Growing your own herbs offers you a wealth of benefits. And the best part is – it’s not all that difficult or time-consuming to get your very own herb garden up and running.
Sometimes however just knowing where to start can be mind-boggling. This is especially if this is your first attempt at growing your own herb garden. With hundreds of seed catalogs and planting options available, how do you choose what to plant?
Everything looks so good in the catalogs, you’re tempted to plant almost all of them! But most of us don’t have the space to plant that many or the time or energy to care for them all.
Before you get started, it helps to cut through the overwhelm and start with these herb gardening basics for beginners. These ideas will help you figure out where to start. As you get a clearer idea of what to do next, you’ll find a few resources at the bottom of the article to help you take these herb gardening ideas and transform them into reality.
Planning Your Herb Garden – Deciding What Herbs to Plant
The very first thing you need to do above all else is to decide what herbs you want to plant. Different herbs have different requirements. Understanding how these requirements fit in with your unique circumstances can ultimately shape how your herb garden turns out.
There are three basic types of herbs – herbaceous, evergreen, and annual. The type of herb will depend on how it grows, what type of plant it is, and its habits.
Herbaceous herbs are perennial. They die off during the winter but grow back again in the spring.
Herbaceous herbs don’t need to be pruned. You just clip them off at ground level at the end of the season and wait for them to grow back in the spring. Always be careful with mint. It spreads quickly and can take over an entire garden if you let it.
Some common herbs of this type include oregano, tarragon, bee balm, mint, chives, sweet fennel, and winter savory.
Evergreen herbs are also perennial herbs but these require pruning if you don’t harvest them regularly. They should be pruned every fall or early in the spring. When you prune, you should only clip those branches that are old and don’t show any signs of new growth. Any that are broken or lying on other branches should also be pruned.
When you harvest evergreen herbs, you should be careful to cut only one section of leaves at a time, and only cut it back to where new growth is still showing. You don’t want to cut too much as that discourages new growth.
Evergreen herbs include sage, rosemary, and thyme.
Annual herbs won’t grow back after they die. They need to be planted anew every year at the start of the growing season. If you want a continual harvest of annual herbs, you have to keep planting them every four to six weeks during the season.
One thing you have to remember with annual herbs is to snip off the flower buds as they develop on the plants. This is because after a plant flowers, it usually won’t continue to produce leaves. After they flower, they go to seed, at which point they’re not really useful for producing leaves for your kitchen anymore.
Annual herbs include basil, cilantro, parsley, dill, and chervil.
When planning which types of herbs you wish to plant, you should choose only those varieties which you believe you’ll actually use in cooking. It will probably be very tempting to plant at least one of every type of herb you see, but it’s not practical.
Plant those herbs which you know you’ll really use. And keep in mind that some herbs are considered better when dried. Sage, for example, is an herb that many people prefer the flavor of when dried.
It’s probably better to just plant those herbs that you already know you like to use fresh. Along with your favorites, go ahead and try planting one or two you’ve never tried before just to test them out. Be careful not to plant too many types that you can’t take care of them all.
Although herbs don’t generally require a lot of care and maintenance, they will need a bit of work. Don’t plant twenty different varieties if you realistically only have time to care for ten or just five.
Finally, be sure to check the zones that various herbs do well in. If your favorite herb doesn’t do well in your zone, you should probably skip it, or at least grow it indoors in a container. There isn’t much use planting an herb if it will likely die before it’s harvested.
Easy Herbs for Beginning Herb Gardeners
Beginning herb gardeners may worry about which types of herbs they should grow. There are many different herbs available, and some are more difficult to grow than others. There are a few types of herbs that are especially easy to grow for beginners. These are generally more hardy plants that don’t require a lot of fertilizer or special work.
Parsley – Parsley is a relatively hardy annual that thrives in zones 2-11. Both flat-leaf and curly varieties are easy to care for and grow very well without a lot of extra care. It can do well in full sun to light shade and needs rich soil that is well-drained but moist. It doesn’t do particularly well in the heat.
Cilantro – Also known as coriander, this annual herb is extremely easy to grow. it doesn’t need exceptionally rich soil and isn’t extremely particular about sun and shade. It can do well in full sun or light shade, is relatively easy to care for and does well in almost all zones.
