Handy dandy tips for growing a culinary herb garden as well as a list of herbs to begin with if you’re new to gardening.
Having fresh herbs on hand for cooking is such a treat. Fresh herbs can transform an otherwise boring dish into something full of flavor and color. An herb garden can be budget friendly too. And that’s always a good thing.
If you’ve never grown your own herbs, it’s easier than you think. There are a variety of herbs that are easy to grow and many that are well-suited for growing in small containers. Whether you live on a large estate or in a cozy condo, if you have a sunny spot, there are herbs you can grow.
Basic tips for beginning an herb garden:
- Drainage. Most herbs prefer moist, but well-drained soil with plenty of sun. Very wet soils will not produce happy herbs.
- Not too much. Go easy on the fertilizer when growing herbs. If too much fertilizer is used, plants will produce large amounts of foliage with low quality flavor.
- In plain sight. Choose a sunny spot for your new herbs that will not be out of site, and therefore out of mind. If you can keep an eye on them, you can keep them happy, plus you will be more apt to use them.
- Keep it manageable. If you’re new to gardening, or space is limited, consider choosing two or three herbs to begin with. Begin with those you think you will use more.
- Read up. Each plant has different requirements for sun and soil. Be sure to do your homework, especially if you’re planning on different varieties sharing pots. Learn what specific needs are for each plant and if they will grow well in your climate. Also knowing which herbs are annual, biennials, and perennial will help you decide about how to arrange your plantings.
- This other post on Planning a Garden includes many helpful links and information.
A few herbs I recommend beginning with:
- Basil: Basil is one of my all-time favorites to grown, and to eat. When it’s in season it’s hard to not want to add it to every single dish. With so many varieties of basil, the creative culinary uses are almost endless.
- Cilantro (coriander): If you enjoy cilantro, you know that a fish taco, homemade guacamole or salsa made with fresh cilantro is hard to beat. If you’ve never grown your own, give it a go. Please note, cilantro does not like the heat. I’ve yet to find a way to grow it outside during the summer months in our area. We use it up during the spring and fall as it grows quickly during that time for us. We allow ours to bolt and go to seed in the spring to reseed for the fall and again in the fall for a spring harvest. As well as taking time to harvest some seeds to grind fresh coriander. The leaves of the cilantro/coriander plant are known as cilantro. The seeds are coriander. You get two for one with this plant!
- Rosemary: A hardy plant that makes for a wonderful addition to landscaping. Rosemary is a perennial and in most zones will act as an evergreen. We have a prostrate version planted in a several spots in our landscaping. It grows like crazy. I use it not only for cooking, but for cutting to use in live arrangements throughout the year.
- Thyme: I have to admit, I don’t use thyme as often as I should, but when I do, fresh thyme makes all the difference. As with so many herbs, thyme can be used as a fantastic addition to your landscaping — not just restricted to your herb garden area.
- Chives: A simple sprinkling of chives gives a baked potato, or creamy soup take on another personality all together. And that perky green is flavor for the eyes.
- Oregano: Fresh oregano for sauces and soups is a must. We’ve found it easy to grow. One variety we have had success with is Greek oregano. It’s like a patch of green carpet. So fragrant too!
- Sage: Leathery leaves of the sage plant are so attractive and can add great flavor to many savory dishes. Such a pretty plant, and I have found very hardy, returning each year. There are variety of sage plants to choose from.
- Mint: Mint is a great herb for use in many desserts and beverages, but Mint is extremely vigorous and tends to be quite invasive (as well as Lemon Balm and other plants from the mint family). I recommend to grow it in a container to avoid problems. Unless you have a bare spot of ground that you want covered. Even if Mint is grown in a container, the bottom of the container should be lined with landscape mesh or the like to prevent the roots from growing out the bottom and finding their way into the soil, because they will.
I hope this helps encourage you to start planning a culinary herb garden so you can add a bit of fresh flavor to your plate this year. What are your favorite herbs to cook with? Are there herbs you already grow?
Happy growing, AND happy cooking!
Originally posted March 12, 2013. Updated April 22, 2015.