Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow, and are a great way for the beginning gardener to start growing their own fresh food. And, there is no comparison in taste to herbs gathered fresh from the garden and those that you buy at the grocery store. You can also grow herbs that you may not be able to find easily in the store.
What are the benefits of growing your own herbs?
If you have been thinking about growing your own herb garden, here’s some great reasons to do so.
- You always have access to fresh herbs.
- Herbs are easy to grow and don’t require a lot of maintenance.
- You can customize your herb garden to include the herbs you use most often.
- Herbs can be grown in containers, and are great choices for those with limited space. Perennial herbs such as chives, can be grown directly in the raised bed garden with your vegetables.
- For gardeners with less sunny areas, some herbs can be grown in areas with at least 4-5 hours of sun daily.
- Herbs such as bay laurel, which requires more tropical temperatures, can be moved inside in the winter and continue to be enjoyed.
How do I grow an herb garden?
Whether you are growing an herb garden, vegetable garden, or a butterfly garden off the patio, the same 3 things are needed to grow a successful garden.
Choose the right site:
When choosing which herbs to grow, you need to consider the conditions in your garden and whether they will suit each type of plant. For example, if your garden gets full sun for most of the day, you should avoid plants that require lots of shade. The first step is to select a site for your garden. Ideally, this should be a sunny spot with good drainage. Herbs prefer 6-8 hours of sun a day, but some such as mints, cilantro, and parsley will tolerate 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day. When choosing your site, you’ll also want to consider potential obstacles like nearby trees or fences that will cast shade on your garden. Go out into your yard several times a day to map the sun to see what area receives the most sun. Once you’ve picked an appropriate location for your herb garden, the next step is to prepare the soil , especially if you have clay soil. Some herbs such as rosemary and lavender, you may want to grow directly in the ground since they can become very large. You will need to amend the soil with organic matter such as compost, and I like to add a little coarse sand to promote drainage. The main reason herbs don’t do well or die, is because they are over-watered or the soil does not drain.
I grow most of my herbs in containers. Mints especially can quickly take over the area when they are planted directly in the ground. Choose a container that is at least 12 inches deep and 24 inches wide to allow it to spread. Be sure the container has adequate drainage holes. These are my pots of thyme, oregano, marjoram, and newly planted chamomile. If you live in an area that has harsh winters, you can move them inside or into a greenhouse. In my North Georgia garden they will overwinter.
I choose transplants for planting when I am growing my herbs. Perennial herbs such as rosemary and lavender have a slow germination rate, and are a little tricky to grow from seed. Annual herbs such as basil can be started from seed. Basil will not tolerate a frost so it is considered an annual in most areas.
Maintaining Your Herb Garden:
Herbs are low maintenance plants. But that doesn’t mean no care. Maintaining your garden is key when growing any garden whether that is herbs, vegetables or flowers. Overwatering is the main reason most herbs do not survive. Instead of a routine watering schedule for my herbs, I use the finger test to check the soil. Just place your index finger down into the soil, and if it is dry, water it. I prefer watering earlier in the morning, rather at night. This way, the water has a chance to evaporate off of the leaves. If you plant in pots, they will require more frequent watering, especially in the heat of summer. Herbs planted in the ground will need to be mulched to keep weeds from competing with your plants for nutrients. Herbs have few pests, but keep an eye out for aphids and spider mites. You can use an organic insecticidal soap such as Bonide’s Captain Jack Super Insecticidal Soap if you spot any. Use early before they become infested.
Choosing the right herb for the right season:
Basil is a popular herb used in various dishes, including in a pesto sauce recipe, pasta dish, and pizza. It has a sweet, peppery flavor depending on the variety you choose. Basil is relatively easy to grow and can be started from seed or transplanted from a pot. Basil is an annual and needs to be grown in the warm season. It will not tolerate a frost. It will also “bolt” in warm weather, so I prefer to plant one or two plants a month from May through August. Harvest from the plant often, since it will become leggy. Basil is a great companion plant for tomatoes. It enhances the taste of tomatoes, and acts as a pest deterrent for tomato hornworms. I interplant my basil between my tomato plants. It prefers full sun, just like the tomatoes it is planted with. There are several varieties of basil, so try a few different ones.
Chives are a member of the onion family and have a mild, onion-like flavor. They do best when planted in the cool seasons of spring and fall. They are often used as a garnish or added to soups and salads. Chives are easy to grow and can start with a seed, division, or bulb. They are cool weather herbs and can tolerate a frost. If planting in the fall, plant at least 4 weeks before your first frost, so that they will become established before winter. I have chives growing in the corners of two of my raised beds, but they do great grown in pots, and would easily fit in a patio herb garden. They prefer full sun, such as 6-8 hours a day but will tolerate light shade.
Cilantro is an herb that is commonly used in Mexican and Asian cuisine. It has a fresh, citrusy flavor and most people either love or hate it. I’m in the category of not liking cilantro. In my area, Cilantro is considered a cool weather herb, needing to be grown in the spring. It won’t tolerate our heat and humidity. It can be grown again in the fall.
Dill is an herb that has a sweet, earthy flavor and is often used in pickling recipes. It can also be used to flavor soups, salads, and fish dishes. Dill is easy to grow from seed and can be started indoors or outdoors. It is technically a biennial. It will grow the first season, then go to seed and come back the next year in warmer climates. In colder climates it is grown as an annual.
Mint is a popular herb that has a refreshing, cooling flavor. It can be used to flavor tea, cocktails, desserts, and more. Mint is relatively easy to grow but can be invasive if not kept in check. Mint can be started from seed, division, or transplants. There are so many varieties, you can’t pick just one!
Rosemary is an herb that has a strong, pine-like flavor and aroma. It is often used to flavor meat dishes, soups, stews, and sauces. Rosemary is relatively easy to grow from transplants, but seeds are slow to germinate. Plant rosemary in the spring after your last frost, or a few weeks before your first frost in the fall so that it will become established. Mulch well. I plant my rosemary in the ground, and amend with compost and some coarse sand for drainage since my soil is clay. Plant rosemary in an area of your garden where it will have plenty of space to grow. It can grow as large as 4 feet wide and 4 feet tall. I have not had any luck growing rosemary in a container for indoor use. If I give it another try, I am going to put in under a grow light. I think the problem may have been not enough light during the winter months.
7. Oregano and Thyme
Oregano and thyme are probably the most well known herbs and can found in any cook’s garden. They are easy to grow and prefer full sun. They will tolerate 5-6 hours of direct sunlight. They should be grown in containers since they will quickly overtake the garden. They taste best when are cut directly from the plant, but can be dried for winter use. They are considered perennial in zones 5-1O. I have only lost my oregano one year when we we had an unusual drop in temperature to 1O degrees one February. I had to replant that year. There are several varieties of both oregano and thyme, so try a few different ones.
Every spring, I use an organic fertilizer for my potted herbs and around the chives in my raised bed gardens. When I plant my basil I add it into the soil. The fertilizer I use is Dr. Earth Organic Tomato Vegetable and Herb.
Starting your herb garden is a great way to add fresh, flavorful ingredients to your cooking. Herbs are also relatively easy to care for, so even if you don’t have a green thumb, you can still enjoy the benefits of having your little patch of greenery. My potted herbs are located in a sunny spot next to my patio. They can easily be grown on decks or apartment balconies. Growing your own herbs not only saves you money, it’s also a relaxing hobby that can help reduce stress. So if you’re looking for a fun and practical project to take on this spring, why not give herb gardening a try?
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