How to Grow a Herb Garden: The Complete Guide

Kasey Spencer
How to Grow a Herb Garden
In This Article Show
  1. Why Grow Your Own Herb Garden?
    1. 1. Fresh and Organic
    2. 2. Saves Money
    3. 3. Therapeutic Benefits
    4. 4. Culinary Creativity
    5. 5. Aesthetic Appeal
  2. Choosing the Right Location for Your Herb Garden
    1. 1. Sunlight
    2. 2. Soil Drainage
    3. 3. Accessibility
    4. 4. Space
  3. Choosing the Right Herbs
    1. 1. Consider Your Culinary Preferences
    2. 2. Think About the Growing Conditions
    3. 3. Start with Easy-to-Grow Herbs
    4. 4. Mix Annuals and Perennials
    5. 5. Aesthetic Appeal
  4. Essential Tools and Supplies for a Herb Garden
    1. 1. Garden Trowel
    2. 2. Pruners
    3. 3. Watering Can or Hose with a Spray Attachment
    4. 4. Garden Gloves
    5. 5. Pots and Containers (for indoor or container gardening)
    6. 6. Soil and Compost
    7. 7. Mulch
    8. 8. Plant Labels
  5. 10 Easy-to-Grow Herbs for Beginners
    1. 1. Basil
    2. 2. Parsley
    3. 3. Mint
    4. 4. Chives
    5. 5. Rosemary
    6. 6. Thyme
    7. 7. Oregano
    8. 8. Cilantro
    9. 9. Dill
    10. 10. Sage
  6. How to Plant Your Herbs
    1. 1. Prepare Your Garden Bed or Pots
    2. 2. Decide on Seeds or Transplants
    3. 3. Planting Seeds
    4. 4. Planting Transplants
    5. 5. Consider Companion Planting
    6. 6. Watering
    7. 7. Sunlight
  7. Herb Garden Maintenance
    1. 1. Watering
    2. 2. Fertilizing
    3. 3. Weeding
    4. 4. Pruning and Harvesting
    5. 5. Winter Care
    6. 6. Pest and Disease Management
  8. Harvesting and Using Your Herbs
    1. 1. When to Harvest
    2. 2. How to Harvest
    3. 3. Storing Fresh Herbs
    4. 4. Drying and Preserving Herbs
    5. 5. Cooking with Herbs
  9. Troubleshooting Common Herb Gardening Problems
    1. 1. Yellowing Leaves
    2. 2. Wilting or Drooping Plants
    3. 3. Slow Growth or Small Leaves
    4. 4. Spindly or Leggy Growth
    5. 5. Pests
    6. 6. Disease
  10. Frequently Asked Questions
    1. Can I grow herbs indoors?
    2. How often should I water my herbs?
    3. Why are my herbs dying?
    4. Can I grow different herbs in the same pot?
    5. When is the best time to plant herbs?
    6. Do herbs need fertilizer?

If you’ve ever wished to grow your own herbs, whether for their aromatic presence or their culinary utility, you’ve landed in the right place. As an experienced gardener with over 13 years of hands-on experience, I’ve had my fair share of trial and error and many rewarding moments in my gardening journey.

Herbs are the wonderful green warriors of our gardens, and growing your own herb garden brings with it a ton of benefits. From providing fresh, organic ingredients for your meals to filling your space with delightful fragrances, herb gardens are a worthwhile venture.

Whether you have a sprawling backyard or just a sunny windowsill, there is always room for a pot or two of these versatile plants.

Stay with me as we delve into this comprehensive guide to herb gardening. We’ll explore the benefits of having your herb garden, discuss which herbs to grow based on your personal preferences and needs and guide you step-by-step through planting and maintaining your herbs.

Why Grow Your Own Herb Garden?

ethnic female gardener planting flower in pot
Photo by Gary Barnes on

There’s something quite rewarding about watching tiny seeds transform into flourishing plants, and ultimately, into flavorful ingredients for your dishes. As a gardener with more than a decade of experience, I can attest to the sheer joy and sense of achievement that comes with this process.

But the perks of cultivating your own herb garden extend beyond just the emotional rewards. Here’s why you should consider starting your own herb garden:

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1. Fresh and Organic

One of the main benefits of growing your own herbs is the ability to have fresh, organic produce at your fingertips. Nothing beats the vibrant flavors of freshly picked herbs. Plus, when you’re the one growing these herbs, you know exactly what’s gone into them – no harmful pesticides or chemicals.

