Herb Gardening 101

June 2, 2017
Written by:
Guest Author

One of the great things about herb gardening is that you’re able to grow varieties that can be difficult to find in a grocery store or even at the farmer’s market.

Photo by Robyn Jay licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

There are a few things you can consider when picking what to put in your garden:

  • Choose herbs you know you’ll use. If you regularly cook with basil, thyme and oregano, those are all great herbs to put in your garden. If you love tea, consider growing herbs such as mint, lemon verbena and chamomile.
  • Try growing an unusual herb. If you find an interesting herb at your garden center, you might as well give it a try in the garden. At best, you’ll find a tasty way to flavor dishes. At worst, you’ll have a plant that looks pretty but that doesn’t taste so great.
  • Pick herbs that work together. Mint can be a greedy plant and will quickly crowd out other herbs. Most herbs like full sun, but a few will survive in shaded areas. Some herbs need dry conditions; others need plenty of moisture. You’ll get the best results if you plant like herbs with like.
  • Start small. Try growing just a few herbs your first time out. As you get used to gardening, you can always add more plants.

A quick visual guide to herb gardening

Here’s an awesome visual guide to herbs, including the ideal growing conditions for most common herbs as well as what foods each might pair well with.

herb guide


Perennial vs Annual Herbs

Another thing to consider when starting an herb garden is whether the herbs you are planting are perennial or annual. Annual herbs include basil, cilantro and dill. Over the course of one growing season, these herbs will produce leaves, then flowers, and eventually seeds. They’ll die once it gets too cold.

Perennial herbs can live in your garden for many years. They will usually die back to the ground in the winter, but will begin growing again once the temperatures warm up in the spring. A few examples of perennial herbs include thyme, chives, rosemary and oregano.

The video from Burpee Gardens gives you a few pointers for growing and planting perennial herbs in your garden. For example, you can get a jump start on the next spring’s growing season by planting a few perennial herbs in the fall. According to the video, it’s easiest to start perennials from transplants or seedlings, since they tend to grow more slowly than annuals.

It’s worth noting that some herbs, such as parsley, are technically biennials. That means they usually live for two seasons. During the first year, they produce leaves. They die back for the winter, then return in the spring, when they produce flowers and seeds. Although you can get two years’ worth of growth out of biennial herbs, many gardeners grow them as annuals.

General Herb Needs

Herbs grown at home have a few basic, general needs. For example, every herb plant needs some sun to thrive. According to the University of Missouri Extension, getting up to eight hours of sun each day will help the oils in the plant’s leaves develop, leading to the best flavor. You can grow herbs in shadier conditions or indoors, but you might notice a decrease in flavor quality.

how to grow herbs

Photo by Missellyrh licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Usually, herbs aren’t too picky about the soil they are grown in. Most varieties prefer soil that is neither too acidic nor too basic. A soil pH around 7.0 is usually just right. The plants usually don’t need soil that’s super fertile or nutritious, but it can help to mix in a bit of compost or fertilizer before you plant.

Water and moisture requirements tend to vary based on the type of herb you’re growing. Herbs that come from a drier region, such as rosemary and lavender, typically do better in drier conditions. Other types of herbs need more consistent moisture.

A good rule of thumb to follow when planting herbs is to pick a spot that drains well. If water regularly pools or puddles on the soil’s surface, you won’t get good results, no matter how thirsty your plants are.

Planting Herbs

You can plant herbs from seeds or transplants. If you do transplant, it’s important to avoid transplant shock. Here’s a good guide from GrowingYourGreens.

Usually, perennial herbs are tricky to grow well from seed, since they might not come true or they just take way too long to germinate or grow. Annual herbs are usually much quicker to get going if you start them from seed.

You can plant herb seeds indoors several weeks before the last frost in your area. According to Harvest to Table, it’s a good idea to place the seed pots under a grow light for about 12 hours per day. You can also direct sow seeds in the garden after the last frost date for your area.

When planting seeds, make sure the soil is moist. Plant each seed to a depth that is about twice its width. That means you want plant a 1/4-inch-wide seed 1/2 inch deep.

It’s better to plant too many seeds than too few. Scatter the seeds thickly over the planting area. You can always thin your plants to stand about 6 to 12 inches apart after the seeds germinate.

Growing Herbs in Containers

Herbs often grow well in containers. The video above from Learn to Grow walks you through the process of planting herbs in containers, including which herbs to grow together. As a general rule, you want to plant herbs that prefer drier conditions together in a single, large pot and herbs that prefer some moisture together.

You can make your own container or planters for herbs, if you’re handy. The herb planter in the video from Steve Ramsey looks great and comes together quickly.

Container herbs can also grow well indoors. According to Rodale’s Organic Life, plants like basil, chives and sage will do well inside, but will need to be put on a south facing windowsill or in another area that gets plenty of sun.

Learn More About Specific Herbs

Although the growing requirements for many types of herbs are similar, there are a few major differences between each type of plant. We have a lot of informative articles on growing different herb varieties.

Exploring Perennial Herbs

If you are planning on growing a number of perennial herbs, check out our articles on growing rosemary, growing thyme, growing oregano, and growing sage. Each article spells out the specific needs of those plants.

For example, rosemary is from the Mediterranean and prefers drier soil. Sage is a perennial that can be easily grown indoors in a container.

In-Depth Info About Basil

You might think you know about basil, but our article on growing basil might teach you a few things you didn’t know about the popular herb. For example, did you know that there are dozens of varieties of basil?

herb garden tips

Photo by Toshiyuki IMAI licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

You can choose from classic Genovese basil to lemon or lime flavored plants. Some types of basil feature beautiful purple leaves while others have tiny, spiky leaves and a spicy flavor.

Grow Your Own Herbs to Save Money

Some herbs and spices are staggeringly expensive when you buy that the supermarket. For example, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.

But it’s also pretty easy to grow at home. Our article on growing saffron explains when to plant and when to harvest the bright red stigmas to use as a spice.

Vanilla is another spice that’s pretty pricey when sold in a grocery store. Our article on growing vanilla gives you all the details you need to purchase a plant and keep it alive. Instead of shelling out lots of money for dried vanilla beans or vanilla extract at the supermarket, you’ll be able to harvest the pods right from your own plant.

A few other herbs that usually cost a pretty penny at the market can be grown in your garden. Check out our articles growing on cardamom, bay laurel and turmeric. If you love sushi but can’t stand the high cost of wasabi, consider growing it yourself. Just be aware that it can be one of the more challenging plants to grow, explaining its high price at the store.

Perfect Herbs for Beginners

If you’re completely new to gardening, it helps to start with a plant that’s pretty forgiving and that can thrive with some neglect. To get to know some beginner-friendly herbs, check out other articles on growing watercress, mint and lemon balm, over at Sproutabl.com.