Secrets to Herb Gardening for Beginners

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Herb garden at homeWe get a lot of questions about herb gardening for beginners. The truth is that herb gardening is one of the most fulfilling types of gardening and also requires significantly less skill than the more exotic flowers. Herb gardening is not only a great place for the beginner gardener to start, but it is also a type of gardening that produces a result that is both fragrant and edible! While many beginner gardeners pooh-pooh the idea of growing something that is “all green,” what is seldom realized is how much they vary in flavor and fragrance. Read on to learn how to start an herb garden and herb garden tips.

How to Start an Herb Garden

When growing herbs you need to decide how you are going to begin, whether you want to grow your herbs in small individual pots or whether you want to grow your own herb garden. Some people find that when they begin growing herbs it is easier to stay on track if they begin with small pots with a single plant in each. Growing herbs in pots for beginners is a great option! Many times this method is started with a small pot that contains a small dried tablet of soil with the herb seeds already contained within it. These small pots are an easy way to begin because all they require is a little water and sunlight to begin since the soil already contains much of the nutrition that the herbs need to grow.

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After growing herbs in this way for a little while; however, the plants will become too large for the small beginner pots and you will need to transplant the plants into larger pots to ensure that the roots have enough room to spread out without becoming tangled and choking the plant’s source of nutrition. Transplanting a plant from one pot to another is a relatively easy process; however, some people prefer to disturb their plants much less or grow larger amounts of herbs at a time and so they choose to begin an herb garden. Herb gardens involve more work in the first weeks of gardening since you need to prepare an area of the garden for your herbs and ensure that the soil contains the nutrients that are needed for the herbs to thrive. For the purpose of this article, we will assume that you will be planting an herb garden since this is the one method of the two that requires more instruction.

Prepare Your Soil

Most people do not have a rich soil that is easy to manage and they can easily become discouraged before they even begin the gardening process when they try to turn over an area of soil and find a clay-rich soil or a sandy soil that does not look appropriate for planting anything. Herbs are a rather easy plant to grow which is what makes them a great choice for beginner gardeners; however, that does not mean that they will grow absolutely anywhere and that soil requires no preparation before planting an herb garden. All soil requires some type of preparatory work before anything is planted in it in order to assure that there is adequate nutrition and moisture. The first step is to test your soil to determine what type of soil you are working with. Most types of soil require the addition of a fertilizer to even out certain deficiencies within the soil composition, but before adding a fertilizer you must first determine what type of fertilizer to add and this is determined by the results of soil testing.

What Is Soil Testing?

Soil testing is a method used by gardeners worldwide to analyze soil to determine the elements and the amount of those elements within the gardening soil. Soil should be tested periodically and not just at the beginning of a gardening project. However, since the nutrient content of soil changes over time. If soil testing is not done before applying a fertilizer soil can easily be damaged and as a result, plants can be burned or may not grow at all. Soil testing is performed by your local county extension center as well as gardening companies and independent labs in your area. Some gardening centers and nurseries also offer soil testing services for a small fee.

How to Test Soil

In order to give a comprehensive sample to the lab of your choice, you should take multiple samples from areas of your garden that you will be utilizing for your gardening experience. If the soil samples are from a relatively similar area and do not appear to be different combine a few samples in one clean container to present for testing to ensure that the overall soil quality his being assessed. If soil areas appear to have different types of soil all together it is important not to mix these soil types and instead present them to the testing facility in different sample containers.

In order to get a good sample, you should take around 1 to 2 cups of soil to your testing facility for them to test. Make sure when taking samples that you do not take them from areas that have already been fertilized or from wet areas, soil should be dry why sampled. If you find that your soil is slightly moist allow it to dry naturally before taking the sample in for testing. Once received at the lab, specialists will be able to test your soil to determine which nutrients it has and which nutrients it needs in order to act as a fertile gardening soil that is conducive to gardening. It is important to provide information to the testing facility on what you wish to plant in the area at the time that you provide your sample, they may also wish to know how large the planting area is. Soil sample results will generally be timely and will provide information on what type of fertilizer you will need to apply to your planting area in order to make it a nutrient rich and well-balanced soil for planting your herb garden.

