HomeHerb SelectionChoosing HerbsHerb Growing Guide: How to Choose the Right Herbs for Your Garden

Herb Growing Guide: How to Choose the Right Herbs for Your Garden

Growing fresh herbs can add wonderful flavor to your cooking, provide natural remedies, and enhance the beauty of your garden. But with so many herbs to choose from, how do you decide what to plant? This guide will walk you through choosing the right herbs for your needs, setting up your herb garden for success, caring for your herbs, and harvesting them at the right time.

Choosing the Right Herbs for Your Garden

When selecting herbs for your garden, consider which types will be most useful to your household. Here are some of the most popular categories of herbs for home gardens:

Herbs that add flavor to food are often the most popular choices for home herb gardens. Some of the easiest culinary herbs to grow include:

  • Basil – An essential for Italian cooking, basil adds a lovely aroma and flavor to sauces, pesto, vegetables, and more. Sweet basil is the most common type.
  • Chives – Both the flat leaves and purple flower buds of this onion-flavored herb spice up potatoes, eggs, fish, soups, and salads.
  • Cilantro – The tangy leaves are perfect for Mexican, Thai, and Indian dishes. Cilantro grows quickly from seed.
  • Oregano – An Italian herb with a robust, slightly spicy flavor great in tomato sauces, on pizza, and in Mediterranean dishes.
  • Parsley – A versatile herb that adds a fresh, herbaceous flavor to many savory dishes. Curly and flat-leaf (Italian) are the most popular varieties.
  • Rosemary – This pine-scented herb complements chicken, lamb, fish, beans, and oils. Upright forms work well in containers.
  • Thyme – Adds an earthy, minty flavor to meats, stews, and vegetables. English and French thyme are common.
  • Mint – Spearmint and peppermint add refreshing flavor to sweet and savory foods and drinks. Grow mint in containers to prevent spreading.

Medicinal Herbs

In addition to flavoring food, many herbs have medicinal properties. Some medicinal herbs for home gardens include:

  • Chamomile – The dried flowers make a soothing tea that eases anxiety and insomnia. Grow German chamomile in full sun.
  • Echinacea – Commonly used to support the immune system. The leaves, roots, and purple coneflowers contain beneficial phytochemicals.
  • Lemon balm – Drinking tea made from the minty leaves helps relieve stress and Anxiety. Lemon balm spreads readily.
  • Valerian – The root of this herb has a calming, sleep-promoting effect. Though valerian has a strong scent, the flowers attract butterflies.
  • Feverfew – Chewing the leaves may help relieve migraines. The daisy-like flowers also deter pests in the garden.
  • St. John’s Wort – Used as a natural remedy for depression. Grow St. John’s wort in full sun to partial shade.

Ornamental Herbs

Some herbs are prized primarily for their attractive flowers or foliage. Popular ornamental herbs include:

  • Lavender – With its iconic aroma and purple blooms, lavender is ideal for borders, containers, and fragrant crafts. English lavender does well with hot, dry climates.
  • Calendula – Bright orange and yellow edible flowers liven up any garden. Calendula petals add color and mild flavor to salads.
  • Borage – Showy blue star-shaped edible flowers look beautiful frozen in ice cubes or floated in drinks. Borage leaves have a cucumber-like taste.
  • Fennel – The feathery, aromatic foliage looks decorative in flower arrangements. Bronze fennel adds striking color.
  • Sage – Grown mainly for its soft, gray-green leaves, sage varieties like tricolor sage also have showy purple and white variegation.
  • Lemon verbena – Intensely lemon-scented leaves are delicious for teas and potpourri. Tiny white flowers attract pollinators.

Setting Up Your Herb Garden

Once you’ve selected the herbs you want to grow, choose an optimal spot to plant them. Here are a few key factors for setting up your herb garden:

Sun Exposure

Most culinary and medicinal herbs thrive in full sun – at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. Lavender, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and basil especially favor a sunny spot. Provide partial shade for mint, chamomile, and lemon balm if planting in a hot climate.

Soil Quality

Herbs prefer loose, well-drained soil enriched with organic matter like compost. Quick-draining sandy loam or silt loam soils amended with compost tend to work best. Make sure the soil drains well to prevent rotting roots.

Container vs. In-Ground

You can grow many herbs happily in containers, which allows you to move them to ideal sun exposures. Use at least 12-16” diameter pots with drainage holes. Keep container plants well-watered. Planting directly in garden beds works for herbs like thyme and sage. Let them establish for 1-2 years before harvesting.

Planting and Caring for Your Herbs

With the right planting methods and care, your herbs will thrive:

When to Plant

For most herbs, the best time to plant is in spring after the last frost date. This gives them a long growing season. Tender herbs like basil should wait until summer. You can also plant herbs from nursery starts anytime during the growing season.

How to Plant

Herbs from small starts can go right into garden beds or containers. Gently loosen roots before planting. Seeds can be started indoors or direct sown outside once the soil warms up. Plant them at the recommended depth and space them according to mature plant width.

Ongoing Care

Herbs need 1-2” of water per week from rain or watering. Mulch beds to retain moisture. Fertilize with organic fertilizer or compost a few times each season, especially for herbs grown primarily for their leaves like basil and cilantro. Prune plants like thyme and sage lightly to promote new growth.

Harvesting Your Herbs

Timing your harvests right ensures the best flavor and use of your herbs:

When to Harvest

Harvest herbs in the morning after dew dries but before the midday sun intensifies their oils. Cut leaves and stems as flowers start to form on plants like basil, mint, oregano, and thyme for optimal flavor. Let plants like dill and cilantro bolt and develop flowers/seed pods if you want to collect seeds.

How to Harvest

Use clean, sharp scissors or garden shears to cut herbs just above leaf nodes or where stems meet the main branch. Take no more than one-third of the plant at a time to avoid harming growth. Handle herbs gently to avoid bruising.

Storing Your Harvest

Use herbs immediately after harvesting for the freshest flavor. To store, lay rinsed herbs flat in a single layer, not piled up, and cover loosely with plastic wrap before refrigerating. Basil and mint hold up best in water on the counter. Freeze or dry excess herbs.

Conclusion

When planned and cared for properly, a home herb garden can provide an abundance of flavorsome, therapeutic plants. Select herbs suited to your growing conditions and gardening experience. Plant them in an optimal spot at the right time. With regular pruning, watering, and fertilizing your herb garden will thrive and provide a flavorful, aromatic harvest.

FAQs

What are the easiest herbs to grow for beginners?

Some of the easiest beginner herbs include basil, chives, parsley, mint, oregano, and thyme. They tolerate a range of conditions and require minimal care.

Should you prune herbs?

It’s best to prune woody herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano lightly in spring to remove dead growth and shape plants. Avoid heavy pruning that damages the plants. Leafy herbs like basil and mint can be harvested continually to encourage regrowth.

How much sun do herbs need?

Most culinary herbs grow best in full sun – at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Some herbs like parsley and cilantro can tolerate partial shade while Mediterranean herbs like rosemary need very sunny conditions.

Should you fertilize herbs?

Using a balanced organic fertilizer every 2-3 months during the growing season provides herbs with nutrients for healthy growth. Avoid over-fertilizing, which can diminish herb flavors.

How often should you water herbs?

The ideal amount is around 1-2 inches of water per week from rain or watering. Check soil moisture regularly and water thoroughly when the top few inches become dry. Don’t let pots completely dry out. Proper drainage is key.

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