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How to Start an Herb Garden

Herb gardens are a fantastic addition to any home. Having fresh herbs on hand is something that everyone can find handy, whether you are a culinary fan or useless in the kitchen. Some well-placed herbs can transform a basic, bland dish into a rich and aromatic delight. 

The best part about herb gardens, though, is that it’s extremely easy to grow one. Even if your thumbs are about as green as the ocean, you should have very little in the way of trouble when it comes to growing them. 

This article dives into how to start your garden, running you through a step by step process of what you need to be thinking about, as well as a few ideas for designs to spruce it up and some common useful herbs to get you started.

Prepping for Your Herb Garden

When it comes to any plant, herb, or otherwise, the first two things you need to be considering are light and soil. Herbs need at least six hours of sunlight each day to thrive, and that’s the bare minimum. You also need to make sure that you plant them in well-drained soil; otherwise, you’re going to have a hard time. 

Ideally, you want to start the garden in a spot close to the kitchen for convenience’s sake, but don’t sacrifice the necessities just to save a few minutes of effort. 

Head out into your back (or front) garden and have a look around. You need a spot that gets the aforementioned six hours of sunlight and well-drained soil. If you know your garden well, then you should already know what spots are appropriate. If you don’t, you might need to do some more work to determine which space has the conditions you need. 

Once you have your spot, you need to prep your soil for planting. While herbs, in theory, can grow straight away in regular soil, it’s not ideal for them to grow as well as you want them to. 

In order to achieve the results you should be looking for, you need to be preparing your soil before you plant, especially if you have heavy clay or sandy soil. Mixing a bit of compost into the ground before you plant goes a long way towards ensuring your harvests are rich and bountiful, as it provides the soil with nutrients. 

With compost, however, you need to be watching what type you’re using. While most mixes are fine, do not use composted manure. Sure, it still helps your herbs grow fast and well, but it reduces the flavor of what does grow, which is exactly the opposite of what you want. 

Growing an Herb Garden

Once all that’s done, it’s time to start gardening. What you need to decide now is whether or not you want to grow your herbs from seeds. It’s cheaper to do it this way, but it takes longer and is a bit more difficult. So if you’re not a big gardener or you’re just starting out, you’re better off transplanting some already grown potted herbs that you’ve bought. 

Of course, you don’t have to have an outdoor herb garden. It can be done indoors with some plant pots, so long as the herbs get enough light. 

Once your herbs are in place, the hard part is done. All that’s left is to maintain them. Make sure you’re regularly weeding your garden; it’s a good general habit to get into, herbs or not, and remember to keep on top of watering your plants. Herbs need two inches of water per week, so don’t go crazy and water them daily. 

You might think that you’re better off harvesting your herbs sparingly, only picking them when you need them. You’d be wrong. Not only does harvesting regularly not hurt your plants, it actually helps them. It encourages the herb to grow more foliage, growing the plant larger and increasing the number of herbs growing on it. 

There are, of course, a few caveats to this process. Mainly, you don’t have to plant your herbs in the ground. You can follow the same process and plant them in some pots or other suitable containers. You just need to make sure that each pot is large enough for the roots of the herb to grow and that it has holes in the bottom so that the soil can drain and not drown your plant. 

You also don’t need to worry too much about pests. A lot of herbs serve as natural pest repellents, so you should be fine. Although, you might want to grow specific types just to make sure. Mint, for example, repels all sorts of critters.

Herb Growing Types

There is one other thing that you should be aware of. You can ignore this if you’re just planting this garden casually, but for the more extreme growers out there, it may be useful, and that is that herbs can be divided into three categories based on growing conditions:

  • Sun lovers: The first type is the herbs that are dedicated sun lovers. Rosemary and thyme, for instance, need very bright, very warm conditions, as well as neutral/slightly alkaline free-draining soils. 
  • Shade lovers: On the other hand, herbs like mint prefer cooler conditions, with more shade and less heat, and a more moisture-retentive soil. 
  • Middle ground: The third type is just those that fall in between the two. Chive, sage, and bay all fit this category and grow well in most conditions, so long as you care for them. 

Due to this, a lot of hardcore herb growers tend to have two separate plots of herbs, both fulfilling one of the two main categories. 

The result of growing herbs like this is that you get more aromatic and flavorful harvests, which is great, but may not be worth all the extra effort you have to go through. 

Design Ideas

While this is all well and good, it has become something of a popular craze to design quirky and interesting looking displays and systems to display your herbs and make them easier to harvest.  

For example, growing herbs in mason jars was incredibly popular for a good long while. The jars are glass, so you got that contrast between being able to see the dark much of the soil of roots and the lush green of the herb. It also just looked unique and pleasing to look at. 

People would either line them up or mount them to a wall for a more vertical design. While it looked good, the issue was that mason jars can’t drain water, so it’s very easy to drown your plants this way. While you can layer stones at the bottom of the jar so that the soil doesn’t hold all of the water, this is an example of aesthetic design over the actual quality of what you’re doing, which is completely counterproductive. 

Some others, though, preferred to get creative while keeping their herbs growing in a more traditional plot in a garden. You could get creative with some stones to make a spiral-shaped plot or use some clay pots and line them up some stairs to create a unique bit of foliage. 

