This guide is all about herb garden planning and layout for beginners. Here, I’ll cover the different things to consider when you’re planning to start growing herbs, including what you need and what kind of layout to use.
Where to Plant Your Herb Garden?
Most herbs trace their origins to the Mediterranean. As such, they thrive in that environment. Thus, it makes sense to give them something similar.
The good news is, many plants, including herbs, adapt very well to different conditions. This allows them to adjust to what you give them.
That said, knowing what your herbs enjoy goes a long way in helping them achieve optimum growth.
Location, Climate & Weather
Gardening is very much like real estate. It’s all about location.
Where you live determines the plants you can and can’t grow. Or, at least, plants that you’ll have a hard time growing properly.
That’s because where you live affects the weather and climate you have. Additionally, it also influences the soil and topography. Both of which are factors in plant growth.
When it comes to herbs, climate plays a big role.
That said, it’s important to clarify the difference between weather and climate. Often the two are used interchangeably. But, they don’t exactly mean the same thing.
- Climate refers to the average general conditions in your area based on different times of the year. Thus, it takes into consideration the wind, temperature and other things including precipitation and snowfall.
- Weather is what’s happening right now where you are. As such, it can be sunny, rainy, windy or snowing.
As you would imagine, your exact location affects both. But, since you’re concerned with growing your herb garden over months and keeping it for years, it’s a good idea to focus on the climate first, then weather next.
In general, the climate you experience depends on 4 main factors.
- Your exact position in the earth. The easiest way to pinpoint your location in the world is via your longitude and latitude. These are the vertical and horizontal points on the globe. For gardeners, the latter is more important. That’s because it tells you how much higher or lower you are from the earth’s equator. The closer you are to it, the more tropical the weather. Thus, there’s less chance of snow. And, more likely you experince the sun most days of the year. The farther away you are, the cooler the temperature and more days of winter you get. As such, it also shortens your growing season.
- How high you are. This refers to elevation. Simply put, the higher up you are (elevation) from cooler the air gets. Also, higher elevations experience shorter growing seasons as well. Similarly, the difference of a few hundred feet can mean getting snow instead of rain.
- Water. Throughout civilization, large bodies of water have influenced the growth of cities. When it comes to climate, water helps cool hot weather and warm cold conditions. This helps extend your gardening season by 2 weeks to a 1 month compared to someone who isn’t near a big lake or similar waterfront location. Besides tempering the hot and colder months, it also moderates the temperature throughout the day. This keeps the nights from getting too cold and the afternoons too hot. Finally, being near a body of water increases the amount of rain as well.
- Finally, there’s the wind. In general, herbs don’t like the wind. But more importantly, wind affects the climate of your region. Winds push cold and warm air from one place to another. That’s why you hear of cold fronts approaching. They do the same for moisture. As such, where the winds come from can affect how much rainfall your area has. That said, mountains, tall buildings and other structures (both man-made and natural) can block winds coming from one direction or another. This can affect how much wind, cool or warm air and rain your locale receives.
Together, these factors affect how long your growing seasons are and how much rain you can expect to receive on any given month. It also gives you an idea if your region is dry, wet, hot or cold.
All of these factors come into play determining which herbs, and plants in general, are best suited for where you live.
- How to Grow Herbs – Starting an Herb Garden
- How to Grow Herbs in Pots – Make Your Own Herb Container Garden
- How to Harvest, Dry, Freeze and Store Herbs
- How to Propagate Herbs
- Indoor and Outdoor Herb Gardening for Beginners
- Overwintering Herbs – Growing Herbs Indoors in Winter
USDA Hardiness Zone Map
One of the most useful things to study as a beginner gardener is the USDA Hardiness Zone Map.
This map divides the entire United States into 11 planting regions. The regions are divided in such a way that one region is 10 degrees warmer or cooler than the next adjacent numbered region.
And, in general:
- Zone 1 is the coldest planting region with temperatures below -50 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Zone 11 is the hottest gardening region where temperatures are 40 degrees Fahrenheit and above.
By finding your zone (according to where you live), you’ll be able to best determine which plants have the best chance of growing optimally in your area.
Below is a chart that shows the temperature ranges for each zone in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
The temperature range of each zone is shown in both Fahrenheit and Celsius.
How to Use the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map
Here’s how to tell if a plant is “hardy” to your area. That is if a plant can thrive (not just survive) with the climate conditions in your area.
Step 1: Locate your area in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map
Just enter your zip code into the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map page. It will then tell you your zone and its temperature range.
You can likewise click on your state to get a close up version of the different cities.
If you’re in Canada, check out the maps here.
Step 2: Compare your zone with the zones listed in a plant’s label
If you have a few herbs, or plants, in mind, check their labels to see what zones the plant is ideal for. The range of the zones listed will vary. Some plants thrive in a wide range of zones, for example zones 4 through 9. Others will have a much narrower range, like zones 5 & 6 only.
You can likewise search online to check for different plants that are ideal for your zone. This allows you to make a list of candidates. Then shortlist it to get the ones you like most.
That said, just because plants are listed for certain hardiness zones doesn’t mean that they can’t survive in your zone.
Some will. But, you’ll need to take really good care of them. This means monitoring how much sun, water and mulch they get among other things.
Note that is you live outside the United States, you’ll need to check your country’s Plant Hardiness Map.
For example, Canada has its own based on the weather in different parts of that country. The same is true for Australia.
If you live in the U.K., you’ll be using the a chart of the Plant Hardiness Zones based on the UK RHS Rating like the one below.
Annuals and Perennials
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is mostly used for perennials. It’s less of a concern for annuals since these plants will only last for one season. Come wintertime, they’ll cease growing and die.