2. Saves Money

Once you’ve established your herb garden, it can save you a significant amount of money in the long run. Store-bought herbs can be pricey, especially organic varieties, and they don’t stay fresh for very long.

3. Therapeutic Benefits

Gardening has been recognized for its therapeutic effects, acting as a form of stress relief. Engaging in physical activity outdoors, being close to nature, and nurturing plants from seed to harvest can have positive impacts on mental well-being.

4. Culinary Creativity

Having a variety of herbs at your disposal encourages culinary creativity. Fresh basil for your homemade pasta sauce, mint for your summer drinks, or rosemary for your roast – the possibilities are endless.

5. Aesthetic Appeal

Aside from their practical uses, herbs are beautiful. They can add a touch of greenery to your indoor or outdoor spaces, and many herb flowers are quite striking.

Growing your own herb garden is an investment of time and effort, but the rewards are immense.

Choosing the Right Location for Your Herb Garden

Selecting the perfect location for your herb garden is crucial for their growth and development. Based on experience, I’ve realized that understanding the requirements of your herbs and providing them with an optimal environment can make a significant difference. Here are some key considerations when deciding where to plant your herbs:

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1. Sunlight

Most herbs thrive in full sun, requiring at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. Whether growing your herbs indoors near a sunny window or outdoors in your garden, ensure they receive ample sunlight. Some herbs like parsley and mint can tolerate some shade but still prefer a good amount of sunlight.

2. Soil Drainage

Herbs prefer well-drained soil. If you’re planting outdoors, make sure the area doesn’t pool water after rain. For indoor herb gardens, use pots with sufficient drainage holes to prevent waterlogging, which could lead to root rot.

3. Accessibility

Place your herb garden in a location that’s easy to access. This makes it convenient for regular maintenance and harvesting. You’re more likely to use fresh herbs in your cooking when they’re within arm’s reach.

4. Space

Consider the space you have available. Some herbs, like mint, can spread rapidly and may need more space or their own container to prevent them from overtaking other plants.

Remember, the location can greatly influence the success of your herb garden. If you’re growing herbs indoors, a kitchen windowsill is often an ideal spot as it is usually sunny and near where your herbs will be used most.

If you’re planting outdoors, consider a spot that’s near your kitchen but also meets the sun and soil criteria. Gardening is a continuous learning process, and as you get to know your plants better, you can make adjustments as needed.

Choosing the Right Herbs

With so many different varieties of herbs available, it might feel overwhelming to decide which ones to grow in your garden. However, the beauty of herb gardening is that you can customize it to suit your personal preferences and needs. Here’s how to go about choosing the right herbs for your garden:

1. Consider Your Culinary Preferences

First and foremost, think about the herbs you use most in your cooking. If you love making Italian dishes, herbs like basil, oregano, and rosemary would be great additions to your garden. If you enjoy Asian cuisine, you might want to grow lemongrass, coriander, or Thai basil.

2. Think About the Growing Conditions

Some herbs are more demanding than others when it comes to care. For instance, basil prefers warm temperatures and might not do well in cooler climates, while parsley can tolerate some frost. Choose herbs that are likely to thrive in your local climate and the specific conditions of your garden.

3. Start with Easy-to-Grow Herbs

If you’re new to herb gardening, it might be a good idea to start with herbs that are easy to grow and care for. Herbs like mint, chives, and rosemary are hardy, require little maintenance, and can provide you with an encouraging start to your herb gardening journey.

4. Mix Annuals and Perennials

Annual herbs, like basil and dill, complete their life cycle in one growing season and need to be replanted each year. Perennial herbs, like rosemary and thyme, continue growing for several years. A mix of both in your garden ensures you have some herbs that provide quick harvests and others that keep growing year after year.

5. Aesthetic Appeal

Apart from their culinary uses, many herbs are quite beautiful and can be a wonderful addition to your landscape. Lavender, with its vibrant purple flowers, and chamomile, with its dainty white blooms, can add a splash of color to your garden.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to herb gardening. The best herbs to grow are the ones that you’re excited to plant, care for, and ultimately, incorporate into your meals or enjoy for their visual appeal. As you gain more confidence and experience, you can start experimenting with different types of herbs.

Essential Tools and Supplies for a Herb Garden

Having the right tools and supplies can make the process of starting and maintaining a herb garden much smoother. While the specific tools you’ll need may depend on the scale of your garden and the herbs you’re growing, here are some basics that every herb gardener should have:

1. Garden Trowel

This is a hand tool with a pointed, scoop-shaped metal blade and a handle. It’s used for breaking up the earth, digging small holes, especially for planting and weeding.