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Why Fertilizer is Important to Herb Gardening

Fertilizer is what helps to ensure that your soil is providing the nutrients that your plants will need in order to grow which is why it is important to apply the appropriate type of fertilizer to ensure that a plant does not receive too much of a certain nutrient. After applying the necessary fertilizer to your soil before planting your herbs you are creating a well-balanced environment for your plants to grow. But after your plant’s initial burst of growth tests may indicate that they have depleted certain nutrient levels in the soil and that another round of fertilization is needed.

Choosing Herbs to Grow

Many people ask which types of herbs are the best to begin growing an herb garden with but in reality, most varieties of herb are fairly easy to grow and the herbs that you choose to grow is really your preference. There is a wide variety of herbs to choose from with some having more fragrance and others being utilized more in certain types of cuisine so try to pick herbs that combine these two elements and create an herb garden that not only smells amazing but also produces herbs that you can utilize in the kitchen.

Varieties of Herbs

Types of herbsThere are a vast number of herbs that you can plant in your herb garden and the general requirement that needs to be taken into consideration for each is the amount of sunlight required by each. Some of the herbs that you may choose to grow in your herb garden include: basil, chives, dill, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, chervil, lemon balm, mint, parsley, cilantro, marjoram, chamomile and sage. Many of these fresh herbs can be located in your grocery store or organic food store if you are not sure whether you like the fragrance or taste of any of them so you can always do a little research prior to deciding which herbs you would like to grow in your garden.

Basil

Basil is a pleasantly fragranced herb that many people choose to grow in their herb garden because it is frequently utilized in cooking and it is a strongly fragrant herb that adds to the smell of an herb garden. Basil flourishes when grown in full sunlight and takes around 30 to 60 days to mature at which time a plant should be around 10” tall.

Borage

Borage is a light purple to blue colored flowering herb and adds both color and texture to any herb garden. The flowers and stems of borage have a light white fur on them which helps them to stand apart from other herbs. The flowers of borage are edible and have a variety of culinary applications from drink flavoring to salad toppings. In order to thrive, borage requires full sunlight and a good amount of heat. The flowers on borage open from spring until fall frost and attract butterflies. This annual herb is easy to grow and it is both drought-tolerant and resistant to deer making it perfect for any herb garden. Borage must be placed in full sunlight and grows between 1 to 3 feet high and ½ to 2 feet wide.

Catnip

Catnip is a fragrant herb but is not recommended for non cat-lovers because it is a major attraction to cats. This herb has larger leaves and adds diversity to any herb garden; however, it can quickly grow out of control. Catnip is easier to control if grown indoors in a pot but it can be controlled outdoors with a watchful eye. This herb is most popular among cat owners and is commonly sold in pet stores. Catnip can grow in both full and partial sunlight and attracts butterflies as well as cats. This is a drought tolerant herb that can also thrive in wet soil. Catnip blooms white flowers in the summer and grows to around 2 feet tall and 18 inches wide.

Chamomile

Chamomile is an herb that most people recognize for its use in teas and aromatherapy products. The chamomile plant is known for producing small white daisy-like flowers that add a little color to herb gardens. Chamomile flourishes in full sun and takes around 120 days to mature at which point plants measure around 4” to 8” tall.

Chervil

Chervil is a more subtle herb and while it is used to add flavor its fragrance may be overpowered in the herb garden by some of the more fragrant herbs. Chervil is commonly utilized to flavor soups as well as cheese and fish dishes. Chervil flourishes when grown in full sunlight and takes approximately 120 days to mature at which time the plant measures around 20” tall.

Chives

Chives are another herb that many people choose to grow due to the fact that they are so commonly utilized in everyday cooking. Chive leaves make a great quick addition to soups and bring a lot of flavor to basic salads. This herb requires full sunlight to grow and takes around 80 to 90 days to mature at which time the plant should be between 12” to 18” tall.

Cilantro

Cilantro is a fragrant and flavorful herb that salsa lovers everywhere are familiar with and love to incorporate into their herb gardens! Cilantro requires full sunlight to bloom and can take between 60 to 90 days to mature at which point the plant should measure between 18” to 24” tall.

at which point the plant should measure between 12” to 18” tall.

Dill

Dill is an herb that some people like and others do not, it is frequently utilized for its seeds which are utilized to flavor pickles so if you grow your own cucumbers and want to begin pickling this is a good herb to grow. Dill requires full sunlight to bloom and takes between 40 to 60 days to mature at which time the plant should be between 12” to 24” tall.

