For centuries, herbs have been touted for their ability to heal and enhance. They add spice to your food, and numerous benefits to your life and health. But constantly buying fresh herbs can be costly, especially when you end up throwing away unused portions every week. And opting for the dried varieties doesn’t offer the hands-on, straight-from-the-source appeal. That’s where herb gardens come in.
So whether you plant herbs in your raised garden bed, containers on your patio, deck or window sill, we’ve highlighted some of the great benefits of herbs as well as everything you need to know to start an herb garden for yourself.
Choosing A Location
If you’re growing and planting your herbs outdoors in the ground, you need to consider two things: sunlight and well-drained soil. You’ll need to find a location in your yard that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day and is well drained.
The same can be said for potted herbs outside your home. If you’re growing your herbs in pots, you’ll want them to get as much natural light as possible, so placing them in a sunny spot near a window where they can get sun for the majority of the day is essential. Windows that face south or southwest are your best bet.
You’ll also want to consider convenience, as you’ll want to make sure your herbs are easily accessible and make sense for when you quickly want to cut a few sprigs off for use.
Preparing The Soil
Once you know the location you want your herbs to grow, you’ll need to prepare the soil. Though most herbs are pretty durable and require little care, you’ll find that good soil goes a long way.
As mentioned, well-drained soil is essential, except for some of the most common herbs like rosemary, lavender, bay and winter savory, which prefer gritty soil and sharp drainage. For the others, you’ll need to ensure good drainage, as standing water near the root crown of the herbs can cause them to rot. If your soil is sandy or clay heavy, you’ll want to utilize plenty of compost, which will also provide nutrients to the herbs while they grow. Growing herbs in raised beds will keep your plants from rotting as well.
When you grow plants in pots or containers, you need to make sure you provide them high-quality potting soil—not just dug up dirt from the backyard. Ordinary garden soil is simply too heavy and dries out quickly, so you’ll need to find soil that is loose and well drained, which you can purchase at most nurseries and garden supply companies.
Most herbs require very little fertilizer, but container-grown plants dry out faster, making it pertinent that you provide them with proper nutrition. Buy a good all-natural organic fertilizer to mix into the potting mix prior to planting, and if the herbs lose color or look like they’re dying, apply a liquid fish fertilizer every few weeks.
Planting The Herbs
It’s important to buy high quality starter plants and seeds. I personally love the company Strictly Medicinal Seeds. They sell organic, high quality seeds, plants and roots. They are also a wonderful growing resource.
When placing seeds or plants in the ground, make sure to abide by proper spacing of the seed packet or plant labels’ recommendations, as overcrowding can cause insects and disease pests to invade.
Watering The Herbs
Once your herbs are planted, a general rule of thumb is to make sure you give them 2 inches of water every week, though how much water they need depends on several factors, including the type of soil or potting mix used, amount of exposure to sun, the average temperature and the size of your plants.
It’s important to note that container gardens dry out faster than backyard gardens, however, and will require more attention. If it’s hot out, a container herb might require water once or twice daily. Check to see if the potting mix appears dry and pale, or has shrunk from the sides of the container. You can also stick your finger in the soil to see if it feels dry, in which case, start watering.
Above all, be mindful of the individual herb, as some require drier conditions than others.
Harvesting The Herbs
You’ll also want to make sure you harvest your herbs frequently, which helps them to produce more foliage, therefore increasing the amount of herbs you get to enjoy overtime.
Perhaps the easiest method for doing so is to cut back whole stems of plants, bunch a dozen or so together, secure with a rubber band and bring into the home to wash and use in foods.
You can also hang from hooks or rafters to air-dry, and wait about seven to 10 days for them to be crisp enough to strip the leaves from the stems and store in jars for later use.
Maintaining Your Herb Garden
Once your herb garden is established, you’ll want to make sure you provide proper (but little) maintenance to keep it going strong. The good thing is, herbs are generally pretty hardy, with many producing oils and chemicals that repel pests naturally. You can check out some specifics for herbs to ensure the ones you have flourish at their best by reading this quick guide.
Winterizing Your Herb Garden
Depending on the climate you reside in, winter can kill your plants, especially herbs with shallow root systems that can be easily damaged by chillier temperatures. Simply dig up less durable plants and place in pots to winter inside.
For the rest of your herbs, make sure they are healthy as the colder season approaches, as the extra leaves encourage the plant to slow down and insulate them for warmth. Applying a 4-inch layer of mulch will ensure they stay warm enough, and once the ground has frozen, spread a loose organic mulch around the base of each plant.
More About Your Herb Gardern
If not for anything else, having an herb garden allows you to enjoy a wide array of fresh herbs like thyme, mint and lemongrass to infuse your foods with an exotic, refreshing twist, while the smells from herbs like lavender and basil can make a pleasantly pungent aroma for your home and garden.
Having fresh herbs boosts texture, flavor and smell so inviting, you’ll be much more likely to utilize them since they’re growing right under your nose.
Herbs are nature’s pharmacy
Ancient healers relied on herbs to heal the body, and today they continue to be used by holistic healers.
Parsley can kill bad breath, peppermint eases digestion and gargling tea made with fresh sage leaves can combat a sore throat.
Scientists are finally getting behind these herbs as well, promoting their abilities to alleviate arthritis pain, reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol, and help cope with and heal many other conditions. They can be as effective as traditional treatments without adverse side effects, making them highly beneficial to having at your fingertips.
Herbs are easy to maintain
It can seem intimidating to grow and take care of anything, which is why so many people are surprised when they learn how easy it is to care for an herb garden. But unlike gardening, which can entail quite a bit of work throughout the year, like shading your plants, regular fertilizing, constant watering and fighting with weeds, herbs generally fend for themselves, so long as you water them regularly and have a bit of intuition as to when they’re not doing so hot.
An herb garden will save you money
You may not want to use herbs in every meal, so when you buy fresh herbs from the store, the leftovers can get buried in your fridge. When you reach for them again, often you’ll find that they’ve gone bad.
But with an herb garden, you have the convenience of cutting off only what you’re prepared to use in a given recipe, and you’ll have plenty to go back to whenever you desire without spending additional money. Furthermore, herbs are some of the cheapest plans you can add to your garden, as they grow incredibly quickly and fast, and require very little fertilizer.
Herbs make great companion plants
If you do like to garden and are growing vegetables, consider adding herbs near them, as they can improve flavor, act as pest deterrents and attract beneficial insects and even increase the essential oils in companion herbs.
Basil, for instance, improves the flavor of neighboring herbs, and repels flies and mosquitoes. They’re great for adding alongside tomatoes, peppers, asparagus and oregano.
Chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb, attracts beneficial insects and pollinators and is especially great for companioning with cabbage, onions and cucumbers.
Lavender repels harmful pests and attracts butterflies, and is great next to cauliflower.
Mint repels aphids, mosquitoes and ants and attracts bees. It’s great next to most plants!