Herbal Gardening can be a rewarding and relaxing experience that yields fresh herbs for culinary, medicinal and aromatic purposes. Herbs can grow inside or out, used fresh or dried for year-round use.
Benefits to growing your own herbs range from aesthetics to practical uses such as:
- Fresh herbs have more flavor
- Herbs are a natural insect repellent; this property makes herbs especially useful when planted amid a vegetable or flower garden
- Herbs are low maintenance and easy to grow
- Herbs are aromatic
- Herbs provide color and beauty
- Herbs can be grown indoors or outside
- Herbs have medicinal and/or culinary applications
What to Plant?
The first step in any garden is to decide what you want to plant. Factors can include intended use, available space and growing requirements. Some herbs, such as basil and mint, have both culinary and medicinal uses; lavender and certain varieties of sage are great aromatics; peppermint requires close attention, as it can take over an entire garden. You can choose to sow seeds or purchase starter plants.
Where to Plant?
If you have limited space, plan for a windowsill garden or do not need copious amount of an herb, one or two starter plants may work best. In addition, many indoor herbs can be grown yearlong; however, compared to outdoor herbal gardening, herbs grown indoors can potentially be less productive, less flavorful.
Factors to consider when planting herb inside:
- Ideal growing spot
- Windowsills that face south or west
- Supplemental light
- If plants are not receiving enough natural light
- Winter months
- Keep soil slight below neutral Ph
- Mixture of peat, vermiculite and perlite
- Herbs need moisture, but too much water will drown roots, increase risk of mold and fungus and kill plants
- Potted soil dries out quick
- Indoor herbs require frequent watering
It is best to plant seeds of annuals during the late summer and then keep inside for as long as they last; perennials should be kept outside in pots during the summer and then brought inside before the first frost. All pots should be placed in areas that receive lots of sunlight and should be sheltered from extreme heat and/or wind.
More consideration is involved with outdoor gardens, in terms of the growing requirements of specific herbs; some general guidelines include:
- Most herbs thrive with lots of sun
- Exceptions include Angelica, Woodruff and Sweet Cicely
- Garden size
- Amount of space you have in relation to the space herbs need to grow
- Improve with compost, peat moss, mulch or manure-based fertilizer
- Consider raised beds if drainage is particularly poor
- Companion planting
- Plant herbs with common needs next to each other
- Do not block small plants that need lots of sun with herbs that will grow tall and provide unwanted shade
- Use a Ph slightly below neutral
- Treat with organic compost and/or fertilizer
- Soil preparation
- Add compost or fertilizer a few weeks prior to planting
- Turn soil over with spade or fork, 10-12 inches down
- Add organic matter at root level or herb plants
- Remove stones and unwanted material
- Level soil with rake
New gardeners should be wary of over-fertilizing; although this will lead to greater growth, it will also decrease essential oil concentration, fragrance and flavor.
Some herbs do best planted directly in the ground, such as Anise, Coriander, Dill and Fennel. Others, such as Rosemary, Mint and Oregano are best transplanted. Whether seeds or small plants, do not place in your garden until after the last frost.
Transplants include seedlings purchases or started on your own in small pots, empty egg cartons or purchase peat pots. The advantage of peat pots, for creating your own seedlings or purchasing starter plants, is that the pot can is biodegradable and can be planted directly into the ground. For plant sensitive to transplantation, these pots reduce shock shelter roots from potential trauma.
Choose an overcast day to plant seedlings or transplant plants or, alternatively, transplant in the evening, when there is less heat. To transplant:
- Water the plants a few hours beforehand
- Dig a hole deep and wide enough for roots or peat pot
- Make sure to cut sides of pot, so that roots can expand as the plant grows
- Align the base of the plant with the ground
- Fill hole gently with your hands
- Water (careful not to overwater)
Transplanting shocks some plants more than others, but your herbs should survive when moved with care.
In addition, you can increase your herb garden through division and cuttings. Division involves:
- Divide herbs in early spring, before growth
- Dig a section of roots
- Cut or pull apart, into smaller sections
- Replant sections in different locations
- Add compost to planting hole
Herbs that propagate easily from this method include Chives, Mint, Rosemary, Oregano, Tarragon, Thyme and Sage.
Herbs are versatile and easy to grow, indoor or outside. Gardeners have many options when choosing the types of herbs and where and how to plant. Successful herbal gardening involves researching the germination and growing needs of specific herbs, ensuring adequate sunlight, moisture and drainage, adding organic matter and/or fertilizer to the soil and taking care of the plants. Herbs, fresh or dried, can be used for medicinal, culinary or aromatic purposes.