Fennel

Fennel is a brushy green herb with a solid white base and it adds a lot of texture to a garden as well as draws in butterflies. This perennial herb flowers from late spring to early fall and prefers to be placed in the sun or in partial sunlight. Fennel grows to between 2 and 4 feet tall and can grow as wide as 15 to 18 inches. This is a fragrant herb that tends to attract a number of other insects in addition to butterflies which is why many people place it next to their favorite flowers in order to detract insects.

Garlic Chives

Garlic chives are a popular herb among cooks as they bring a mild garlic flavor when used in culinary dishes. Garlic chives have beautiful but small white flowers that can self-sow at a rapid pace throughout the garden so it is important to keep an eye on this herb. This is a fragrant perennial which adds a little savory perfume to even the sweetest smelling herb garden. Garlic chives are known to attract butterflies and they are also resistant to deer. This is an easy to grow herb that is also drought tolerant but it does require full sunlight in order to thrive. Garlic chives will grow to around 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide and they bloom in the fall.

Lavender

LavenderLavender is a beautiful addition to any herb garden because of its gorgeous lilac color as well as its pungent scent. Often used in cooking and in tea, lavender has a long-lasting fragrance and a number of health benefits including stress reduction! To meet their full potential, lavender plants should be placed in full sunlight. This perennial herb flowers in the early to mid-summer and attracts birds and butterflies while remaining resistant to deer. Lavender does not require a lot of water to thrive and provides a good amount of ground cover. Lavender plants can grow between 1 to 3 feet tall and between 1 and 3 feet wide.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is a citrusy herb which many people choose to add to their herb garden due to its pleasant lemon flavor which is commonly used in tea. The fragrance of lemon balm can easily be overpowered by more fragrant herbs but the flavor is still pleasant. Lemon balm flourishes in full and partial sun and takes between 90 to 200 days to mature at which point the plant should measure around 24 inches tall.

Lemongrass

Lemongrass has the appearance of long grass and it adds texture and fragrance both to any herb garden. Thriving in warm weather lemongrass will thrive and add a gorgeous aroma to any garden. Lemongrass is a great cooking ingredient as well as a good addition to any number of herbal teas. The lemon scent of this slender herb will add a refreshing citrus scent to your herb garden. Lemongrass is easy to grow and thrives in both full and partial sunlight. This is a perennial herb and can grow to between 3 and 6 feet tall and between 5 and 8 feet wide. Many chefs choose to grow lemongrass indoors when they use it frequently in cooking, since it does not thrive in colder seasons.

Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena has long and slender leaves that add variety to even the greenest of herb gardens. Fragrant and delicious lemon verbena has many culinary uses from baking to herbal teas. This is another deer resistant herb that blooms in the late summer for early fall flowers. Lemon verbena is easy to grow and requires either full or partial sunlight to thrive. When fully grown this herb stands around 6 feet tall and can be as wide as 6 feet as well.

Marjoram

Marjoram is a sweet herb that many beginner herb gardeners have not thought of adding to their herb garden; however, it is a flavorful herb that brings a lot to a variety of different cuisines. Marjoram flourishes in full sunlight and takes between 60 to 90 days to mature at which point the plant should measure 12” tall.

Mint

Mint is generally the first herb of choice when it comes to growing an herb garden because it is the most commonly known herb and has a particularly pleasant aroma and flavor to it. Mint can be utilized in a variety of dishes as well as fragrant drinks and aromatherapy products. Mint flourishes in partial to full sunlight and takes around 90 to 200 days to mature at which point the plant measures between 18” to 24” tall.

Parsley

Parsley is a popular herb due to its many applications in various cuisines. Parsley is incorporated into a vast number of dishes including cooking meats, making salad dressings, making soups and making pesto! While parsley does not have a particularly strong fragrance to it, it does have a unique taste which enhances all of these dishes. Parsley blooms in full to partial sunlight and takes around 40 to 60 days to mature at which point the plant should measure between 12” to 18” tall.

Oregano

Oregano is one of the more commonly known herbs and many first-time herb gardeners choose to grow it due to its pleasant fragrance as well as its application in cooking. Oregano makes a great addition to many Italian dishes so if Italian is a cuisine of choice in your household this would be a good herb to add to the herb garden! Oregano blooms in full sunlight and takes between 90 to 200 days to mature at which time the plant should be between 12” to 24” tall.

