Herb Gardening Tips for Beginners
Add zest and pizzazz to all your meals—soups, salads, and entrees—with a sprig or two of fresh savory herbs you’ve grown yourself.
Growing herbs, like vegetable gardening, requires some work, but the return on your efforts is so worth it: time spent outdoors and growing your own food are two biggies. You can grow herbs from seeds or from transplants found at your favorite nursery. Follow these herb garden tips and you’ll be snipping fragrant and delicious herbs in a few weeks.
Herb Garden Plans for Beginners
The first consideration is where you will grow your herbs—in the ground or in a pot. Although both work, success depends on choosing the correct herb for the conditions. (No matter where you plant them, know that all herbs need 6 to 8 hours of sun and well-drained soil.)
Many herbs reach high and wide. Those will do best in the ground. Perennials are better suited where they won’t be disrupted when your garden tiller works the soil. Many gardeners tuck perennial herbs in their flower beds for pretty greenery among the flowers. If you enjoy picking herbs while harvesting veggies, intermingle herbs in your vegetable bed.
If you don’t have a yard, pot some annual herbs in a container and place in any sunny spot. No matter where you plant them, make sure your hose will reach because herbs need daily water when the weather gets hot.
Biennial (every two years)
- Parsley (the best flavor is the first year)
Starting Herbs from Seeds
An inexpensive way to grow herbs is from seeds. Fill individual pots, a garden growing tray, a flat of six-packs, or cells with moistened seed-starting mix. Sprinkle one or two seeds lightly on soil in soil of each cell or pocket. In a growing tray create shallow rows and sow according to the seed pack. Or you can make your own cheap and easy seedling pots with newspaper.
Cover the seeds lightly with soil and press down. Spritz the surface with water to moisten it and settle the seeds. Keep the soil moist by covering the container with plastic kitchen wrap, a plastic bag, or a plastic garden dome.
Remove the covering when seedlings emerge. Place the container in a sunny (south-facing) window. Keep the mix evenly moist by watering it from the bottom: Soak the containers in a sink filled with 2 inches of water until beads of moisture appear on the soil surface. When the seedlings reach 2 inches tall, transplant them to individual pots or thin those started in small pots to one seedling per pot by snipping off all but the strongest-looking seedling.
Note: Sow borage, chervil, coriander, dill, and fennel directly in warm garden soil because they don't transplant well.
Beginning herb gardeners may want to start with transplants from a garden center. Look for plants that aren’t droopy, have good color, and don’t have spots on their leaves.
Herb and vegetable gardens begin with healthy soil. Spade your garden if it’s small, or use a rototiller if it’s large. Amend the soil with compost to get your transplants off to a good start. Use a hoe to break up any soil lumps. Dig a hole slightly larger than your transplant, set the seedling in the hole, and gently pat soil around the roots. Water well after planting.
Plant Care and Harvesting
Pull or hoe weeds as they appear. Water when the soil feels dry. The warmer the weather, the more you will have to water. Pests generally don’t bother herbs. But if you spot some, remove them by hand (wear gloves if you’re squeamish about touching them) or apply an insecticidal soap. Don’t use chemical products on herbs.
You can start snipping herbs when flower buds start to appear. Cut 3 to 6 inches off, leaving about a third of the plant to regrow for future harvests. Rinse herbs in cool water, pat dry, and store in a plastic bag in your refrigerator.
To freeze herbs, place a couple of stems in a plastic bag and freeze. Or chop some and freeze them in an ice cube tray with a small amount of water. When you fix a soup, stew, or sauce, pop out a cube for garden-fresh flavor. You can also dry herbs by tying a couple of sprigs together and hanging them upside down in a cool, dark area, like a closet or basement storage room.
Fill individual pots or a flat of six-packs or cells with moistened seed-starting mix. Sprinkle seeds lightly on soil, following directions on the seed packet; sow one seed or two in each cell or pocket of a six-pack. Cover the seeds with about 1/8 inch of the mix. Press the mix down lightly and spritz the surface with water to moisten it and settle the seeds.
Note: Sow borage, chervil, coriander, dill, and fennel directly in warm garden soil because they don't transplant well from pots.