How to Start an Herb Garden
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Whether on a windowsill, in a container or in the ground, herb gardens are fun to grow and the harvest enhances your cooking.
Where to Put an Herb Garden
Pick a spot with healthy, well-drained soil that gets sun at least six hours a day. It also helps if the location is near a kitchen or patio door, so it’s easy to step outside, quickly snip fresh herbs and incorporate them into your cooking. Here are some top options:
On a windowsill
On a patio
On and around patios with full sun, herbs can be clustered into patio containers, windowboxes and hanging baskets with other herbs, or interspersed with flowers for edible landscaping. At the end of the growing season, you can bring containers indoors.
In a garden
While you can create a dedicated herb garden in a convenient outdoor spot, you can also blend herbs among flowers and vegetables. Herbs can draw pollinators while also repelling harmful insects, which makes them good companion plantings. Planting fragrant basil next to tomatoes, for example, can help repel pests, advises Sara Christopherson from Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, Washington.
What Type of Herbs Can I Grow?
Choose familiar, easy herbs such as parsley, thyme, cilantro, mints, chives and a golden variety of oregano that can handle a little shade, advises Christopherson, especially if you’re starting with a window garden. That’s your best bet for success.
Beginners should start basil, chives, thyme, oregano and dill from seed. Cilantro can be grown from seed, too, but plant a fresh batch every week or two to keep a fresh supply throughout the growing season. It tends to bolt (shoot upward) and go to seed quickly. The upside: You can use the fresh leaves as well as the seeds, a.k.a. coriander.
If you prefer herbs with a head start, look for seedlings and larger plants at garden centers. Most require six hours of direct sun, according to the Herb Society of America. Check and follow the directions on your seed packets or on the tags with seedlings from nurseries.
Some herbs such as perennial oregano, mint and beebalm (bergamot) can quickly take over an area. Consider edging or containers for plants that spread easily.
Which Herbs Pair Well Together?
You can choose any number of themes for your herb collection. Here are a few suggestions:
Mexican herb garden
Cilantro and oregano for tacos and fresh mint for muddling into mojitos can be planted with jalapeños and fresh lettuce.
Italian herb garden
Plant basil, oregano, chives and fennel for pizzas and pastas, blending with bread dough, or sprinkling on olive oil for dipping bread.
Herbal refreshers garden
Chamomile (also a good ground cover), stevia, lavender, lemon balm, bergamot, lavender and lemon-, orange- and lime-flavored thyme can all be good options for hot and cold drinks.
Fancy mint garden
Mint comes in various flavors that work in cold or hot drinks, including peppermint, spearmint, orange-, pineapple- and banana-mint.
How to Plant an Herb Garden
- For in-ground gardens, make sure you have well-drained healthy soil. Work in some fresh compost each year to improve nutrients, drainage and moisture retention.
- If you’re using containers, fill them with potting soil, which stays lighter than garden soil.
- Herbs from the Mediterranean region, such as lavender and rosemary, need a slightly grittier, well-drained soil. Let soil dry around the base of the plant completely before watering.
- Most herbs need a gentle soaking once a week or more often depending on heat and rain.
- Pinch off the top leaves on herbs such as basil to encourage a fuller plant, and to keep it from flowering and going to seed.
- Whatever fertilizer you use for vegetables, use for herbs. Christopherson likes organic Espoma’s Tomato-tone and E.B. Stone tomato and vegetable fertilizer. Fertilize in spring or summer, following package instructions.