicinal Herb Garden: Calendula, Comfrey, Mint, Rosemary, Sage, & Thyme.
• Native Plant Garden: Black-eyed Susan, Butterfly Bush, & Elderberry.
• Pollinator Garden: Aster, Coreopsis, Jasmine, Passionflower, Phlox, & Violet.
Organic or Conventional Gardening?
ORGANIC PROS: most organic products are safer for people & pets, use what is otherwise waste material such as alfalfa and blood meal, and are slow released by nature.
ORGANIC CONS: organic products are harder to find, more expensive, and must be broken down by soil organisms before they can be available to the plant roots.
CONVENTIONAL PROS: products are easier to find, are less expensive, are easier to apply, and are scientifically tested to produce specific outcomes.
CONVENTIONAL CONS: products are toxic to people, pets, and beneficial insects, and can damage the garden if not used properly.
Understand Your Garden Climate:
Map the garden’s direct sun exposure by taking photos of the area every hour on a sunny day. Full Sun is 6+ hours of direct sun, Part Sun is 4-6 hours, Part Shade is 3-4 hours, Full Shade is less than 3 hours, and Bright Shade is no sun exposure at all.
Growing Season: number of frost-free days in the season. The average growing season for Zone 7 is 8 months.
Use first and last frost dates as guidelines for planting and harvesting crops. The Farmer’s Almanac and local extension office are excellent sources.
Use the local hardiness Zone, 7, when choosing plants that will thrive in the garden.
Design the Garden: Decide how big your garden will be and where it will go, then mark out the garden location. Spend a few days looking at it before you commit to that shape and size.
Measure your existing landscape and draw your yard on graph paper. Start with your property lines, then draw all the buildings, walkways, patios, walls, water sources, and fences.
Create a color palette and plan out the plantings in natural groupings. Place tall plants at the back, then work your way to the front. Group plants by water needs.
Draw all of the plants on your plan, to scale. Use colored pencils so you get a sense of how evenly you are distributing color.
Choose the Right Plants: Know the mature height and width of all the plants on your list. Make sure every plant has enough room to grow to this size. Only choose plants that will thrive in your unique garden climate and microclimate.
Is the soil clay, sand, loam, or a combination? Does the area tend to be dry or wet? Is the area on a slope, or in a low spot? How windy is the site?
Balance the design for a flower garden by planning for a succession of blooms.
When choosing vegetables, focus on how much room you have, how much time you can devote to the garden, and how popular certain vegetables are in your house. Only grow vegetables you and your family love!
Start a Garden Journal:
Consistent and careful observation will reduce insect, disease and weed problems in your garden.
Use a journaling method that works for you.
Draw or sketch pictures and use photos to capture your observations.
Look for and record signs of insects, disease, or other pests, over and under watering, nutrient deficiencies, seasonal changes, and animals that are visiting the garden.
Visit and walk through your garden regularly. Don’t just stroll through it, really look at it. Turn over leaves and look between the foliage of your plants, especially plants prone to disease or insect infestations. Most plant pests like to hide on the undersides of leaves, or inside the canopy of the plant.
Start from Seed or Buy Plants?
Once you can keep the plants alive that the professionals started for you, that’s the time to get into seed starting.
New Gardeners: don’t plan on starting anything from seed except vegetables which do better when sown directly in the garden.
Buy seedlings from a local nursery, especially if you want to plant flowers.
Start plants from seed only after you have a season of gardening under your belt.
What Type of Plant(s) Suit Your Needs?
Annuals: Must be replaced yearly. Annuals that thrive in Zone 7 include Impatiens, Lantana, Marigolds, Nasturtium, Pansies, Sunflowers, and Zinnias.
Biennials: Bloom every other year. Biennials that thrive in Zone 7 include California Poppy, Foxglove, and Hollyhock.
Herbs: Most will bloom year after year once established. Herbs that thrive in Zone 7 include Fennel, Lavender, Mint, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Tarragon, and Thyme.
Perennials: bloom year after year once established. Perennials that thrive in Zone 7 include Aster, Bee Balm, Clematis, Daisy, Echinacea, Iris, Peony, and Phlox.
Vegetables: Most need to be replaced yearly. Vegetables that thrive in Zone 7 include Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Okra, Peas, Peppers, and Tomatoes.
ZONE 7 HERBS & FLOWERS: When choosing herbs and flowers for zone 7, if a perennial herb that isn’t suited to zone 7 is desired, grow it in a container and then bring it indoors over the winter. If the difference is minor, between zones a and b, plant the herb in a protected area, in an alcove, or between a solid fence and a building. If this isn’t possible, mulch heavily around the plant in the fall and the plant may make it through the winter.
The Borage Family: Forget-Me-Nots: (Boraginaceae): herbs, shrubs or trees that are perennial and herbaceous. Most are grown as ornamental plants, a source of dye, or for medicinal use. The stems are usually covered in rough hairs, as are the leaves and inflorescence. The leaves are generally alternate, simple and entire, without stipules. The flowers are borne in a characteristic coiled inflorescence, the lower ones opening first. There are five sepals, free or joined at the base, and a five-lobed corolla which may be tubular or salver-shaped. There are often scales or hairs at the base or mouth. The flowers are usually regular and bisexual, with the female flowers frequently borne on separate plants. There are five stamens attached to the corolla. The flower color is predominately blue, but may also be pink, purple, yellow, or white.
Borage species that grow in Zone 7 include Borage, Comfrey, Heliotrope, and Yerba Santa.
