Herb Gardening 101

Whether you live in a house with a big yard or an apartment with a tiny balcony, you can have a flourishing herb garden of your own. Our beginner’s guide will take you step by step through the gardening process.
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Whether you live in a house with a big yard or an apartment with a tiny balcony, you can have a flourishing herb garden of your own. Our beginner’s guide will take you step by step through the gardening process.

Why use containers?

There’s certainly nothing wrong with planting herbs directly in the ground, but we love using containers because you can move them around your yard or balcony. One of your herbs wants more sun? Simply drag the container over to the sunny spot. You can also place them right near the door for convenience. Plus, you can repurpose old containers or unexpected vessels to plant herbs (inside a tire, anyone? old toys?); they just need to have holes in the bottom for drainage. You’ll want to look for pots with at least 8 to 10 inches of space around each plant.

Location, location, location

Different areas of your yard or balcony will have different sun exposures, so consider which plants need more sun and locate them accordingly. If you’re combining several plants in one pot, make sure they have the same needs for sun exposure (as well as moisture). Have a mostly shady space? Some herbs, such as cilantro, mint, chives and tarragon, can thrive in partial shade.

See also Grow Your Own Herbs Starter Kit

Selecting your plants

We like using seedlings (small plants) when starting out, but if you’re keen to start from seed, you can get started indoors before the weather is ripe, then transplant them afterwards. When choosing plants, know that different plants have different yields – mint, oregano and chives will tend to yield more than dill, basil or cilantro – so if you’re a huge fan of dill, for example, you’ll want to plant more than one seedling.

Garden friends and foes

When considering which plants to put, or not put, near each other, keep in mind that some plants don’t make good friends with others. Mint, fennel and horseradish are all invasive plant species, and if planted in a garden bed or a container with other herbs, they have a tendency to push other herbs around, sending out stems or roots through the soil that will eventually grow into new plants – these herbs are best planted in their own containers.

See also Chicken, Artichoke & Baby Potato Roast with Greek Herbs & Lemon

Get planting

Make sure to water seedlings about one to two hours before planting; this will make it easier to transplant them. Place a layer of bagged potting mix at the bottom of your container. Remove seedlings from their containers (some containers are biodegradable and can be planted directly into the soil – check the label). Place the seedling on top of the soil layer and hold it in place while you fill the container with potting mix until it reaches the top of the root ball. Pat soil gently with your hands to eliminate air pockets. Water it well and let drain, then add more potting mix and water again if needed so that potting mix is level with the top of the root ball. The soil surface should sit about 3/4 inch below the rim of the container.

Get the watering right

When it comes to watering, more isn’t necessarily better. With most herbs, light daily watering in the morning works best, and always water close to the roots of the plants. It’s also important to read the labels that come with each plant as different herbs have different moisture requirements. You know herbs are in need of more water if they are wilting or leaves are limp or dull looking.

See alsoDill-Poached Salmon with Herbed Yogurt Sauce

Prune (and harvest) like a pro

Ahhh, the moment you’ve been waiting for! Whenever you cut a plant, you want to trim right above a node, the point where the leaves attach to the stem. A lot of people get confused between pruning and harvesting – pruning is when you trim to encourage plants to grow wider and bushier (as opposed to tall and skinny), whereas harvesting is when you trim for your use. With herb gardening, there can be some crossover between the two. But don’t stress over the terminology – just know this: When the plants are about six inches tall, you can start trimming lightly to encourage growth. When plants are a little bigger, you can start harvesting more herbs – but remember, never cut more than one-third of the branches off at a time, as any more than that could actually inhibit growth.