Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
Growing Herbs in the Garden
Growing herbs in containers or a small space is so easy—and who likes paying for a package of herbs from the grocery store every time you need a few sprigs or leaves.
If the meals at your house have been a little bland, fresh herbs can make a huge difference in flavor; they are considered the mark of a serious cook and are essential ingredients in many culinary classics.
In late spring, garden centers offer a wide selection of herb plants making it easy for you to start an instant herb garden. Or, many annual herbs like dill or cilantro are easy to grow from seed. Having trouble deciding what to grow? Take a look in your cupboard and start with the herbs you already like to use. Once you have become a seasoning pro, you can branch out and add some new herbs to your repertoire.
Best Herbs to Grow
Annual herbs such as dill, basil, cilantro, and summer savory are easy to grow from seed. The plants last for one season only so grow plenty of extra to dry or freeze for use over the winter. Once you get used to their flavors you won’t want to cook without them.
Biennial herbs such as parsley and caraway can be started from seed also. They will grow well the first year and come back the second year when they will bloom and set seeds. Then the original plants will die.
Perennial herbs include Greek oregano, thyme, sage, winter savory, chives, and mint. Once established in your garden these plants will increase in size and come back every year.
Tender perennial plants such as tarragon, rosemary, and stevia need to be grown in pots so they can spend the winter indoors. Put the pots outside as soon as the weather warms in the spring.
It is fine to have your herbs scattered throughout the landscape—many are as attractive as they are useful—but it is easier for you to harvest them if they are all in one or two spots. You can spend a lot of time planning an elaborate herb garden if you like but you don’t have to. A sunny corner close to the kitchen door is an ideal location and will make it easier for you to step out and snip what you need for the meal you are making.
A small space is all you need to grow a gourmet herb garden but if space is really limited or even non-existent, culinary herbs grow well in containers. Use window boxes, hanging baskets, or a whiskey barrel to grow a mini-garden of kitchen herbs.
Even though I have large patches of culinary herbs in the garden, I always keep a hanging pot of rosemary, thyme, oregano, summer savory, and basil growing just outside the back door. Since it is so convenient I find myself using those herbs in my dishes more often and the fresh flavor makes a huge difference in my otherwise plain cooking. When the weather gets cold, I bring the pot indoors and keep it going in a sunny kitchen window. It doesn’t get much handier than that!
Tips to Growing Herbs
Herbs are forgiving plants and will grow in less than ideal conditions.
- Drainage is the most important thing to consider since many herbs do not like wet feet.
- The soil does not have to be overly fertile. In fact, if herbs are over-fertilized they tend to be less flavorful.
- Most herbs grow best with at least six hours of sun a day.
- When planting, give the perennial herbs room to grow. It may look a little bare at first but they will expand to fill the space. Crowded plants compete with each other for nutrients and water and can be difficult to harvest. Air circulation is important for healthy growth, especially during humid weather.
- Herbs respond well to regular pruning and when you clip them often to use, you’ll be encouraging fresh new growth.
The season for bumper crops of fresh produce is approaching fast! Be ready by growing the herbs necessary to flavor your world and spice up your life!
About This Blog
Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.