Rosemary

Rosemary is an herb that many people utilize in cooking to flavor both vegetables and meats as well as in aromatherapy products. Rosemary can be a particularly fragrant herb as well which is why it is commonly used in aromatherapy. For those who don’t care for the scent or taste, this may not be the herb for you! Rosemary blooms in the full sun and takes between 90 to 400 days to mature at which time the plant should measure between 24” to 36” tall.

Tarragon

Spanish Tarragon is one of the more popular types of tarragon that herb gardeners choose to grow based on its licorice-like smell that permeates the garden. The flower of the Spanish tarragon plant is also frequently utilized to bring a little color to an herb garden due to the bright yellow Marigold type flowers. The Spanish tarragon plant blooms in the full sun and when fully grown they may reach up to 12” high and 18” wide.

Thyme

Thyme is one of the basic herbs that most people recognize and many beginner herb gardeners choose to incorporate into their herb garden. Thyme grows low and gives a little height difference to an herb garden but it also brings a lovely aroma. This is a commonly used herb in cooking which is another reason that many people choose to utilize it in their herb garden, so that they have fresh thyme on hand when they need it. Thyme flourishes in full sunlight and takes around 180 to 200 days to mature at which time it should measure between 6” to 12” tall.

Sage

Sage is another of the basic herbs that many people are familiar with. Sage adds a pleasant aroma to an herb garden and has a variety of applications in numerous cuisines. Sage flourishes in the full sun and takes between 90 to 200 days to mature at which point the plant should measure between 12” to 24” tall.

Salvia

Salvia is a beautifully dark violet annual herb that adds a splash of color to any herb garden. Salvia is particularly hardy and can thrive in dry and damp climates. This beautifully colored herb is particularly attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. Salvia is easy to grow but they do not thrive in colder climates so they should not be planted until warmer weather is approaching. This herb requires full or partial sunlight in order to thrive. Salvia can grow to between 1 and 3 feet tall and approximately 1 foot wide.

Stevia

Stevia is a particularly popular herb these days as it has become a common alternative to artificial sweeteners and sugar. This sweet herb is a tropical plant and as such it requires soil that does not hold on to water creating damp climates. Stevia also does not thrive in colder climates but it does grow well indoors so when frosts move in it should be brought inside the home. This herb blooms in the summer and fall and can be used in a wide variety of culinary methods. The beautiful white flowers on the stevia plant add a great contrast to some of the darker flowering herbs. Stevia is an easy herb to grow and prefers full sunlight. The average height of a stevia plant is around 30 inches and the average width is around 18 inches.

Combining Herb Varieties to Make Your Ideal Herb Garden

When combining different types of herbs in your herb garden it is important to try to remember to place herbs strategically. One example of this is to ensure that your herbs that require partial shade to flourish are placed somewhere where they receive partial shade and likewise with herbs that require full sunlight. You should also keep in mind that placing milder fragranced herbs next to extremely pungent herbs may lead to the overpowering of the milder herb by the much stronger one, so try to organize your garden to where each type of herb has its own placement and is not going to be overpowered by another. Some herb gardeners like to plant their herbs in rows and utilize seed packets or other markers to remind them of which herb was planted in which area, doing this keeps herbs nicely organized and helps to remind the novice gardener of which herb is which (something that can be extremely helpful particularly for the milder scented herbs!)

Deciding to Create an Herb Garden

Deciding to create an herb garden is a project that will take your time and energy but will also reward you with flavorful fresh herbs to season your cooking as you please. Of all of the varieties of things that you can choose to begin your gardening career with, herbs are by far one of the simplest, yet most rewarding plants to try your hand at. Just remember, gardening is a process that requires love and attention and in the end, you will always be rewarded with the fruits of your labor.

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Share Your Gardening Experience

Starting an herb garden is easier than you think! Have you tried to create a herb garden? Were any of our tips useful? Please share your experience with our community members below. Any feedback you have on our article is welcome as well!

What do you grow (or want to grow) in your herb garden?

About The Author:

Amy grew up in England and in the early 1990's moved to North Carolina where she completed a bachelors degree in Psychology in 2001. Amy's personal interest in writing was sparked by her love of reading fiction and her creative writing hobby. Amy is currently self employed as a freelance writer and web designer. When she is not working Amy can be found curled up with a good book and her black Labrador, Jet.

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