If you enjoy eating what you grow, consider planting an herb garden.
Even if you don’t have a green thumb, herbs are some of the least intimidating plants to grow. They’ll thrive in pots, window boxes or backyard gardens. They rarely get diseases and don’t require pesticides. And whatever your soil conditions, as long as you have sun, there’s an herb that will work.
“They’re usually less fussy than vegetables,” says Kim Roman, a Maryland-based author who has a forthcoming book on growing culinary herbs. “You don’t have to fertilize them. You give them really bad haircuts and they don’t mind.”
Growing your own herbs saves money, too. A bunch of fresh herbs may cost $3 to $5 at the grocery store, while a packet of seeds is usually $1.99. Even if you invest in a starter plant for $4 or $5, you’ll continue to harvest that one plant over and over, which will save money.
“There’s nothing fresher than picking straight from your own garden and just leaning out the window or door to snip off a plug,” says Kathy Jentz, editor of Washington Gardener and host of the GardenDC podcast. “What you grow yourself always tastes better.”
How to start an herb garden
Some herbs are short-lived annuals, such as basil and cilantro, while others are woody perennials, such as oregano and thyme. You can grow many herbs from seeds or cuttings or buy young plants to transplant into pots or the ground.
Herbs that are great to grow from seed include basil, which germinates quickly and is easy to care for, as well as dill and fennel, Jentz says.
Rosemary, chamomile and lavender, among others, require a little more work to grow from seed because they need a four-to-six-week cooling period known as seed stratification, which mimics the winter. For these herbs and others, like parsley, which takes a long time to grow from seed, it may be best to purchase a young plant to transplant and simplify the process.
“I recommend starting from transplants and not seed,” because that strategy provides quicker rewards, says Noelle Johnson, aka the AZ Plant Lady, a desert landscape consultant in Phoenix.
Initially, you may want to start small, with three to six plants. “Grow those well and then you can broaden your herbal horizon,” says Bill Varney, a board member of the Herb Society of America who owns Urban Herbals, a gift and plant shop in San Antonio.
- When planting any herbs from seed, Roman recommends using a designated seed starter mix because potting soil may be too rich for some seeds to germinate well.
- Replant any purchased plants immediately into larger pots to give compacted roots room to spread.
- When possible, divide a purchased herb plant into two pots to double your output.
Growing herbs outdoors
Most herbs prefer an outdoor location that has full, direct sun, usually four to six hours per day, whether planted in the ground or in containers. Before choosing an herb to plant, take a day or so to observe how much sun your planting area gets.
Also, note the time of year. Some herbs, like dill and chamomile, prefer the cooler temperatures of spring and fall, while others, like sage, will thrive in the hot sun.