By Jennifer Poindexter
Raising calming herbs right at your backdoor can prove helpful when you can’t sleep or have had a stressful day.
One herb, with calming effects, you should keep nearby is valerian. It’s usually harvested for its root but is known for making a soothing herbal tea that calms an anxious mind and helps to sleep more soundly.
If this intrigues you, it should make you happy to know valerian is easy-to-grow as well. Here’s what you need to know to raise valerian in or around your home:
Growing Conditions for Valerian
Valerian likes to grow in well-draining soil surrounded by full or partial sun. It’s a cold-tolerant plant and can thrive in planting zones four through nine as a perennial.
This herb can be grown outdoors in the ground or in a container. The biggest player in valerian’s growing conditions is water. It needs consistent moisture to thrive and produce a bountiful harvest.
If you can provide proper soil, adequate sunlight, and ample water, you should have no problem raising valerian.
How to Plant Valerian
Valerian can be grown in a variety of ways. If you’d like to give your herbs a head start on the grow season, try growing them indoors.
Start the valerian seeds one month prior to the last frost date. They should be treated as you would most other seeds. Fill the seed trays with quality soil and add two seeds to each grow-cell as an insurance policy incase one of the seeds fails to germinate.
Care for the seeds indoors until all threat of frost has passed, and it’s safe to transfer them outdoors in a bed with proper growing conditions. By this time, the seedlings should be large enough for transplant.
If you don’t enjoy starting seeds indoors, valerian can be direct sowed as well. Create a bed with well-draining soil where the plants can receive adequate sunlight.
Once the space has been prepared, sow the seeds into rows in the bed. Plant approximately one seed per inch in the row. As the seeds germinate and produce seedlings, thin them to where there’s one foot of space between each plant.
The final way to raise valerian is in a container. Whether you lack grow space or quality soil, a container garden is a great option for raising herbs.
Be sure to fill the container with nutrient-rich soil. The planter must be large enough to support the root system of the valerian plant and deep enough to cushion the herb with an ample amount of soil.
Since valerian is so smitten with water, it’s vital it be surrounded by enough soil. It will retain the moisture the herb desires and will serve as a reservoir when the herb needs a drink.
This herb is a great choice for most environments because of its ability to be grown using a variety of gardening methods.
Caring for Valerian
If you’re searching for a low-maintenance herb that can provide calming benefits, valerian should be on your radar.
This herb’s main needs are water and space. Valerian will grow to be approximately three to five feet in height.
It isn’t a massive herb by any means, but it still needs more grow space than other smaller, well-known, herbs. The herb’s height will make a difference as to where you plant it. It needs to be where its stature won’t be an issue but still easy enough to reach for harvest.
Once you have its space requirement filed away, it’s time to discuss water. The herb shouldn’t be waterlogged, but it should have constant moisture.
Therefore, it’s vital to develop a deep watering routine. Don’t water the plant a little every day. Instead, apply large quantities of water to the herb every few days.
This will allow the moisture to soak all the way down to the root system and keep the plant, and the soil around it, wet for longer periods without allowing the herb to become oversaturated.
Deep watering is great because when the plant dries out, it can still pull moisture from the ground around it.
Apply mulch to your valerian plants to help retain moisture between watering sessions. Be mindful of the weather. If you receive rain, you may be able to skip a watering period on occasion.
The only other care this herb needs is basic maintenance. Be sure to deadhead any flowers the valerian herb produces. By removing old flowers from the herb, you’re tricking the plant into thinking it’s younger than it is. This will stop it from going to seed.
If you’d like to have more valerian growing in your garden, allow the flowers to reseed. When the plants become overwhelming, you can return to deadheading.
When fall arrives, valerian plants will begin to die back. Once it has died off fully, cut the plant back to approximately 1/3 its original size. Mulch around and over the plant to protect it during the winter. This will serve as insulation against the cold elements.
Most gardeners are thrilled to have a low-maintenance plant which also provides a harvest. If these criteria are ideal for you, give valerian a try.
Garden Pests and Diseases for Valerian
Keep a watchful eye for a few minor pests and diseases, and you shouldn’t have a problem raising valerian.
As with most gardens, aphids may find their way to your valerian bed. They will thrive on the sap of your plants and will also leave a sticky substance on it known as honeydew.
If you notice signs of these pests, be sure to spray them with soapy water. Spray the entire plant, including all sides of the foliage, to ensure they’re completely dislodged.
Repeat this process as many times as you need to treat an aphid infestation in your herb garden.
Another pest you should look for when raising valerian is cats. Most gardeners don’t like cats near their gardens out of fear they’ll treat it as a litterbox. But this isn’t the only threat with cats when raising valerian. Just as felines are fans of catnip, they love valerian too.
However, they’re only drawn to it if the root is exposed. It puts off a scent which cats love. If they catch a whiff of the valerian root, they’ll roll all over it and kill your plant in the process.
Japanese beetles are another threat to valerian. The best ways to rid your garden of these beetles is to hand pick them, spray your plants with soapy water, or set traps for them.
Rust is a concern with valerian. If you see rust forming on a plant, remove the damaged area. Don’t compost these parts because rust can travel through your compost pile.
Spray the infected plant with a fungicide and remove all weeds or garden debris from around it. Weeds and debris can serve as a bridge for the rust to travel around your garden. By removing these items, you remove the bridge.
The last issues to be aware of when raising valerian are powdery and downy mildew. These types of mildew can occur if the herb is planted too densely.
If you see signs of mildew on the foliage, be sure to thin the plants to give them more room to breathe and dry out.
You can also avoid these types of mildew by watering in the mornings and keeping the weeds down around the plants.
By eliminating weeds, it provides more breathing room for the herb. Morning watering sessions allow the plants to dry out before the cool night temperatures settle in.
Stay aware of these pests and diseases to ensure your valerian plants have the greatest chance at thriving in your garden.
How to Harvest Valerian
Valerian can be harvested for its flowers and roots. You should start with harvesting the flowers during the summer months. They smell nice and are a great choice for DIY flower arrangements.
Use a sharp pair of scissors or shears to cut the stems at an appropriate length for your arrangement. Be careful not to cause damage to the plant.
Harvesting the roots must wait until the herb is at least two years old, and they should only be harvested in the spring or fall.
When the time of year is right and the roots are mature, water the plant thoroughly. This will make it easier to dig them up.
Once the roots are dug up, cut them away from the foliage of the plant. Clean the roots and allow them to dry outdoors because they produce a pungent odor.
You can also dry them in your oven if you’d like a faster process. After they’re dried, store them in an airtight container to keep them fresh until you’re ready to use your harvest.
Valerian is a low-maintenance crop that has multiple uses. It can be grown in a variety of settings and should return year-after- year.
Whether you’re looking to create fresh flower arrangements or enjoy relaxing herbal teas, valerian can produce what you need.