Planting an Herb Garden
Growing your own herbs can be a fun, educational, eco-friendly, and delicious way for families to augment their own cooking and embrace a healthier way of living. Herb gardens are not only a wonderful way for a novice gardener to develop their own green thumb, but can also be a valuable learning tool for young children, introducing them into the worlds of botany, nutrition, and self-reliance. Herb gardens can be as simple as 1-3 small containers of your most favorite herbs, to more complex and more involved terraces offering nearly everything a professional chef would want or need. As with all gardens, planning ahead is critical. Decide on how much time you have, what you want to get out of it, and what growing conditions exist in your particular part of the country.
The location of your herb garden deserves special consideration. The majority of herbs need at least four to six hours of full sun a day, though if the temperatures where you live climb over 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer it might be best to plant where they’ll have partial shade through the hottest part of the day. Herbs also do very well planted inside, such as in a kitchen window, since they tend to prefer the same range of temperatures as people. In the northern hemisphere, south-facing windows or the southern side of the house are your best bet for full sun. East-facing windows will catch some morning sun. Observe a spot at several times throughout the day when the sun is fully out to get an idea of how much sun the spot receives. When picking out a location, also consider watering – hauling water can get exhausting, so plant your indoor garden near a convenient sink, or your outdoor garden in easy reach of a hose.
If growing herbs in the ground, you will need to mark out a space one to four feet in diameter per plant, depending on the plant’s need for space. Cilantro, chives, dill, and parsley will typically need a space one foot in diameter. Summer savory, basil, thyme, and tarragon will typically need a space two feet in diameter. Rosemary, sage, mint, oregano, and marjoram will typically need a space three to four feet in diameter. Don’t forget when planning your spacing to leave room to walk between them once they are fully grown, possibly using stepping stones to mark the path. When purchasing seeds or nursery plants, make certain to ask after or research the specific needs of each plant. For soil, use good-quality garden soil to a depth of at least eight inches, mixed with an inch or two of compost.
Herbs planted in container gardens need slightly less space and eliminate the need for walking paths. The seed packet or nursery plant should come with instructions for minimum space requirements, but figure that each plant needs at least 8 inches of space. Most will also need a pot to be at least 8 inches deep. Pots that are made of metal, plastic, or glazed ceramic work better than unglazed clay. Use high-quality potting soil. You can also see our article on How to Plant Container Gardens for more details.
When planting, put labels in the soil next to the plant, for easy identification later. Most places that sell gardening supplies will also sell plant labels, which range from sticks you can write the plant name on, species-specific labels with pictures, or even pretty rocks engraved with the names of the herbs.
If planting in a bed, plant perennials, biennials, and annuals separately, to make replanting less of a hassle. Annuals live for a year, biennials for two, and perennials for more than two. Some plants behave differently depending on the climate and the length of the growing season. Examples of common annual herbs include basil, chervil, cilantro, arugula, german chamomile, and dill. Parsley is technically a biennial, but is usually grown as an annual since it’s at its most flavorful in the first year, which is common with biennials. Examples of perennial herbs include bay, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, tarragon, chives, mint, and marjoram. When replanting, it’s generally a good idea to avoid reusing soil for the same type of plant, to reduce potential problems with pests.
Herbs need to be watered regularly, though exactly how much water they need depends on rainfall, temperature, specific plant, and whether you’ve planted them in a garden bed or a container. Check the specific water needs of each herb when buying, and consider planting herbs with similar water needs together. As a general rule-of-thumb, the soil should be moist but not waterlogged after watering, and should not be allowed to completely dry out. Poor watering (too much or too little) is the downfall of most new herb gardens, so plan ahead as to how you’ll remember to water regularly and keep track of rainfall if your herbs are outside.
Overall, an herb garden can be a great way for a gardening novice to get their hands dirty and decide if gardening is something that appeals to you. Tending an herb garden can be a peaceful and relaxing time away from the hustle and bustle of work and life, or it can be a bustling activity involving the kids and the whole family. Children, in particular, can take a real interest in gardening, and letting them grow their own oregano for their pizzas can teach responsibility and foster an interest in cooking and nutrition. Regardless of how you decide to approach starting an herb garden, they can be a delightful pastime without significant upfront cost or commitment.
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