PLANT PROFILE: COMFREY (Symphytum officinale): Comfrey is a tall and low maintenance perennial plant that is grown for its beauty and medicinal value. It is used as a topical treatment for skin irritations, cuts, sprains, swelling, as well as a livestock feed, and for making compost. It is no longer used internally due to the discovery that it can be carcinogenic. Comfrey plants shoot up early in the season and can grow to five feet. It has a deep taproot, is extremely drought tolerant, produces multi-colored flowers on forked cymes, and has pale flowers and dark green leaves. Comfrey is widely adapted, and will thrive in rich, organic soil. It is a rapid grower that needs a lot of nitrogen, therefore, adding organic matter to the soil is essential. Plant crown cuttings three-to-six inches deep. Plants that are grown for harvesting should be spaced three feet apart.
Comfrey leaves, flowers, and roots are used medicinally, with the root being a bit more potent and mucilaginous than the leaves. Leaves are gathered from the healthy plant any time during its growing season, although the best time for a leaf harvest is during flowering. Bundle the leaves in very small batches and hang upside down out of the sun in a spot where there is good air circulation. Comfrey root can be dug in early spring, just as shoots emerge from the soil, or in the fall after frosts have cut back leafy material. The roots should be dug, cleaned, and cut into thin slices. Store leaves and roots when dried in airtight container out of the sun.
The Daisy Family (Asteraceae): are characterized by a composite of many smaller flowers that look like one large flower. Look closely at a sunflower in bloom, and you can see that there are hundreds of little flowers growing on a disk, each producing just one seed. Each "disk flower" has 5 tiny petals fused together, plus 5 stamens fused around a pistil with antennae-like stigmas. Look closely at the big "petals" that ring the outside of the flower head, and you will see that each petal is also a flower, called a "ray flower," with its petals fused together and hanging to one side. Plants of the Daisy family will have either disk flowers, ray flowers, or both. When the seeds are ripe and fall away, a pitted disk is left that looks like a garden plot where all the tiny flowers were planted.
One of the best clues for identifying members of the daisy family is to look for the presence of multiple layers of bracts beneath the flowers. Next, look inside the flower head for the presence of the little disk and ray flowers. Even the common yarrow, with its tiny flower heads, usually has a dozen or more nearly microscopic flowers inside each head, and the inside of a sagebrush flower head is even smaller. Keep in mind that many members of this family have no obvious outer ring of petals.
Daisy species that grow in Zone 7 include: Aster, Calendula, Chamomile, Chicory, Chrysanthemum, Dandelion, Echinacea, Sunflower, Tarragon, Wormwood, Yarrow, and Zinnia.
PLANT PROFILE: GERMAN CHAMOMILE (Matricaria chamomilla): Chamomile has been used throughout history for digestive problems, to relieve cramping, as a mild bitter and liver stimulant, to stimulate appetite, and to ease nervous disorders. Chamomile is a cooling anti-inflammatory and nervine that makes it a wonderful ally for anyone with stomach ulcers, colic, menstrual cramps, acid reflux, nausea, and anxiety.
Chamomile is easy to grow in zones 5-8, helps attract pollinators, and adds a gentle presence to the garden.
PLANT PROFILE: ECHINACEA (Echinacea purpurea): Echinacea is commonly known as “coneflower” for its cone-shaped blooms that are capped by a prickly dome of seed heads. Echinacea is an important source of nectar for butterflies and many birds, particularly goldfinches, who flock to the plant to devour the seeds. Echinacea thrives in full to partial sun and needs at least four hours of sunlight per day. The plants grow natively along the edges of woodlands, and will thrive in spots with morning shade and afternoon sun. Plant in spring or fall in well-drained soil. Echinacea will tolerate poor rocky soil, but will not grow in wet, mucky soil. Mulch plants with compost at the time of planting, and, since Echinacea establishes deep taproots, plant them where you want them as they do not like to be moved once established.
Echinacea is a clump-forming perennial that grows 12-36 inches wide, and up to 48 inches tall, depending on the variety. The plants have an upright habit with large flowers that have cone-shaped centers borne on tall, straight stalks. It is a low-water and drought tolerant plant once established, and it only requires watering if there has been no rain for eight weeks or more.
PLANT PROFILE: YARROW (Achillea millefolium): Yarrow is a native North American plant that is loved by pollinators and is very low maintenance. This makes it perfect for borders, ground covers, and open meadows. Yarrow is a hardy perennial that has showy flower heads composed of tiny and tightly-packed flowers rising above clusters of fern-like foliage. The flowers may be white, yellow, red, or pink. Yarrow is pest and drought resistant, aromatic, and loaded with healing properties. In Zone 7, plant Yarrow in the spring or early summer after the danger of frost has passed, in full sun and well-drained soil. It thrives in hot, dry conditions, and will not tolerate soil that is constantly wet. Plant Yarrow 12 to 15 inches deep, and 1 to 2 feet apart. Divide the plants every 3 to 5 years to sustain healthy plants.
Yarrow has the ability to stop wound bleeding, reduce pain and infection, and it is a natural remedy for fever and flu. Yarrow has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, Anticatarrhal, astringent, diaphoretic, pain relieving, and sedative properties. It can help rid the body of a dry fever when taken as a hot infusion. As a diaphoretic, it opens the pores and promotes perspiration. Sweating supports the action the body takes to expel the flu. A Yarrow infusion is most effective when taken at the onset flu symptoms. Do not take Yarrow daily for more than two weeks.
Herbs that pair well with yarrow for flu and fever include Eucalyptus, as a steam bath to open airways and relieve sinus congestion, Mint & Elderflower, as a flu relief tea to break high fevers and promote sweating, Mullein, to promote coughing and break up mucus, and Goldenseal, as a tea or tincture to relieve allergy-related sinus issues.