Herb Growing Tips


Herbs are useful for cooking, crafting, and decorating -- coming out of the garden into your home. A separate herb garden is wonderful, but herbs can also be blended with flowers and vegetables in a kitchen or a cottage garden. You can also slip herbs in flower or shrub beds, or even into the plantings around your foundation.

Culinary Herb Gardens Image Gallery

Long pot of herbs
Plant commonly used culinary herbs in a clay planter by a
sunny kitchen window -- they'll be on hand when you need them.
See more pictures of culinary herb gardens.

Plan an herb garden before you plant. Some of the most charming herb gardens have formal beds or geometric patterns that show off the beauty of herbal foliage. Here are some examples, and some suggestions on how to grow them successfully:

Herbs for Light Soil
  • Lavender
  • Sage
  • Santolina
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Sweet fennel
  • Marjoram
  • Winter savory
  • Yarrow
  • Lamb's ears
  • Teucrium
  • German chamomile
  • Coriander
  • Sweet fennel
  • Sage
  • Hyssop
  • Tarragon
  • Rosemary
  • Artemisias

Herbs for Moister Soil

  • Knot gardens interweave herbs with contrasting leaf color and textures into simple or intricate patterns, many of which are taken from embroidery schemes. Simple knot gardens can be made with two overlapping circles or squares set on a background of mulch or gravel. An easy way to make a knot is with annual herbs such as bush basil, summer savory, or sweet marjoram, or even annual flowers such as French marigolds or ageratum.

  • Formal herb gardens generally have symmetrical planting plans, with matched herbs on either side of the garden like reflections in a mirror.

  • Formal and patterned herb gardens often include neat, clipped edgings of boxwood, teucrium, santolina, thyme, winter savory, or other neat herbs suitable for shearing.

  • Provide sandy soil for herbs that need well-drained soil of moderate fertility. If kept in soil that's lean and light and drenched in hot sun, these herbs develop excellent flavor and stay free from disease.

  • If your soil is naturally sandy and well drained, you're in luck. If, instead, it's damp clay, raise the herb garden and add a 3-inch layer of coarse sand and 2 inches of compost to improve drainage. Avoid excessive use of fertilizers, especially those high in nitrogen.

  • Grow herbs that need light soil in pots. When planted in well-drained, peat-based potting mix, herbs such as thyme, lavender, and rosemary thrive -- and they look great.

In the next section, we'll talk about incorporating perennials as herbs in your garden.

Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.

Perennials as Herbs

Plant perennials that double as herbs in flower beds and borders. Some herbs masquerade as perennials (and vice versa) because they can be used for decorating, fragrance, or cuisine. Some examples include the following:

Herb plant
Some herbs double
as perennials.

  • Sweetly fragrant bee balm has flowers and foliage wonderful for tea or drying for potpourri.

  • Yarrow bears everlasting flowers for dried arrangements. Air drying is fine for golden-flowered forms. To preserve the color of pink, red, and white-flowered yarrows, dry them in silica gel.

  • Lady's Mantle is a historical herb with lovely scalloped leaves and small sprays of yellow-green flowers for cutting.
     
  • Pinks have fragrant flowers that can be used fresh for cut flower arrangements or dried for potpourri.

Once you decide to make a garden of perennial herbs, be sure to follow these tips:

  • Use herbs with attractive foliage for season-long color in perennial gardens. Amid the comings and goings of perennial flowers, neatly or colorfully clad herbs maintain enduring style and beauty.

  • Some of the best herbs to grow for decorative foliage include globe basil (small mounds of emerald green), bronze leaf basil or perilla, ornamental sages (with purple leaves, variegated gold leaves, or tricolor green, white, and pink leaves), and silver-leaved herbs such as gray santolina and lavender. For a great overall color scheme, complement the color of the foliage with nearby flowers.

In the next section, we'll explore techniques you can use to enhance your herb garden.

Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.

Herb Garden Tips

Planting herbs is a great way to enrich your garden. Here are some tips that will help you make the best of your herb garden.

  • Plant more parsley, dill, and fennel than you think you will use to attract swallowtail butterflies. The beauty of the butterflies and fun of watching the caterpillars develop can be worth the foliage that they eat.

  • Harvest perennial herbs as they develop flower buds. This is the time when the fragrant and flavorful oils in the plants are at their peak of intensity, providing a gourmet experience. Because fresh herbs taste so good, even at other times of the growing season, it's perfectly acceptable to continue harvesting whenever you feel the urge. In cold climates, however, hardy perennial herbs need a break from heavy harvesting beginning 45 days before the first frost in order to prepare for winter.

    Bricks in an herb garden
    Removing bricks in a garden path
    makes way for low-growing herbs.

  • Restrain rampant herbs like mint and bee balm so they can't take over the garden. These plants need firm limits to keep them in their proper place.

  • Plant rampant herbs in large plastic pots with the bottom removed and the top rim emerging an inch or two above the soil surface. The container will slow down spreading growth enough so you can see trouble before it spills over the edge. Cut back any errant sprouts and use them for tea or to garnish a fruit salad. Divide to renew the chastised plant every year or two.

  • Pinch back annual herbs, such as basil, to keep them from blooming. If allowed to channel energy into seed production, the foliage will grow skimpy and so will your harvest. Pinching off the shoot tips from time to time provides sprigs for herbal vinegars and pestos and inspires the plant to grow back bushier than ever.

  • Remove a few bricks in a garden path to make places for low-growing thyme or oregano. Either herb will thrive in this warm, well-drained location and will give a charming natural look and wonderful fragrance to the walkway.

  • Plant a collection of commonly used culinary herbs in a clay planter by a sunny kitchen window. They will be right at hand when you need them.

  • Culinary herbs are a mainstay of most herb gardens. The garden-fresh flavors of thyme, basil, savory, oregano, and marjoram are incomparable. You can also grow gourmet varieties of these classics -- lemon thyme, cinnamon basil, and Sicilian oregano, for example -- to add to your cooking pleasure. You can also include herbal teas, such as stomach-soothing peppermint and calming chamomile.

Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.