For example, if you have a plant that’s designated for zone 9, that means it will do well in regions that are in zone 9 or have warmer temperatures.
These conditions will allow it to thrive year in and year out.
But, if you grow it in zone 8 or below, it essentially becomes an annual. That’s because when the colder months come, it will find it hard to survive.
The only exception is if you decide to bring the plants indoors and give it cozier conditions. In doing so, you’re allowing it to thrive past the colder temperature.
One of the most important things to consider about the USDA Hardiness Zone Map is that it focuses on one figure, temperature. More specifically, it’s the minimum temperature a particular region receives on average.
If you’ve been gardening for at least a few months, you’ll likely know that there are other factors to consider as well when choosing which plants to grow.
One is your growing season.
Growing season refers to the times of the year when the temperature and amount of rain make it possible for plants to grow.
From above, you already know that different plants have different growing seasons. But, where you live also affects how long these seasons are and when they start or end.
For example, if you live in areas with tropical climates, like Hawaii and parts of Florida, your growing seasons lasts 365 days a year.
Similarly, those with Mediterranean climates like California, including Los Angeles, also enjoy a growing season that is just about all year round.
In states that experience winters, the growing season starts around April or May and lasts up to September or October.
When to Plant Herbs Based on USDA Hardiness Zone
Below are a series of charts that will tell you when to plant each specific herb based on the USDA Hardiness Zone you live in.
Zone 1 Herb Planting Calendar (What month to sow, plant or harvest each herb if you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 1
Zone 2 Herb Planting Calendar (What month to sow, plant or harvest each herb if you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 2
Zone 3 Herb Planting Calendar (What month to sow, plant or harvest each herb if you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 3
Zone 4 Herb Planting Calendar (What month to sow, plant or harvest each herb if you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 4
Zone 5 Herb Planting Calendar (What month to sow, plant or harvest each herb if you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 5
Zone 6 Herb Planting Calendar (What month to sow, plant or harvest each herb if you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 6
Zone 7 Herb Planting Calendar (What month to sow, plant or harvest each herb if you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 7
Zone 8 Herb Planting Calendar (What month to sow, plant or harvest each herb if you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 8
Zone 9 Herb Planting Calendar (What month to sow, plant or harvest each herb if you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 9
Zone 10 Herb Planting Calendar (What month to sow, plant or harvest each herb if you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 10
Before I started gardening, I only looked at the weather to see whether it was going rain or not. Doing so helped me make sure to bring coats and umbrellas for the kids.
But, as a gardener, there’s more to it.
Knowing the climate in your region allows you to plan your garden. However, you need to monitor the weather to make adjustments in the short-term.
That’s because climate change is a very real thing.
As such, your area can average 3-6 inches of rain on average for certain months. But, this year, only actually receive 1-2 inches.
Similarly, the amount of snow, and when it starts falling changes year in and year out.
By monitoring your current weather conditions, you’ll be able to make the proper adjustments that allow you to compensate or pull back on watering as well as other aspects of gardening.
In general, the USDA Hardiness Zone Map gives you a good idea of what climate to expect. But, in addition to the current weather, there’s one final thing to take into consideration.
This is your microclimate.
Microclimate refers to the climate of a specific area that can be different from the prevailing climate surrounding that area.
In this case, it’s all about your home and garden.
The logistics of your home and garden can alter the overall climate it receives. For example, if you have large trees blocking the sunlight, then your home or garden may experience cooler temperatures and less sun compared to the house 3 blocks down the street.
Similarly, if there are mountains to one side of your home, you’ll experience different wind and rain conditions from other gardens that are in your city which don’t have mountains adjacent to them.
As such, the climate for your zone only goes so far. You also need to consider what’s immediately around you.
That’s because this affects:
- Sunshine and Shade. Most plants like a lot of sunlight. But, if you have a lot of structures surrounding you, there may be more shade around your home and garden. Similarly, homes facing south (for the U.S. and Canada) get more bright sunlight compared to those facing north.
- Wind. The location of your home also affects where the wind is coming from. In the U.S., winds come from the west. But, it’s different for other countries. Similarly, the structures that surround your home can affect air circulation. Stagnant air isn’t good for gardening because it increases the risk of disease. In the same way, where your home is located can affect whether you receive, hot, humid or cold air.
- Water. Plants need water. But, they hate staying wet. So, you don’t want your herb garden to be susceptible to getting waterlogged. While the amount of air affects how much water you get, your drainage system also plays a role. Add to that any slopes and sections in your garden where water can pool when it rains.
- Topography is all about the lay of the land. Everything around where your herbs or garden are planted can affect how they grow. Slopes or inclines are more prone to erosion which reduces the nutrient content of the soil on top and increases that in the trough.
Native vs. Exotic Plants: Does It Matter?
A couple of terms you’ll hear or read about along the way are native and exotic. Some will argue that you can grow one and not the other. So, what gives?
- Native plants are those plants that have grown in a certain area before immigrants arrived. As such, they’re “native” to that region. More importantly, this makes the environment and all its conditions ideal for its growth.
- Exotic plants are those that were brought in from other places. This often means immigrants brought them in from other continents for one reason or another. Because they come from elsewhere, it also means that your location and its conditions may or may not be ideal for those plants.
Obviously, native plants, including herbs, will do well in your locale. The question is, should you grow exotic plants?
The answer is it depends.
In general, herbs are good at adapting to different conditions. As such, they’ll likely find a way to survive. In some cases, they’ll even thrive.
That said, you’ll need to treat each on a case to case basis. But, most of the time, the closer the conditions are between your region and where they come from, the higher the chance of success.
So, the bottom line is, don’t discount an herb (or plant) just because it’s exotic and not native to your location.