Herb Gardens: Why You Need One and How to Start One

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Having a garden full of herbs that can be freshly harvested at anytime is a huge convenience. You will notice that your dishes will be more exciting and filled with more savory and aromatic flavors without needing to be heavy handed on salts. Furthermore, raising a bunch of plants like basil, thyme, cilantro, and chives can be a good hobby.

Raising an herb garden is easy and a great introduction to gardening. Keep reading below to read some of our tips to help you create your very own.

Planter with herb garden in it growing healthily from a guide.

Which Herbs to Grow?

What you grow will partially depend on what you like to cook.  Look over your favorite recipes.  Check your collection of spices to see which herbs you use the most. 

Are there cuisines you love or want to try?  Do you want to make teas?  Explore herbal remedies?  Or make your own household purifiers or cleaners? Thinking these things through will help you plan.

Here are nine basic herbs that are easy to grow and are commonly used in cooking. They all can be planted in an outdoor garden, and some can be grown in containers as well.

  • Parsley – A biennial, parsley completes its life cycle in 2 years. But treat parsley as an annual, and get new plants every year. 
  • Basil -This plant is a true annual.  It is extremely sensitive to cold temperatures, so keep it at temperatures above 55°F.  Plant new plants every year. 
  • Thyme – There are many different varieties of thyme, so be sure you get the one(s) you want.  Thyme is perennial and hardy to zone 5; it will even stay green and harvestable under the snow.
  • Rosemary – Often grown as a topiary, this is another perennial plant that is hardy to zone 7.   You can winter this plant indoors in a sunny window. 
  • Chives – Chives are perennial in zones 3 to 11.  In mild climates, they are evergreen, and you can harvest them all winter.
  • Mint -There are many mints, so be sure you get the ones you want.  Mint should be planted in its own container as it tends to overspread its boundaries.
  • Dill – An annual that grows quickly from seed, dill gets big and tall, so be sure to give it plenty of space.  This plant feeds the caterpillars of swallowtail butterflies, so plant enough to share. It reseeds freely and can become invasive, so try not to let it go to seed. 
  • Oregano – A perennial plant that is hardy in zones 5 to 12.  Some oregano is ornamental, not culinary, so be sure you get the plant you want.
  • Cilantro – A true annual, so plant new every year.  It will self-seed and can bolt in hot weather. 
Fresh chives from an indoor herb garden

Companion Plants

In general, herbs that like the same moisture conditions will grow well together.  Here are some excellent companions:

  • Basil, parsley, tarragon, and cilantro
  • Rosemary, thyme, sage, marjoram, oregano, and lavender
  • Lemon verbena and lemon thyme

Combinations that should be avoided:

  • Basil and sage
  • Rue with basil or sage

Where to Grow?

Herb gardens don’t have to be elaborate – a couple of flowerpots, some good soil, and a sunny location are all you need to get started.

Wherever you end up putting it, make sure it is in a location with full sun in your yard or windowsill and that the soil has good drainage. Abundant sunshine is one of the most important factors for success.

Here are a few planting ideas to inspire you:

  • Create a dedicated indoor herb garden close to the kitchen on a windowsill
  • Plant them as part of a vegetable garden that includes lettuce, broccoli, and tomatoes.
  • Plant in raised beds: a 4 x 4 foot bed can grow lots of plants, and even a 2 x 2 foot area can be bountiful.
  • Container gardening:  if you don’t have much space, plant in containers and pots.
A newly started herb garden that is growing outside.

Tips for Success

Gardening with herbs requires only a few simple steps for success. Use this information to get off to a good start.

Planting

Plant your herb garden in spring after the danger of frost has passed. They can be started from seeds about eight weeks before the last frost date, but it’s easier and quicker to buy starter plants and transplant them into your soil.

Some people decide to grow from seeds to stay within a tight budget or from a desire to grow specialty plants that are not commonly available. 

Some retailers sell seeds in combination packs. Share these with a gardening friend because each packet will have tons of seeds and all you need is one plant to give you enough tasty leaves!

Soil

Herbs like a well-draining garden soil. Certain plants, like rosemary, lavender, and bay, prefer a gritty soil, so mix sand or perlite into the soil with a garden fork.  A little compost is always welcome, too. In containers, use a good potting mix. A potting soil labeled for cacti and succulents will work well, especially with those that are native to the Mediterranean region.

Water

Most herbs prefer dry soil and hate “wet feet,” so most of the time, you only have to water every week or so. Plants in containers can dry out more quickly, so check them a little more frequently for water.

Care

To encourage more leaves, pinch or prune your plants frequently.  This also keeps them from flowering and going to seed (which makes them taste bitter).

Herbs don’t have many problems with pests and diseases, so you shouldn’t need any pesticides.  If you do need to spray for pests, make sure to apply a product that is safe to use up to the day of harvest.  It will say so on the label.

Harvesting

Herbs taste best before they flower, so trimming your plants to prevent them from flowering is important. Snip off the flower buds when they first form.  They are also most flavorful early in the morning, so that’s the perfect time to harvest them.

Harvesting from an herb garden allows fresh herbs to be on hand

At any time during the growing season, you can dry and store your leaves. Cut annual plants to 4 inches tall, and with perennial plants, don’t cut more than ⅓ of the plant. This will encourage them to keep growing.

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About the author: Alaine has been working way too hard in horticulture since 1992, beautifying golf courses, resorts, and hotels. She is a part time landscape designer who works full time caring for a 28,000 square foot public garden. At home, she maintains her own 400 square feet plot. Alaine lives in northern Illinois - zone 5b.

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