2. Pruners

A good pair of pruners is indispensable for keeping your herb plants healthy. They’re used to cut back growth, remove dead or diseased stems, and harvest herbs.

3. Watering Can or Hose with a Spray Attachment

Overwatering can be just as detrimental to herbs as underwatering. A watering can or a hose with a spray attachment allows you to control the amount of water your plants receive.

4. Garden Gloves

Protect your hands with a sturdy pair of garden gloves. Look for gloves that are both durable and comfortable to wear.

5. Pots and Containers (for indoor or container gardening)

If you’re growing herbs in containers or indoors, you’ll need pots with good drainage. Consider the size of the container as some herbs, like mint, can grow quite large.

6. Soil and Compost

Herbs generally prefer well-draining soil, so a mix of regular potting soil and perlite or sand can work well for both in-ground and container gardening. Organic compost or a slow-release granular fertilizer can provide your herbs with the nutrients they need to thrive.

7. Mulch

Mulching helps to retain soil moisture and suppress weeds. Organic mulches like straw or compost can also enrich your soil as they break down.

8. Plant Labels

If you’re growing a variety of herbs, plant labels can be a helpful way to keep track of what’s what until you’re familiar with each plant’s appearance.

These tools and supplies form the backbone of your gardening toolkit, making it easier for you to plant, care for, and maintain your herb garden. As you gain more experience with gardening, you may find additional tools that suit your specific needs and make the job even more enjoyable.

10 Easy-to-Grow Herbs for Beginners

If you’re new to gardening, you might be wondering which herbs are the most forgiving and easy to grow. The good news is, there are plenty of herbs that are perfect for beginners. Here are ten herbs that are not only easy to care for but also versatile in their uses:

1. Basil

Basil plants above
Basil plants above

This warm-weather annual herb is perfect for beginners. It loves sunny locations and well-drained soil. Basil’s fresh, sweet flavor makes it a staple in Italian cooking, particularly in dishes like pesto and Caprese salad.

2. Parsley

Hands in garden gloves planting parsley in planter for balcony garden
Hands in garden gloves planting parsley in planter for balcony garden

Parsley is a biennial plant that offers fresh leaves for at least two growing seasons. It prefers full sun or partial shade and well-drained soil. Parsley is excellent in sauces, salads, and soups.

3. Mint

Mint is a hearty perennial that can be grown in pots to prevent it from spreading uncontrollably in a garden. It prefers full sun to partial shade and moist, well-drained soil. Mint is versatile in the kitchen and can be used in a variety of dishes and drinks.

4. Chives

Chives are perennials that thrive in full sun and well-drained soil. The onion-like flavor of chives is wonderful in salads, egg dishes, and potatoes.

5. Rosemary

Rosemary is a perennial that prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Its needle-like leaves have a robust, piney flavor that pairs well with meats, roasted vegetables, and bread.

6. Thyme

This perennial is a versatile herb that prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Thyme’s subtle, dry aroma and slight lemon flavor work well in most dishes.

7. Oregano

Oregano is a perennial that enjoys full sun and well-drained soil. This herb is a staple in Italian and Greek cuisine, and its robust flavor intensifies when dried.

8. Cilantro

This cool-season annual prefers full sun or light shade and well-drained soil. Known for its distinctive flavor, cilantro is popular in many Mexican and Asian dishes.

9. Dill

An annual herb, dill enjoys full sun and well-drained soil. Its fresh, tangy flavor enhances the taste of salads, pickles, and fish dishes.

10. Sage

Sage growing in my herb garden
Sage growing in my herb garden

A hardy perennial, sage prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Sage’s strong, slightly peppery flavor goes well with meats and hearty vegetable dishes.

Remember, the key to successful herb gardening is understanding the needs of each specific herb and ensuring you can provide the right conditions. But don’t be afraid to experiment and learn along the way – that’s all part of the gardening adventure!

How to Plant Your Herbs

Planting herbs is a process that varies slightly depending on the type of herb and whether you’re starting from seeds or transplants. Here are some general steps to guide you:

1. Prepare Your Garden Bed or Pots

If you’re planting in the ground, start by clearing the area of weeds and amending the soil with compost or a slow-release granular fertilizer to improve fertility. For pots, ensure you have a high-quality potting mix and containers with adequate drainage.