Chives – Chives are a perennial herb. They grow well in almost any soil, and almost any conditions. Chives have been known to be seen growing in old gardens that haven’t been tended in many years. It’s hardy in zones 3-9 and prefers full sun. The plant does do better in rich soils but doesn’t need it to survive. Chives have a rich, oniony flavor, and they taste great on baked potatoes.
Oregano –Hardy in zones 5-9, oregano does well in raised beds, rock gardens, alongside roads or pathways, or just about anywhere. It needs full sun and well-drained soil, but it actually does better in poor, rocky soil. Oregano is an extremely popular herb, and it goes well with many different types of foods. It is commonly used in tomato-based pasta dishes, chicken dishes, and pork dishes.
Thyme – Thyme is a perennial herb. It is a small, shrub-like herb that requires full sun and moist, well-drained soil. It is quite hardy in its standard zones 4 – 6 where it doesn’t require much care at all.
Basil – Basil is a warm-weather annual herb and thrives in full sun, and very rich, moist soil. It is hardy in most zones but requires hot, dry conditions to reach peak flavor. As long as basil has enough light and heat, and its soil is allowed to dry out between waterings, it usually requires little additional care. The only major issues with growing basil are slugs and cool conditions.
Bay – Although it is a type of shrub, this is actually a very good herb for beginners to grow. It is hardy in zones 8-11 and is remarkably hardy in those zones. This plant needs full sun to light shade, and rich, well-drained soil. It will tolerate variations in conditions rather well. Just remember, bay leaves reach their full flavor when dry, so be sure to press them between layers of paper towels inside heavy books for a few weeks before you use them.
Remember to be careful about the zones. Although many of these herbs are hardy, they do much better when kept to their hardiness zones. As long as you grow them in the zones in which they do best, most of these herbs will be very easy to care for, and shouldn’t need a whole lot of extra work to take care of them.
Few Things to Consider Before You Get Started
Space – You’re going to need some space to grow herbs. If you’re doing it indoors, you’ll need shelving that allows you to either move the plants to a window for direct light or that offers space for grow lights to be added. If you want to start your herb garden outdoors, you can even use a little portable outdoor greenhouse for your herb garden.
* Sunlight – Some herbs (such as basil) need full sun to grow, but others don’t. You’ll need to learn everything you can about the particular herb that you’re planting to find out how to properly care for it. If you don’t have sunlight, you can also use grow lights to help simulate the same thing that the sun does for the plants.
* Darkness – Some people don’t realize, but your herb plants also need darkness to fulfill the entire plant day cycle and grow properly. Ensure that no floodlights are directed to your garden area if it’s outside, and that you turn off lights in the house at night.
* Water – Naturally you’ll need water. But one thing a lot of people don’t realize is that sometimes tap water isn’t the best choice. If your water is treated a lot or has a high level of limestone in it, you may need to ensure you have filtered water to use.
Herbs Gardening Supplies & Tools
Money saving tip – When it comes to herb gardening supplies, you won’t need to buy everything listed below. Start by looking around your home and see what you can use instead of buying all the gardening supplies outright.
After gathering whatever odds and ends you’ve found at home, then make a list of herb gardening supplies you need to buy.
The good news – the list of herb gardening supplies you need to get started is a short one. The exact supplies will of course depend on what herbs you are planning on growing.
Seeds – If you want to grow herbs from seeds, they can be purchased from many stores like the grocery store, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and more traditional neighborhood garden stores. But you can also order them online via Amazon kits, like this 5 Herbs from Organic Seeds Kit. The important thing is to buy seeds from reputed brands.
Pots – The best pots to grow herbs in are pots that allow for easy irrigation. Terracotta pots are a good choice because they soak in water and help keep your seeds from drying out. But you do need to be careful not to overwater anyway.
Potting Soil – Go to any garden supply store or even Walmart’s Garden Center to find the right soil. The soil mix really depends on exactly what you’re planting, but most of the time a premixed potting soil is enough for your herb garden.
Plant Fertilizer – While you don’t really need that much fertilizer for herbs, feeding them on occasion is a good idea. It’ll make for a super-healthy plant, but you don’t need to overdo it. The type of fertilizer you use will depend on the herbs you are growing, as well as where you’re growing them. Try to use organic fertilizers for the best results.
