By Lisa Hilgenberg

Growing culinary herbs is economical and the harvest punches up flavor in the fresh foods and cool drinks of summer. Herbs are beautiful and low maintenance grown in containers. Pest and disease resistant, herbs are beneficial companion plants for vegetable or flower beds. Try planting a variety of herbs together in pots or in a strawberry jar.

A daily requirement of eight full hours of sun, herbs prefer a lean, well-drained soil of low fertility. A basket of basil, parsley, dill and chives accents the kitchen back door and is handy to harvest at dinnertime.

Herbs with gray green foliage like rosemary, sage, thyme are beautiful along edges of garden beds and are drought tolerant so avoid overwatering. Guard against legginess by trimming or pinching back herbs keeping plants bushy and productive.

Removing chive flowers prevents reseeding and encourages more leaf production. Snip oregano or tarragon to flavor oils for marinating grilled fish and meat. Jazz up drinks with muddled herbs, swizzle a sprig of rosemary, garnish tea with mint and lemonade with basil.

Mint and basil works in sangria and dried powered stevia sweetens teas and lemonade. Mint goes with bourbon like the Cubs go with Wrigley Field!

Plan: Plant culinary herbs combining kitchen usefulness with fabulous style and imagination. Punch up your dishes and drinks with rosemary, lemon thyme, spearmint, stevia, Italian flat parsley, sweet basil and garden sage. Flavor oils and vinegars with Greek oregano or chives.

Plant: Spiff up this summer’s herb planting simply by popping a generous collection into a beachy picnic basket; well located right outside your back door for an easily accessible harvest. Spending the summer up north? Flat bottomed herb basket…will travel!

Grow: Make sure to plant in well-drained soil and avoid overwatering. Herbs need enough sun each day… 8 hours or more will do. Soil of low to average fertility is preferred. Guard plants against legginess by trimming them for kitchen use which keeps herbs bushy and productive.

Harvest: Jazz up your cocktail with muddled herbs or garnish a spritzer by floating an edible flower. A sprig of rosemary as a swizzle, mint and basil in sangria and dried, powered stevia sweetens teas and lemonade. Mint goes with bourbon like the Cubs go with Wrigley Field, just as cocktails go on the porch.

Lisa Hilgenberg is the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden Horticulturist. She teaches classes for the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden and mentors interns from the Garden’s urban agriculture programs in the summer. Lisa draws on a rich family farming tradition, having spent many summers on her grandparents’ farms in Iowa and Minnesota. You can follow Lisa on Twitter @hilgenberg8.

Want more gardening tips?  You can read other online articles or listen to previous podcast episodes from WBBM Newsradio’s Gardening Tips segment.