2. Decide on Seeds or Transplants

Many herbs can be grown from seeds or transplants. Seeds are often cheaper and offer more variety, but they can take longer to mature. Transplants are more expensive, but they give you a head start and are easier for beginners.

3. Planting Seeds

If you’re starting from seeds, plant them in a shallow hole (the general rule is to plant a seed two to three times as deep as it is wide). Cover with soil, water gently, and keep the soil evenly moist until the seeds germinate. Follow the packet instructions for specific planting depth and spacing recommendations.

4. Planting Transplants

For transplants, dig a hole that’s deep enough to accommodate the root ball. Remove the plant from its nursery pot, gently tease apart the roots if they’re tightly bound, and place it in the hole. Fill the hole with soil, press firmly, and water thoroughly.

5. Consider Companion Planting

Some herbs grow better together than others due to their complementary growth habits and pest-deterrent abilities. For example, basil and tomatoes are believed to enhance each other’s growth and flavor.

6. Watering

After planting, water your herbs thoroughly and continue to provide water whenever the soil feels dry to the touch. Most herbs prefer not to sit in wet soil, so ensure your garden bed or pots have good drainage.

7. Sunlight

Ensure your herbs get at least 6–8 hours of sunlight each day. Some herbs like basil need a lot of sunlight, while others like parsley and mint can do with a bit of shade.

Patience is key when it comes to gardening. It might take a few weeks for your herbs to establish themselves and start growing vigorously. Just keep caring for them, and soon enough, you’ll have a thriving herb garden!

Herb Garden Maintenance

Maintaining a herb garden isn’t just about watering the plants and hoping for the best. It involves consistent care and attention to ensure your herbs grow healthy and strong. Here are some essential maintenance tips for your herb garden:

1. Watering

While it’s essential to keep the soil in your herb garden moist, it’s equally important not to overwater. Most herbs prefer their soil like a wrung-out sponge — damp but not soggy.

The frequency of watering will depend on the weather and the specific needs of your herbs. A general rule of thumb is to water when the top inch of the soil feels dry to the touch.

2. Fertilizing

Herbs generally don’t require a lot of fertilizer. However, a light application of a slow-release granular organic fertilizer at the beginning of the growing season can help give your herbs a healthy start.

Be cautious not to over-fertilize, as this can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of the aromatic oils that give herbs their flavor.

3. Weeding

Keep your garden weed-free to ensure your herbs don’t have to compete for nutrients and sunlight. Regular weeding also helps to prevent pests and diseases from establishing in your garden.

4. Pruning and Harvesting

Regularly pruning and harvesting your herbs not only provides you with a fresh supply of herbs for your kitchen but also encourages new growth and prevents your herbs from becoming leggy. Always prune or harvest by cutting above a set of leaves, which encourages the plant to branch out from that point.

5. Winter Care

If you live in an area with cold winters, you’ll need to provide some care for your perennial herbs. Hardy herbs like rosemary and thyme may need a layer of mulch for insulation.

Some herbs, like basil, are annual and will need to be replanted each year. For indoor herb gardens, make sure your herbs receive sufficient light, either from a south-facing window or from artificial lights.

6. Pest and Disease Management

Keep an eye out for common pests like aphids and caterpillars. Using a blast of water from the hose or an application of insecticidal soap can control most small pests. Encourage beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, which are natural predators of many garden pests.

Consistency is key in garden maintenance. Establishing a regular routine of watering, checking for pests, and pruning will ensure you catch any potential issues early and keep your herb garden thriving.

Harvesting and Using Your Herbs

After all your hard work planting and maintaining your herb garden, the real reward comes when it’s time to harvest and use your herbs. Here’s how to do it right:

1. When to Harvest

The best time to harvest herbs is in the morning after the dew has dried but before the sun gets too hot, as this is when the oils that give herbs their flavor and aroma are most potent. For most herbs, you’ll want to start harvesting just before the plant flowers, as this is when the leaves contain the most oil.

2. How to Harvest

When harvesting, be sure to cut off no more than one-third of the plant at a time, leaving enough foliage to support continued growth. Use a sharp pair of pruners or scissors to make clean cuts.

3. Storing Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs are best used immediately after harvesting. If you need to store them, loosely wrap them in a damp paper towel and keep them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Most herbs will keep this way for a few days.

4. Drying and Preserving Herbs

If you have more herbs than you can use fresh, consider drying or preserving them. To dry herbs, tie small bunches together and hang them upside down in a warm, dry, airy place out of direct sunlight.

