How to Start an Organic Herb Garden
Fresh herbs pack a powerful punch when used to season favorite dishes and many have health benefits too. Learning how to grow an organic herb garden is easy for all gardeners, even those who think they don’t have a green thumb.
Herb Gardening for Beginners
As with any plant, when growing herbs, you need to match the right plant to the right condition. Most herbs prefer a full-sun location with at least six hours of direct light each day. A few sun-loving herbs include:
Herbs that grow in shade (or partial shade) include:
Herbs grow best in well-drained soil amended with compost. Most prefer to dry out a bit between watering sessions, although there are exceptions. Basil likes to stay moist, and lavender needs to dry out completely between drinks. Don't use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides: Growing organic herb plants means using only natural plant food and insect control.
How to Grow Herbs from Seeds
Although nurseries often carry organic herb seedlings, many gardeners prefer to start their garden with organic herb seeds, which have been grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Most herbs are easy to grow from seed. Plus, planting seeds is cheaper than buying transplants.
If you’ll be growing your herbs in a container, sow the seeds right in a pot filled with organic seed-starting soil. You can create a greenhouse effect by covering the container with plastic wrap until the seeds sprout.
For an in-ground herb garden, you have two choices: Sow seeds in the ground once all danger of frost has passed in the spring. Or get a jumpstart on spring by starting seeds in small pots or growing trays indoors, then transplant seedlings into the ground once your Zone’s frost date has passed. Be aware, though, that some popular herbs, including dill, fennel, and chervil, don’t transplant well so should be sown where you want them to mature.
If you plant directly in the ground, cover the seeds lightly with soil and keep them moist until they germinate. Most popular herbs are annuals and sprout within one to two weeks. You can get herb germination charts with growing specifics online, in gardening books, or from your local extension office.
Once your herbs are about 2 inches tall, it’s time to transplant them to their permanent homes. If you planted them in a container, thin out the seedlings so only the largest, healthiest plants remain.
Growing Herbs in Pots for Beginners
Although herbs perform well in the ground and are wonderful additions to your vegetable or flower garden, many gardeners prefer growing herbs in containers. It’s easy to control soil conditions in a container, and you’ll be able to tailor the water to your plants’ needs. Just be sure to choose varieties with the same growing requirements when planting herbs together.
When planning the mix of herbs for a container garden, there are nearly as many choices as there are types of herbs. One popular container herb garden design is to fill a strawberry pot with several different types of herbs—one per opening. Or gather a grouping of similar containers, and add interest by planting different types of organic herbs in each pot.
Other ideas for growing herbs in containers include:
- Attach pots to a vertical lattice and fill them with small herb plants for a DIY vertical herb garden.
- Fill hanging baskets with trailing herbs like rosemary and creeping thyme.
- Use half a whiskey barrel to grow your favorite cooking herbs.
- Think of your herbs as decorative accents and combine them in attractive groupings as you would flowers.
- Set your herb containers inside a large basket for a rustic look.
- Create a tower of herbs by stacking terra-cotta pots of decreasing size and fill the space around each pot with a different herb.
- Punch drainage holes in the bottom of an old child’s wagon, fill it with organic potting soil, and plant your favorite organic herbs.
Planting an Indoor Herb Garden
No backyard? No problem! As long as you have a sunny window—or are willing to set up grow lights if necessary—growing herbs indoors can be very productive.
The easiest way to start an herb garden indoors is with one of the many indoor herb garden kits available online or at garden centers. Kits generally provide everything you need—often including grow lights—to successfully cultivate organic herbs indoors.
But grow lights aren’t always necessary; try growing a collection of small herb plants in your kitchen window (so it is easy to snip some into your cooking), or set up an indoor herb planter in front of a south- or west-facing window. While not every herb thrives indoors, many favorites do, including:
Whatever organic herbs you include in your indoor herb garden, make sure to plant them in light, well-drained organic potting soil and let the soil dry out slightly before watering. You may find that herbs grown indoors in natural light—rather than under grow lights—are a bit leggier than herbs grown outdoors, but they will still taste great and add color, flavor, and interest to your favorite recipes.