Planting an Herb Garden: From Seed to Seasoning
Herb-a-licious! Unleash your inner green thumb with our ultimate guide to growing a garden full of fresh herbs.
Herb gardening is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding hobbies out there. Not only does it give you fresh herbs to cook with, but it also adds a splash of color and fragrance to your home when you grow them indoors or hang them to dry at the end of the season. Plus, there’s something quite satisfying about planting an herb garden and growing your own herbs from scratch. So, if you’re ready to get your green thumbs dirty and start your very own herb garden, here are some tips on how to get started.
From seed to seasoning: Planting an herb garden any which way
First things first, decide what herbs you want to plant. You can either choose a single herb that you love or a combination of herbs that complement each other. Some herbs that are great to plant together include rosemary, sage, oregano, basil, thyme, cilantro, chives, dill, and parsley. These herbs all require similar growing conditions, so they can be planted in the same container or bed. Those that prefer partial shade, like oregano, can be planted toward the back of the bed where they might be shaded by taller herbs.
Other herbs, like mint, should be planted separately as they tend to take over and crowd out other plants, but you can also plant them in a terracotta pot directly in the bed to keep their roots from spreading. For this article, let’s focus on the nine most popular herbs that also grow together easily and can be planted together for an herb garden.
Let’s also review their best companion plants. This isn’t to say these are the only plants they can be planted next to; it just means there may be a specific benefit to planting them closer together than others.
1. Basil: A fragrant herb with a sweet and slightly spicy flavor; often used in Italian and Thai cuisine; grows best in warm, sunny locations with well-draining soil and regular watering.
Best companion plants: Parsley, cilantro, oregano, chives, chamomile, borage, garlic, marjoram, and rosemary
2. Parsley: A versatile herb with a bright, fresh flavor; used as a garnish and in salads, sauces, and soups; thrives in moist, well-draining soil and partial shade.
Best companion plants: Oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme, basil, chives, lavender, lemon balm, lovage, and marjoram
3. Thyme: A woody, aromatic herb with a slightly minty and lemony flavor; commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine; prefers well-draining soil, plenty of sunlight, and moderate watering.
Best companion plants: Rosemary, marjoram, oregano, parsley, sage, lavender, dill, bay, fennel, lemon verbena, lovage, and savory
4. Sage: An earthy, savory herb with a slightly bitter flavor; used in stuffing, meat dishes, and stews; grows best in well-draining soil, full sun to partial shade, and with limited watering.
Best companion plants: Thyme, rosemary, chives, lavender, oregano, and marjoram
5. Rosemary: A pungent herb with a resinous aroma and a piney flavor; used to flavor meats, breads, and roasted vegetables; prefers well-draining soil, full sun, and limited watering.
Best companion plants: Chives, thyme, sweet alyssum, oregano, lavender, sage, and marjoram
6. Chives: A mild, onion-flavored herb with long, slender leaves; often used as a garnish or in egg dishes; grows best in rich, moist soil and partial shade.
Best companion plants: Basil, parsley, cilantro, and tarragon
7. Dill: A feathery herb with a sweet and tangy flavor; commonly used in pickling, seafood dishes, and dips; prefers well-draining soil, full sun, and moderate watering.
Best companion plants: Basil, onions, chives, fennel, and cilantro
8. Oregano: A pungent herb with a strong, slightly bitter flavor; used in Mediterranean and Mexican cuisine; grows best in well-draining soil, partial shade, and with moderate watering.
Best companion plants: Rosemary, parsley, thyme, tarragon, chives, basil, lemon balm, marjoram, and sage
9. Cilantro: An herb with a citrusy, slightly sweet flavor; used in Latin American and Southeast Asian cuisine, often as a garnish or in salsa; thrives in fertile, well-draining soil, full sun, and with regular watering.
Best companion plants: Basil, parsley, chives, dill, and chervil
Selecting the location of your herb garden
Once you’ve chosen your herbs, it’s time to select a suitable location for your garden. Most herbs, and all of the herbs in this list, prefer a sunny to mostly sunny spot, which gets six to eight hours of sun per day, with well-draining soil. If you’re planning to plant your herbs in containers, make sure the containers have drainage holes to prevent the roots from becoming waterlogged.
When determining how you want your herb garden to look, consider which of the herbs will return bigger and better next year.
- Annuals include basil, parsley, cilantro, and dill.
- Perennials include thyme, sage, chives, and oregano. They will get bigger over time. Rosemary is a perennial in zones 7 to 10, but otherwise an annual.