Once they’re completely dry, strip the leaves from the stems and store them in airtight containers. You can also freeze herbs or make herb-infused oils and vinegar for longer-term storage.

5. Cooking with Herbs

Fresh herbs can be used in a wide range of dishes to add flavor and aroma. Chop them up and add them to salads, soups, and stews, or use them whole as a garnish. Remember, dried herbs are more potent than fresh, so you’ll need less of them in your recipes.

Harvesting and using your own herbs is a satisfying and rewarding part of the gardening process. It’s an amazing feeling to add homegrown herbs to your meals, knowing that you grew them yourself from start to finish!

Troubleshooting Common Herb Gardening Problems

Even with the best care, you might encounter a few issues in your herb garden. But don’t worry — most common problems have simple solutions. Here’s how to troubleshoot and resolve the most common herb gardening problems:

1. Yellowing Leaves

This could be a sign of overwatering. Ensure the soil has good drainage and only water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. If the issue persists, it could be a nutrient deficiency. In this case, a balanced, slow-release fertilizer can help.

2. Wilting or Drooping Plants

This can be a sign of underwatering. If the soil is dry, give your herbs a good soak. But this can also be a symptom of overwatering, especially if the leaves are yellow or brown. Check the moisture level of your soil before watering.

3. Slow Growth or Small Leaves

This could be due to insufficient light or nutrients. Make sure your herbs are getting at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day. If they’re in a shaded spot, consider moving them to a sunnier location. If light isn’t the issue, try feeding them with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer.

4. Spindly or Leggy Growth

This is usually due to insufficient light. Herbs stretching towards the light source will grow tall and thin rather than bushy and full. If possible, move your plants to a location where they’ll get more sunlight.

5. Pests

Common pests like aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies can be a problem. A blast of water can knock these pests off the plant. For persistent problems, consider using an insecticidal soap or encouraging beneficial insects, which are natural predators of these pests.

6. Disease

Fungal diseases can occur, especially in damp conditions. Ensure good air circulation around your plants, avoid overhead watering, and remove and dispose of any diseased plant parts. If the problem persists, you might need to use a fungicide.

Remember, every garden and gardener will encounter some issues along the way. Don’t get discouraged if your herbs aren’t perfect. Gardening is a learning process, and the challenges you face will only make you a better gardener in the long run!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I grow herbs indoors?

Yes, you can grow herbs indoors, and many people do! You just need a sunny windowsill where your herbs can get at least six hours of sunlight a day. Herbs like basil, parsley, thyme, and chives can do particularly well indoors.

How often should I water my herbs?

The frequency of watering can depend on various factors like the type of herb, the weather, and the type of soil. However, a general rule of thumb is to water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Most herbs prefer their soil to be kept moist but not soggy.

Why are my herbs dying?

There could be many reasons why your herbs aren’t thriving. They could be getting too much or too little water, they might not be getting enough sunlight, or they could be suffering from a pest or disease problem. Pay attention to any signs your plants are giving you and adjust your care routine accordingly.

Can I grow different herbs in the same pot?

Yes, you can, but it’s important to pair herbs with similar water, light, and soil preferences. For example, Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, thyme, and oregano all prefer well-drained soil and full sun, so they can be grown together. On the other hand, basil and parsley both like rich, moist soil and would make good pot-mates.

When is the best time to plant herbs?

The best time to plant herbs depends on the specific herb and your climate. Many herbs can be planted in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. Some herbs like cilantro and dill are cool-season herbs that prefer to be planted in the fall or early spring. Always check the specific requirements of each herb you’re planting.

Do herbs need fertilizer?

While herbs aren’t heavy feeders, they do appreciate a light application of a balanced, slow-release fertilizer at the beginning of the growing season. Over-fertilizing can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of the aromatic oils that give herbs their flavor.

Wrapping it up

Growing your own herb garden can be a deeply rewarding experience. From the joy of seeing your plants thrive to the satisfaction of using your own homegrown herbs in your kitchen, each step of the process brings its own rewards.

Remember, gardening is a journey filled with learning and growth. You might face challenges along the way, but don’t let them deter you. Each mistake is an opportunity to learn, and each success, no matter how small, is a cause for celebration.

Start small, keep it simple, and gradually expand your garden as you gain confidence and experience. With patience, care, and a little bit of love, you’ll soon have a flourishing herb garden that brings joy to your life and flavor to your meals. Happy gardening!

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