If you have ever added fresh basil to a lasagna or muddled fresh mint in the bottom of a drink, then you know that these aromatic plants can take any kitchen creation to the next level.
Instead of spending several dollars per herb at the grocery store, stock your herb garden with the essentials. You will enjoy the convenience of stepping into your backyard to grab a pinch of thyme or oregano for your next dish without having to make a trip to the market.
In this guide, you will find all of the know-how to get started on your first tasty and useful herb garden. Consider this your herb garden roadmap to the necessary tools and materials you’ll need, the best time to plant your herbs as well as what to expect along the way.
What is an herb garden?
Herbs are one of the only types of plants that serve multiple purposes. Herbs can be used in cooking and medicine as well as to decorate a landscape. Basil, chives, cilantro, mint and oregano are among some of the most popular herbs for novice gardeners to grow, but there are more than 30 types of herbs to choose from.
Throughout history, plants like herbs have always been thought to have healing powers. Herbs are deeply rooted throughout ancient and modern history. The Chinese were using herbs for medicinal purposes as early as 2500 B.C. There are even signs that the ancient Egyptians used the plants in cooking, medicine, storytelling and more around the same time.
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Herb gardens made their first real appearance in France during the 17th and 18th centuries. The plants were incorporated into formal gardens mostly for looks. They soon made their way across Europe and into Africa, where they continued to be used to treat diseases and cure ailments and eventually crept their way into culinary dishes.
Some doctors use St. John’s wort to treat depression and purple coneflower as a way to boost immune systems. Sage has often been thought to help with digestive problems, promote clear skin and treat anxiety. Today, herbs like aloe are known for alleviating redness, swelling and stinging sensations associated with sunburns.
Herbs like basil, parsley, cilantro and sage are used to flavor and garnish a variety of food dishes. Ornamental herbs like chives have pretty pink blossoms that add a pop of color to any green landscape. If you want white blooms, then plant garlic chives.
Previously, fresh herbs were only capable of growing during the warmer months of the year because they thrive in full sun and warm soil. Thanks to the advancement of technology and farming around the world, herbs can now be grown indoors throughout any time of the year.
Environment Needed for an Herb Garden
All plants need sun and water, but herbs require a specific environment to blossom. Herbs need full sunlight — six or more hours a day — in order to thrive. For best results, find the sunniest spot in your outdoor herb garden to plant your seeds. Alternative, a window that receives ample will work well for planting herbs. Herbs that are grown indoors tend to be less flavorful than those grown outdoors, but that does not mean they will lose all their robust flavors.
Wherever you grow your herbs, make sure there is enough sun. You may need to spend a day or two observing which areas of your yard or inside of the home get the best and most sunlight throughout the morning and afternoon. Herbs can be grown indoors throughout the year.
If you are having trouble finding a location that gets full sun, then there are a few herbs that don’t need as much Vitamin D. These include mint, chives, parsley, cilantro and tarragon. These herbs can thrive in a shadier environment.
Herbs do best in regular garden soil and do not require any special attention. Do not use fertilizer as herbs grow well without the added nutrient boost. You will notice your herbs are more flavorful and fragrant when grown in plain soil.
Do not overwater your herbs, either. If you are growing your herbs from seeds, then make sure to read the details and instructions on the back of the package to find out exactly how much sun and water the herb needs. Some herbs need moist environments to germinate and prosper, while other types of herbs prefer dry conditions. Herbs like rosemary do not like moist and humid environments. This will vary between herbs.
Tools and Materials Needed to Start a Herb Garden
Starting an herb garden is relatively simple and does not require many tools or materials. However, there are a small handful of items you will need to grow the savory and fragrant plants you desire. You may already have some of these supplies if you have started an edible garden prior. The following are the basic tools and materials you need to get started:
- Small pots (about 10 inches in diameter) for single herbs
- Large planters (about 18 inches in diameter) for multiple herbs
- Watering can or hose
- Potting Mix
- Shovel or hand trowel
- Tiller (if you are cleaning land)
Not mentioned on this list of necessities is seeds or starter herb plants. That is up to your discretion. If you want to start your garden from scratch, then decide which herbs you would like to grow and purchase seed packets from a highly regarded online plant store or a nearby nursery.
If you want to start plucking herbs from your garden immediately, then you should plant starter herbs. These herbs can be found at your local home and garden store or nursery. All you need to do is replant and maintain the starter herbs to keep them healthy and lush.