By far, the most popular type of herb garden designs are all vertical in nature. One of the simpler ones involves using a ladder planter to layer your plants up on each step. It’s much nicer to look at, takes up less space, and saves your back a lot of bending down by planting the common herbs you use up the top. You can’t really purchase these planters in gardening stores or online, so you’re going to have to make your own one. You can find detailed instructions online; however, if you’re not great at construction, there is an easier option. Simply just get a regular step ladder, one that suits your garden style ideally, and use some small pots on each rung. 

One of the better-looking designs involves creating planters out of gutters and hanging them from a beam with a strong wire. This particular design is cheap, easy to build, and looks fantastic when paired with an arch or something similar. On top of that, it’s one of the few vertical designs that allows you to drain your soil by drilling small holes along the bottom of the gutters. You can find detailed instructions on this design online if its something that you’re interested in. 

There are a million and one designs out there that make use of teacups, plastic bottles, tins, and all sorts of things. These look great; there’s no denying that, but it needs to be reiterated – You can’t drain the soil. Don’t sacrifice the quality of what you’re growing just so that the display looks nice. Unless you’re growing these gardens for Instagram, there’s just no reason to. 

Best Herbs to Grow

Once you have your garden spot picked out, have your design together, your soil is prepped, the sun is in the sky, water is in the can, and you are ready to go, next comes the choice of what herbs you’re going to grow. 

This varies wildly from person to person, naturally. It depends on your personal tastes and the tastes of the people in your household. You may have kids that are fussy eaters or be picky yourself. Or perhaps there are certain cuisines that you don’t like, so it doesn’t make sense to grow herbs related to those types of dishes. 

You are limited for space, so be selective about what you grow. Here are a few of the more common herbs to give you a head start.

Basil

Basil is often referred to as the king of the herbs, and it’s easy to see why. It finds a home in so many dishes, including a lot of Italian ones. You can use it in marinara sauces, chicken dishes, soups, and so much more. 

It’s also easy to grow. Being one of the types of herbs that loves light and heat, basil grows great outdoors and in warmer climates. When planting it, you need to keep in mind that basil is very sensitive. Light frost can kill it, so time when you plant it well. 

Oregano

Oregano has been used throughout history as a medicinal herb, as well as its cooking applications. Cultures around the Mediterranean used it to treat skin sores, asthma, and indigestion. It also has great antibacterial properties. 

Oregano, like basil, is easy to grow. Also like basil, it prefers warmer, lighter climates, but not to the same extremes. So you can grow it indoors or outdoors, whichever you prefer. 

Oregano is a particularly useful herb in that it acts as a great companion to a lot of vegetables. It is a natural repellent to a lot of the pests that target bean and broccoli crops. 

Oregano is a hardy plant, and once it has begun to grow, it needs very little attention. You don’t even need to water it as much you do other herbs, only really needing to do so during drought periods. 

Rosemary

Rosemary has application both aesthetically and as an herb. It is a particularly good-looking evergreen shrub, and as such, has found a place at home in many an ornamental garden. It also smells great, which is an added bonus. As a food item, it is mainly used for seasoning dishes. 

As a health plant, rosemary makes for a great antioxidant or anti-inflammatory. It is a natural cure for indigestion and enhances your ability to retain information. 

Rosemary likes the light and heat, preferring around eight hours of light per day. It also hates the cold, so take it indoors if you can during the colder months in the year. 

Chives

As a food, chives are closely related to garlic and spring onions. It has a slight oniony flavor, making it a fantastic, flavorful addition to a lot of dishes. Usually, it is chopped, but it can be used in its larger stem form as an effective garnish. It doesn’t have as many health benefits as its fellow herbs, but it is packed full of minerals and nutrients. 

Chives might just be the easiest herb in the world to grow. The plant grows anywhere and can survive conditions that disagree with what it prefers. Although, if you do have a choice, chive thrives best in areas that are warm, with plenty of light and nutrient-rich, well-draining soil. It also grows particularly well indoors. All of these factors combined make it a great herb for those just starting out and for teaching children. 

Mint

Mint is one of those classic herbs that everybody knows about. It is so popular that it has its own flavor of ice cream and its own marketable scent. It is used in desserts, chewing gum, air fresheners, and more. This is because of its unique and powerful scent and taste. 

As a health herb, mint is specifically good for your digestive system. It can be used to treat indigestion, improves IBS, and is full of nutrients that do wonders for your tummy. You can infuse it into a tea, which not only gives you the above health benefits, but also helps with any colds you have and improves your breath. 

It has a reputation for being an aggressive plant that takes over gardens, and that reputation is rightfully deserved. If not maintained, mint grows out of control, and soon it sinks its claws into every corner of your beautiful flowerbeds. 

There are a whole host of different mint plants out there, but the ones that you’re probably aware of are peppermint and spearmint. These are accustomed to well-drained soil and partial shade but can grow well in the full sun too. 

Coriander

Coriander is an herb traditionally used in a lot of Asian dishes, both as an ingredient and a garnish. Like many herbs before it, coriander has traditional medicinal applications as a treatment for stomach ailments. It can be used as a natural laxative and can help stimulate peristalsis.

It enjoys the heat and full sun, but during the hotter parts of the day, appreciates being shaded. As usual, plant it in well-drained soil. 

Dill

Dill is more of an uncommon herb to find in the average kitchen, but not so rare as to not be usable. As a health herb, dill is a great source of calcium. It promotes bone growth, as well as cell development and function. 

It has quite a strong grassy flavor that is hit or miss with a lot of people. It pairs well with more hearty foods like soups, as well as salads and potato dishes. It is also quite commonly used to enhance fish.

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