Use Starter Kits –
Once you’ve got all your supplies, you’re ready to get started. It may take some practice to get it right, but growing your own herbs at home is a wonderful way to eat healthier, more flavorful meals and save money in the bargain.
Containers for Growing Herbs – Things to Use From Around the House
Growing herbs is not only easy but also fun, because they are versatile and can be planted pretty much anywhere and in anything. As long as they have plenty of sunlight, good soil, and water, they will flourish.
Here are a few DIY container ideas to grow your herbs in:
Mason Jars – Mason jars are a cute and decorative way to grow herbs. Simply take a few jars and put a small layer of pebbles at the bottom of each one. This way the water can drain from the soil. Mason jars can fit nicely on a window sill or even be added to a slab of wood with a few metal rings and screws.
Plastic Bottles – Using plastic bottles is a great way to reduce pollution and reuse those old water, soda, and milk bottles. There are plenty of ways you can alter plastic bottles for growing herbs. A quick and easy method is to cut off the top where the cap is and poke a few holes on the bottom of the bottle, big enough for water to drain out a little. Fill the bottle up with some organic soil and you are ready to go.
Shoe Organizer – As crazy as a shoe organizer sounds, this is a great option for limited space. It can easily be hung on a wall or fence. Choose a shoe organizer that has fabric which allows water to drain easily, then fill each pouch with organic soil with about an inch of space left on the top. Now all you need are your herbs.
Tin/Food Cans – Tin cans are another great option for those wanting to reduce pollution, and will save you money without having to purchase potting plants. After you use your food can, rinse it out thoroughly and remove the label and any sticky residue left behind. Decorate the can however you like and add a layer of pebbles to allow water to drain. Add herbs and organic soil and you are done.
Old Boots – An old boot is a great way to add some unique decorations to your garden. First, you will need to drill some holes on the bottom of the boot to allow water to drain. Then add some potting soil and your herb of choice.
Teacup – Using a teacup is a simple and cute way to decorate your kitchen and make it useful at the same time. Drill a few holes in the bottom of the teacup. Then add a layer of pebbles, some organic soil and your choice of herbs.
Baskets – Baskets can be used to grow herbs by simply filling them up with soil and hanging them around the garden. They also save space.
The list of “do it yourself” containers for growing herbs in is practically endless. Just about anything around your house can be used. Look at Pinterest for more ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Growing Herbs
Starting an herb garden is a great way to add flavor to your foods or decoration to your garden or home. If you are looking to set up a garden and never have before, then an herb garden is a great place to start because it’s fairly simple. Before you get started, though, here are a few common mistakes people make when starting an herb garden that you should avoid.
Picking Unhealthy Plants – When looking for starter plants, find ones that are bright in color, have plenty of foliage and no signs of bugs or eggs.
Too Much Variety – Starting an herb garden can be quite exciting with all the options available, but it is best to start small. This way you are not too overwhelmed and can learn what each variety of herb likes as they grow. For example, some herbs like cilantro are sensitive to drought and can die easily if not watered properly.
Incorrect Planting – When you are first starting an herb garden, it is best to keep the different types separate and not overcrowd. Be sure to do your research on what herbs to grow well together as well. Herbs like mint will take over pretty much any space you put them in.
Not Enough Water – It is easy to confuse herbs with houseplants when it comes to watering. They are small and seem delicate, so less water seems right, but most herbs actually prefer daily watering. Make sure the water mostly touches the soil and not the leaves.
Using Bad Soil – Most soil on the ground lacks the proper nutrients to allow an herb garden to flourish. Use organic soil or potting soil with organic compost for best results.
Not Pruning Soon Enough – Pruning your herbs is an important step because it encourages even and fast growth. Skipping this step prevents the herb from regrowing and producing more herbs. Cut the herb down to just about a set of growing leaves and always cut from the top, not the bottom.
Wrong Environment – Not enough sun, too much sun, too cold outside or too hot outside… these factors all play a role in how well your herbs grow. Most herbs need about six hours of proper sunlight but prefer an environment at around 65 to 75 degrees F.
If you keep these common mistakes in mind when starting your own herb garden, you will have a fun and great time gardening. And if you do make mistakes, it’s OK – just keep learning and keep growing.