Building a raised garden bed? Measure the space of your garden to determine what size of wooden planks to buy. Cedar is generally recommended for raised garden beds because it is resistant to moisture and rotting for up to 10 to 20 years. You will also need nails, screws, a hammer and a drill to construct the exterior of the raised wooden garden bed.
Be sure to wear a sunhat, garden gloves and sunscreen, and always be sure to keep a full water bottle close by as you start your garden. These items will help you avoid sunburn and stay hydrated while working outdoors.
Pros and Cons of Starting a Herb Garden
Starting an herb garden can be a great idea. The allure of having freshly grown herbs at your disposal is certainly a perk, but that is not to say that herb gardens come without their disadvantages.
Like any garden, growing herbs requires attention to detail, an investment of time and a love of gardening. Think you have what it takes? Here are several pros and cons of starting an herb garden to consider.
- Herb gardens are great for apartment dwellers because they can be grown in pots.
- Keeping your fridge stocked with herbs from the grocery store can get expensive. Save money by growing your own herbs in a garden.
- Backyard herb gardens offer a fresh way to enjoy the aromatic plants versus store-bought herbs that have a short shelf life.
- At-home herb gardens are convenient for cooks who want to add a little extra flavor to meals.
- Herbs can be used as medicine, add flavor olive oils, add scents to homemade soaps and more. Herbs such as lavender can help keep mosquitoes away.
- Successfully growing a garden, specifically an herb garden that is fairly easy for first-time gardeners, can boost your confidence and overall morale.
- Herb gardens can be hard to grow if you live in an area that does not get ample sun.
- While easy to maintain, herb gardens must be pruned on a frequent basis once they are full grown.
- Some herbs like basil and oregano need two to three months before they are ready to harvest, so you will have to be patient.
There are more advantages to growing your own herbs than disadvantages. The most important factor to keep in mind is time. If you travel frequently for work or pleasure, then you may need to ask a friend or family member to tend to the garden in your absence.
How to Start and Maintain Your Herb Garden
Herb gardens are generally easy to grow and maintain, especially if you are a novice gardener. You will still need to follow a few general guidelines to get started. Herb gardens can yield tasty results when planted properly and maintained on a regular basis. To achieve this kind of success, you must be attentive and follow the instructions on the backside of the seedling packet.
First, decide if you will plant your herbs in the ground, a raised garden bed or in small planter pots. If you are short on space, then pots can be a great space-saving alternative to grow a kitchen herb garden in a sunny windowsill or on an outdoor porch. Likewise, pots are convenient when you are moving and need to relocate your herb garden. Herbs such as basil, sage, oregano, rosemary, parsley, chives and cilantro all prosper in small pots and planters.
Each pot should be at least 10 inches in diameter for single herbs (18 inches in diameter if you are planting more than one herb in a pot) and have several holes on the bottom. This prevents water from becoming trapped in the planter, which can drown the plant. If your pot does not come with holes at the base, then you can use a drill to create your own to ensure proper drainage. Do not drill into ceramic or clay pots as you will cause them to crack and possibly break.
Add a lightweight soil to the pots and follow the planting instructions carefully. Do not use traditional garden soil with herbs in pots and planters. This type of soil retains too much moisture. Instead, try a lightweight soil through which water can easily pass.
Water your herbs on an as-needed basis. Use your finger to determine if the soil needs to be watered or not. The soil should be slightly moist to the touch but still dry. If the top inch or two feels dry, then it is time to water. Some herbs like basil and chives need more water than others. Water your herbs early in the morning, before the sun is overhead so that they absorb the most amount of water.
If you are planting your seeds directly in the ground, then you may need to use a tiller to clear out any grass, weeds and other shrubberies that are in the way. As mentioned above, regular garden soil will work just fine for your herbs if they are planted in the ground or a raised garden bed.
If you are working with clay soil, then add compost to the ground. This will help the soil drain faster. Generally, herb seeds should be planted 18 inches apart.
Starter herbs should be planted in the midmorning or early evening when the sun is not overhead. Planting starter herbs in full sun can cause them to wilt. Dig a hole twice the size as the bulb of the plant and insert into the ground. Cover the root up with soil and water the plant.
Once your herb plant is full grown, be sure to prune or pinch it back often to avoid flowering. When an herb plant begins to flower, that means the end of its life cycle is near. Do not forget to label each pot or stick a plant marker in the ground so you know what is what.
Harvest time will depend on the herb. Cilantro can be ready to harvest in as little as three to four weeks, whereas rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme take anywhere between 11 to 14 weeks before they are ready to harvest.
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