Try your hand at herbs by growing a few of these fuss-free gems in your garden. Their outstanding flavors are only surpassed by their easy-grows-it personalities. They’re the perfect choice for gardeners who are new to gardening or growing herbs.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Beloved for its spicy flavor with a hint of mint, clove and licorice, basil is an easy-growing herb that performs well in garden or pot. Pinch plants when young to get lots of branching. Pick leaves out of the growing tip frequently, and you might keep a few blossoms at bay. Once flowers appear, leaf size diminishes and flavor changes. Look for different types, including purple, cinnamon, lemon and Thai.
- Plant type: Tender annual, temperatures of even 45 degrees will blacken leaves
- Growing conditions: Rich, moist soil in full sun
- In the kitchen: Chop and sprinkle over sliced tomatoes with soft mozzarella, or slice and add to pizza. Whip up a batch of pesto, layer in a sandwich or salad, or include in stir-fry. Add to hot dishes at the last minute.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Grassy clumps of tubular stems boast a mild onion flavor. Lavender-pink flowers beckon bees and other pollinators. Use as an edging plant in the herb garden; plants adapt easily to pots. Also look for white-blossomed garlic chives.
- Plant type: Perennial, Zones 3-10
- Growing conditions: Rich soil in full sun
- In the kitchen: Add to baked potatoes, omelets and creamy soups. Toss flowers in salads or chop with stems and blend with softened butter for a tasty, pretty spread. Add to hot dishes at the last minute.
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Feathery blue-green leaves infuse a garden with delicate texture. Flattened umbrella-like yellow blossoms lure pollinators. Sow seeds where you want plants; seedlings are tough to transplant successfully. Harvest leaves as flowers start to open; gather seeds when brown and flat. A simple way to get seeds at the right stage is to tie a paper bag over ripening seed heads. Ripe seeds will drop from the plant and be caught in the sack. Swallowtail butterflies use dill as larval food.
- Plant type: Annual; typically grown in early spring in Zones 3-7, fall in Zone 8, fall to winter in Zones 9-11
- Growing conditions: Rich, well-drained soil in full sun
- In the kitchen: Use leaves in salads, potato dishes and green beans. Add to cream sauces, omelets or vinegar. Use seeds in sauerkraut, cabbage dishes and pickles.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
This spicy Italian favorite hails from the Mediterranean, where soils drain sharply and humidity is low. In the garden bed, prolonged wet weather may invite fungus spots on leaves. When rain subsides, new growth won’t have leaf spots. Pick leaves before plants flower. Bees can’t resist blossoms.
- Plant type: Perennial, Zones 5-10
- Growing conditions: Moist but well-drained soil in full sun
- In the kitchen: Chop fresh or dried leaves and add to pasta sauces, pizza, bread dough or bruschetta. Use to flavor rice, chili and green beans.
Mint (Mentha spp.)
Intense flavor and aroma bursts from leaves. This is one of the easiest herbs to grow, and it will overtake a garden with abundant moisture. Tuck mint into half-submerged pots or concrete blocks to contain its wandering ways. Harvest leaves before plants flower. Look for different types, including citrus (orange, grapefruit, lemon), chocolate and spearmint.
- Plant type: Perennial, Zones 3-11, depending on type
- Growing conditions: Rich, moist soil in full sun to part shade
- In the kitchen: Drop whole leaves into iced tea or water (hot or cold). Chop and add to white beans, Asian dishes, fresh fruit, cakes, cookies or homemade ice cream.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Curly, bright-green leaves are familiar as a plate garnish. Chew leaves for a breath freshener. Use plants to edge garden beds; parsley also thrives in pots. Harvest leaves from the outside of the plant. Parsley is a larval plant for swallowtail butterflies; plant extra to enjoy their presence in the garden.
- Plant type: Biennial typically grown as an annual
- Growing conditions: Average to rich garden soil in full or part sun
- In the kitchen: Use with potatoes, tabbouleh or rice. Toss into salads, sauces or stews. Softens strong garlic flavor. Add to hot dishes at the last minute.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Tiny, aromatic leaves cling to stems that become woody as they mature. Shorter plant types thrive along bed edges, in pots, rock gardens or between stepping stones. Harvest stems and strip leaves for use. Different types include woolly, gold, orange, lemon and white variegated (silver).
- Plant type: Perennial, Zones 5-10
- Growing conditions: Well-drained, even gravelly soil in full sun; tolerates part shade; prefers alkaline soil
- In the kitchen: Use leaves to season fish, beef or poultry dishes. Add to chowders, root vegetables, bouillabaisse or gumbo. Use to season marinades, sauces, and also apples or pears.