Health & Beauty | 13 July 2015Gardening Basics to Jump Start a Backyard Pharmacy Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Sometimes, the most inexpensive and powerful ingredients for curing what ails us can be found no further than right outside our homes. In The Backyard Pharmacy: Growing Medicinal Plants in Your Own Yard, author Elizabeth Millard delves into how she’s used herbs and other medicinal plants for purposes such as soothing sore muscles, improving digestion, banishing headaches, and addressing mosquito bites. Photo by Cool Springs Press Before you begin to plant your own backyard pharmacy, here are a few helpful basics about gardening from Millard to get you prepped: PERENNIAL VS. ANNUAL Plants are either perennial or annual, with the latter meaning that they have only one life cycle per growing season, and which you need to replant the following year. This includes herbs like basil, dill, and cilantro. Many medicinal plants are perennial, which means they can stay green all winter, especially if you bring them inside, or they go dormant after a few frosts and then come back to life in the spring. That’s good news for your garden, since it means one planting of an herb can last for years. Just be sure to trim the herbs back in the fall, before the first frost, so all of the plant’s energy can go into the roots and prepare for dormancy. There’s also a biennial, which is a plant that requires two years to complete a life cycle. This is rare in herbs, though, and I know of only two: parsley and caraway. PLANNING A traditional medicinal garden is often arranged according to some type of logical theme. For example, you might put culinary herbs in one section and medicinal flowers in another, or group the plants based on whether they’re annual or perennial so you can till up the annual bed at the end of the season. However you group them, just be sure to keep harvesting in mind. When I first started growing medicinals, I created a partial labyrinth that was very pretty, but had some narrow pathways in certain spots. The idea was sound—a curving wall of herbs is amazing—but by making the walkways too small, I struggled whenever trying to harvest specific plants. Another consideration might be proximity to your house or apartment building. Most likely, you’ll be harvesting from the garden plot at least a few times per week, if not every day, so putting it close to an entrance is usually best. GROWING CONDITIONS Sun/shade: Many herbs and other medicinals prefer full sun, although they can tolerate shade, and there are some, like mint, that do better in shady conditions. In general, though, map out a space that gets at least six hours of sun per day. Keep in mind that the full sun of the Midwest is certainly not like the full sun of the Pacific Northwest or the full sun of the Southwest. Most likely, you already know if your garden space could double as an oven in the summer, but if you’re not sure about how much it could affect your plants, you can consider tweaking your setup to create some artificial shade options. For example, many farmers create a “caterpillar tunnel,” which means a series of simple hoops that are placed over plants, with a removable covering over that. You can drape shade cloth over the hoops on the days that are particularly hot to give the plants a break. If you only have a small section of your garden that seems to be suffering with the sun, you can even set up some large sun umbrellas in the space during the hottest parts of the day. Most helpful, though, would be to place as many plants as possible in containers that can be moved to different parts your growing space. Even larger plants can be moved if you place the pots on wheeled carts before filling them with soil. Creating this kind of mobile garden can be very helpful for dealing with sun issues. Soil needs: Many medicinal plants usually prefer a moderately rich soil for growing, and appreciate well-draining soil, so if you have soil that’s more like clay, or particularly dense, you may consider growing in raised beds or containers instead. Photo by Cool Springs Press If that’s not an option, you can work some compost into the soil to prepare it, and add some sand or vermiculite to help with drainage. You could also try growing medicinals, such as rosemary or chamomile, in areas of your garden that have less-than-ideal soil. If you can loosen your soil, though, it’s likely you’ve found a good spot for your medicinal garden. Before planting, create a nutrient-rich environment by adding some fertilizer, such as fish emulsion (available at garden stores), and thoroughly mixing it into the tilled soil. Home compost is another great option, but be careful with composted manures, since these can sometimes be too high in nitrogen—herbs can grow in nitrogen-packed soil, for example, but they tend to have reduced flavor or are more susceptible to disease and pests. To get really geeked out, test your soil’s pH. This is a measure of the soil’s acidity or alkalinity, and some plants have very specific requirements in terms of pH ranges. For example, thyme prefers a more alkaline environment while blueberry does better in more acidic soil. Quick primer: on the pH range, 7.0 is considered neutral, with any measurement below that considered more acidic and above that considered more alkaline. The overall pH range is 1 to 14, and can be tested with a device that’s found at any garden store (or sent to a testing lab for a more elaborate analysis). Buy from an Online Retailer A healthier life is right at your fingertips – or at least only a few steps from your door! Backyard Pharmacy helps you choose the best “backyard” medicinal plants. All of the plants can be grown easily by the home gardener throughout North America – and used for their healing and natural-remedy properties! Author Elizabeth Millard shares her deep knowledge of what to add to your garden to grow your own medicine cabinet to enhance your health.Each featured plant profile includes:- a detailed full-color photograph of the plant and key preparation steps – a description and a brief history of the plants (including recommended varieties) – how to plant, grow, and harvest – the parts of the plant to be used – the health and nutritional properties of the plant – current scientific research on the plant – any special harvesting, storing, or preparation instructions – how to use the plant as a remedy any cautions to note Richly illustrated with 200 photographs, Backyard Pharmacy not only includes photography of the plants, but also images demonstrating key elements to the step-by-step preparation, harvest, and storage methods to get the best results from your gardening efforts. Take control of your health. Learn about the benefits of herbs and “backyard friends” and natural health remedies for yourself and your family, and even grow them right in your own backyard. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.