Herbs bring a wonderful blend of beauty and functionality to a home garden. You might opt to tuck herbs into existing planting areas, but in a simple 4-foot-square plot, you can easily raise enough herbs to flavor family dinners and even freeze or dry for later use.
Starting an herb garden isn’t difficult. You’ll likely spend more time planning than digging, and you’ll definitely have plenty of time left for savoring the fruits of your efforts. Learn the basic steps to starting an herb garden.
Choose your herbs
- Herbs can be annual, biennial or perennial. When using perennial herbs, select ones hardy in your zone.
- Include herbs you use regularly. If you frequently purchase fresh or dried herbs, research these plants to see if you can easily grow them.
- Focus on your family members’ favorite dishes. If they love pasta and pizza, grow basil, oregano, thyme and garlic chives. For Mexican flavors, include cilantro, Mexican tarragon, epazote and lime basil. To complement Asian cooking, grow lemon grass, Thai or cinnamon basil, and mint. Or you might want herbs to brew tea with – such as mint, chamomile, lemon balm or verbena, or bergamot.
Select a site
Once you know which herbs you want to grow, research their needs. Many herbs thrive in well-drained, even gravelly soil in full sun; others require moist, shady spots. With a raised bed, you can customize soil, creating the blend you need.
Providing the correct growing conditions ensures that your herbs will thrive and produce intensely flavorful leaves. Learn more about sun and shade in gardening.
- Herbs for sun: basil, chamomile, cilantro (afternoon shade in warm regions), dill, fennel, lavender, oregano, rosemary, thyme
- Herbs for partial or high shade: chervil, chives, lemon
balm, mint, parsley
- Herbs for moist areas: angelica, bergamot, lemon balm, mint, watercress
- Herbs for gravelly soil (Mediterranean herbs): lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme
- Prepare soil In a new planting area, remove sod if necessary and amend soil to create the ideal growing environment for the herbs you’re planting. With the exception of the moisture lovers, most herbs need well-drained soil. Planting on sloping ground or raised beds provides ideal drainage. Mixing organic material, like compost or peat moss, into soil can help improve soil drainage, fertility and water retention.
To grow Mediterranean herbs, consider a raised bed filled with gravelly soil such as crusher run stone with soil, a succulent or cactus soil blend, or a soil mix that includes fines (stones smaller than a thumbnail).
Whether or not you want to start with herb seeds or seedlings depends on which herbs you’re growing. Some, like dill, basil and lemon balm, start easily from seed. Others, including lemon verbena, mint, rosemary and French tarragon, are more difficult to grow from seeds so it’s best to purchase them.
As you arrange your garden, remember to put taller plants toward the back, shorter ones in front.
Tall herbs: Angelica, dill, fennel, tarragon, rosemary (in some regions)
Short herbs (ideal for edging your garden): Spicy globe basil, chives, some mint varieties, oregano, parsley, sage, thyme