All of the above herbs are best planted in the spring, though perennials can also be planted in the early fall to help them establish roots over the winter.
Once you’ve determined a spot to start your garden, you’ll need to provide adequate space for growth. The recommended diameter of space may vary depending on the type of herb, but perennials tend to take up more space because they’ll return. That said, you can always cut them back (and should!) at the end of the season—preferably to dry them!
- Rosemary, sage, and oregano: 3 to 4 feet
- Basil and thyme: 2 feet
- Cilantro, chives, dill, and parsley: 1 foot
Here’s what this might look like in a 9-by-9-foot garden layout, where each square represents a foot. It attempts to represent spacing, companion planting, a sunny west side of the garden, and a shadier east side of the garden. All of these herbs are companion plants, however, some herbs perform even better near certain other herbs, which is represented here, along with a loose visualization of spacing requirements. Feel free to adjust to your own liking. Herbs certainly aren’t as easy to harvest in a 9-by-9-foot square, but I felt this was the clearest way to show both companion planting and lighting preferences in one place.
In my personal herb garden, my front edge is chives, and behind it, thyme and oregano. The chives shade the oregano, but the thyme gets a bit more sun. Then behind that, you’ll find my sage, which is far enough back not to be shaded by the chives, so they get their sun. Herbs, particularly perennial herbs, are easy to grow, so don’t fuss too much. If something doesn’t work one year, try again next year! Like all gardens, what might work for one, might not for another!
Taking care of your herb garden
When it comes to planting your herbs, it’s important to read the instructions on the seed packet or plant tag carefully. Some herbs, like basil, prefer to be planted directly in the soil, while others, like rosemary, prefer to be transplanted. If you’re not sure, a good rule of thumb is to plant seeds or seedlings at a depth that’s twice the diameter of the seed or the pot they came in.
Once your herbs are in the ground, it’s important to water them regularly. Most herbs prefer to be kept moist in the initial growing stage, but not waterlogged. You can also add some organic fertilizer to the soil to give your herbs a boost.
If you’re planting herbs in containers, it’s a good idea to group them together based on their watering needs. This will make it easier to keep track of which plants need to be watered more or less frequently. Keeping herbs alive in containers is a little trickier than directly in the ground, so following the “rules” on your seed packets of each individual herb is more necessary.
Another important thing to keep in mind when planting an herb garden is to keep an eye out for pests and diseases. Common pests that can affect herbs include aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies. You can prevent these pests from taking over your garden by using organic pest control methods like neem oil or insecticidal soap. The more fragrant the plant, the better it is at deterring pests.
Finally, don’t forget to harvest your herbs regularly! Not only does this help keep the plants from getting too big and unwieldy, but it also encourages them to produce more leaves. When harvesting herbs, be sure to snip off the stems just above a leaf node to encourage new growth.
Drying your herbs
There are several methods to dry herbs each with pros and cons. Dry each herb separately and store them in an airtight jar. Let’s explore four popular options:
1. Air drying. Air drying is a traditional method that doesn’t require any special equipment. To air dry herbs:
- Rinse and pat dry fresh leaves.
- Tie small bundles of stems and hang them upside down in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area.
- Leave the herbs hanging for two to four weeks or until the leaves are completely dry and brittle.
2. Oven drying. Oven drying is a faster method than air drying, but it requires more attention:
- Preheat your oven to the lowest possible temperature (usually around 170 degrees F).
- Spread dry leaves or stems on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven for one to two hours, checking and turning them every 30 minutes to ensure even drying.
- Remove the herbs when the leaves are crisp and crumbly.
3. Microwave drying. Microwave drying is the quickest method, but it can lead to uneven results:
- Lay leaves/stems in a single layer between two sheets of paper towel.
- Microwave on low power for 45 seconds, then in 30-second intervals.
- Continue microwaving in short intervals until the leaves are dry and brittle.
4. Dehydrator drying. A food dehydrator is a reliable and efficient way to dry herbs:
- Rinse and pat dry basil leaves/stems.
- Arrange them on the dehydrator trays, ensuring they don’t overlap.
- Set the dehydrator to a low temperature (95 degrees F) and dry for 12 to 24 hours or until the leaves are crisp and crumbly.
Planting an herb garden is a fun and rewarding hobby that can provide you with fresh herbs to cook with and add beauty to your home as you hang them to dry later on. By choosing the right herbs, planting them in the right location, and caring for them properly, you can create a thriving herb garden that will bring you joy for years to come. So, get out there and start planting!
Leave a comment below and let me know how you’re planting an herb garden this year!