HOW TO START AN HERB GARDENSpice up your landscape and kitchen with these easy-care edible plants
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Herbs have been grown and used for thousands of years for their culinary and medicinal qualities. Their ornamental and aromatic qualities lend aesthetic beauty and fragrance to any landscape. Once you’ve tasted the difference between fresh and dried herbs, you’ll never go back. Not only are fresh herbs more nutritious and better tasting, they are less expensive to grow and harvest yourself compared to buying them at the grocery store.
Here are some tips to get you started on growing your own fresh herbs at home.
Also see: 15 Best Herbs to Grow at Home
Annual vs. Perennial:
Some herbs such as basil, dill and cilantro are grown as annuals in most regions. Others such as thyme, sage, and lavender are reliable perennials.
Select for Success:
Choose herbs that are the easiest to grow, such as parsley and mint, for the best success.
Choose What You Use:
Grow herbs that you regularly use, such as parsley, oregano, basil, and mint.
Indoors vs. Outdoors:
Choose the right herbs for your situation. Some, such as parsley and oregano can be grown indoors, while others including lavender and rosemary need outdoor light and more space.
OUTDOOR HERB GARDENS
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There are several ways you can grow herbs outdoors.
A raised box or garden bed is the best way to maximize the amount of herbs you can grow and will yield the biggest harvest.
Nearly any container can be used for an herb garden. Place on a sunny patio or deck near your kitchen for easy access—which will encourage you to snip herbs more frequently.
If you have a balcony or porch that receives at least half-day sun, you can maximize your space by growing herbs in hanging baskets.
If you have limited space, arrange small pots on a vertical shelf or rack. An old step ladder can be repurposed by using cut plywood for shelves, or try a pre-made planter system.
OUTDOOR GROWING TIPS
Herbs need at least 6 hours of full sun a day.
Amend soil with organic matter such as compost or manure and provide adequate drainage. Soil pH requirements vary according to the type of herb. Use a high-quality potting soil such as Black Gold or Espoma for containers, hanging baskets, and window boxes.
Many herbs such as lavender, rosemary, and thyme prefer to be drier. Others such as basil and parsley need more water. Make sure to know individual requirements.
Most herbs need little or no supplemental fertilizing. Add a slow-acting fertilizer such as bone meal fertilizer spikes, cottonseed meal, or blood meal to the soil at planting time and supplement with water-soluble fish emulsion as needed.
Pruning and pinching:
Pinch branch tips to encourage a full, bushy habit and produce a higher yield. Use pinched leaves in drinks or recipes. For herbs such as basil, deadhead flowers to prolong plant life. Larger woody plants such as lavender and rosemary will need regular pruning.
INDOOR HERB GARDENS
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Having access to fresh herbs in winter helps stave off the seasonal blues. Customize your kitchen herb garden with individual accessories, or choose from the many kits available.
Kitchen herb garden kits:
There are indoor growing kits that include everything you need, including the seeds.
Windowsill herb gardens:
Some indoor kits are specifically designed for windowsills.
Countertop herb gardens:
Others are for use directly on your countertop.
Hydroponic growing kits:
For faster growth, you can also use a hydroponic kit and grow without soil.
INDOOR GROWING TIPS
Select the Right Herbs:
Choose varieties that grow well in filtered light. These include chives, parsley, mint, oregano, and tarragon. Don’t be afraid to experiment with others such as basil, dill, and cilantro.
Site in a south or west-facing window that gets at least 4-6 hours of direct sunlight a day, or use supplemental lighting. A grow light will increase yields and allow you to locate an herb garden in a darker part of the house such as a countertop or shelf.
Use a high quality potting mix that drains well.
Allow soil to dry out somewhat between watering. If soil is dry to 1 inch deep, it’s time to water.
Apply an all-purpose water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks at half the recommended strength.
Make sure pots have adequate drainage to prevent root rot and fungal diseases.
Air temperature should be between 60-75 degrees F, and place herbs in an area with good air circulation.
Morning is the best time to harvest herbs. Snip plants regularly to stimulate new growth, up to a third of the plant at a time. Leaves have the best flavor when cut just before plants flower. If you’re using the flowers, wait until peak bloom. Seed heads can be harvested once they begin to turn brown.
For long-term use, herbs can be dried, frozen, or preserved in vinegars and oils. The best method depends on the type of herb. For more, see How to Preserve Herbs by Drying or Freezing.
Herbs can complement other herbs or vegetables. Research herbs and their companions before you plant.
- Plant basil alongside tomatoes to repel flies and mosquitos.
- Mint that is placed near cabbage will deter white cabbage moth.
- Sage can be planted near rosemary, cabbage, and carrots, but should be kept away from cucumbers.
- Ornamental flowers are useful in kitchen gardens as pollinator attractors, weed suppression, or pest control. These include marigold, sweet alyssum, nasturtium, and calendula.