As our night-time temperatures cool down in fall, I am always pleasantly surprised at how herb plants respond. After languishing in the heat of summer, dropping leaves, and looking rather straggly, herbs take on new life and begin putting out fresh green shoots. This is a good time to prune off any old or diseased growth to make way for the new, especially on perennials such as mint, sage, lavender, and scented geranium.
It’s also time to start seeding those cool season annual herbs that just don’t perform well in our hot humid summers. Three of my favorites are cilantro, arugula, and chervil. They grow in full- to part-sun and withstand cold temperatures. The seeds germinate reliably and grow quickly so get a good supply in the fall. Sow seeds at intervals to ensure continuous harvests throughout the season. Cover cilantro and chervil seeds lightly with soil but not the tiny arugula seeds. Thin out plants that are growing too close together.
Cilantro is similar to parsley in appearance but the taste and aroma are altogether different. People tend to either love or hate its distinctive flavor. Coriander is the seed of this plant. If you are growing cilantro for its leafy greens, look for a slow-bolt variety that takes longer to flower. This herb is essential for fruit- or tomato-based fresh salsas, and it will really perk up bottled salsas. Use it toward the end of cooking in rice, soups, curries, stir fry, and Asian noodle dishes. For those who crave cilantro in summertime, try growing culantro, a shade-loving tropical herb very different in appearance but with the same flavor.
Although most often found in salad mixes, arugula adds flavor soups, pasta, and sauces. Try substituting it for the basil in your favorite pesto recipe. Arugula (also known as rocket or roquette) has a nutty, peppery flavor which strengthens as the plant gets older. The white flowers are also very tasty.
Chervil is called the French parsley; it is more popular in Europe than in our country. Its delicate fern-like leaves have a mild anise flavor. It is one of the ingredients in fines herbes (along with tarragon, chives and parsley), a blend often combined with butter or used in sauces. Chervil also pairs well with eggs, light soups, fish, and chicken.
These herbs are prone to attack by aphids even in cool weather. Check under the leaves regularly and spray with insecticidal soap if needed. Soaps work well on aphids but do not harm the beneficial aphid predators such as lady beetles, wasps, and lacewings. Several applications may be needed.
For more information on growing herbs in Florida, visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/rh020.