Last Updated on March 15, 2022 by Admin
Learn how to grow herbs in your backyard, kitchen or apartment. Starting an herb garden is a great way to create your own seasoning and flavors you can use for food.
Best of all you know they are fresh.
How Do You Make a Herb Garden?
Starting your own herb garden is actually easier than most people thing. It all comes down to two things.
- Preparing the soil
- Planting your herbs
After that, it’s all about caring for them and maintenance. And, when harvest time comes, picking them and figuring out whether you want to enjoy them fresh or store them away for the short- or long-term.
All of which, you’ll learn about in the following sections.
So let’s get to it.
Preparing The Soil
This is an all-important first step. It’s like preparing all your food, ingredients and equipment in the kitchen before you make a special meal for your family and guest.
Since your herbs will grow in soil, it’s important that you choose the right conditions for the environment they’ll live in. Doing so will allow them to thrive and produce good yield.
Soil anchors plants to the ground. It provides nutrients, oxygen, and water as well.
Interestingly, while most people would think that soil is made up of solid matter it actually isn’t. In general, soil is:
- 20-30% air
- 20-30% water
- 45% mineral particles
- 5% organic matter
So, if you noticed, about half of it is air and water, not soil matter.
In any case, soil offers plants 3 important things:
- Air (oxygen). The space between the soil particles allows air to circulate through the it. This, in turn, supplies plants with oxygen which they absorb through their roots.
- The same spaces allow the water that you pour onto the soil’s surface to slowly trickle down beneath. When it does so, water fills up the spaces. As such, you don’t want to overwater your plants. Similarly, you want the water to drain. Otherwise, too much water sitting around increases the risk of your plant’s roots dying. Additionally, the water clogging the spaces prevents air to get in, depriving plants of oxygen. That said, you don’t want overly fast-draining soil. Otherwise, your plants’ roots won’t have time to absorb the moisture. That’s where the balance between the two comes in.
- Nutrients. Besides water and air, plants absorb nutrients from the soil. But, for them to do so, you need water to be present. That’s why many fertilizer formulas are applied with water. That said, it is these nutrients that provide the plants with what they need to grow.
Types of Soil
The solid part of the soil is made from different particles of rock. These come in all shapes and sizes. Just as importantly, each of these materials has its own characteristics. As such, they affect how much air, water, and nutrients your plants get.
For plants, there are 4 basic kinds of soil.
- Sand. Sandy soil has that gritty texture. You’re likely very familiar with it as it’s the most common of the four. Sandy soil is acidic and has low nutrient content. It also dries fairly quickly since it allows water and nutrients to leech quite fast. Thus, it’s not the best option for plants.
- Silt. Silt is a step above sandy soil when it comes to fertility. That’s because it’s better at holding nutrients as well as water. Similarly, it’s easier to work with compared to clay soils. However, it can be difficult for water to get through. Additionally, silty soils can form crusts, become hard and compact further reducing the space for air and water to pass.
- Clay. Clay soil is the heaviest. It is also very hard to work with as it’s prone to compacting as well as cracking. This makes it hard for roots to break through downwards. It also blocks off air and water. That said, clay does hold onto water and nutrients well. As such, it also drains slowly. Finally, clay is often alkaline (pH above 7.0).
- Loam. Loamy soil is the most fertile among the 4 in the list. Thus, it’s ideal for herbs and gardening as a whole. Although, unlike the 3 above, loam is actually a mix of clay (20%), sand (40%) and silt (40%). So, if you’re a purist, you may not group it together with them. That said, the combination of the 3 gives you all the features you want to grow plants. This includes good water retention, spaces that allow water and air to go through, and hold nutrients well to make it more fertile.
Another feature of soil to consider is its structure.
Soil structure refers to how much the particles in the soil cling or clump together. When it comes to plants, you want the soil to be loose and crumbly, much like how good chocolate cake would fall apart when rubbing it through your fingers.
This space between the particles allows oxygen, water, and nutrients to pass through. In contrast, particles that cling to one another prevent them from making their way deep under the ground.
But what if my soil isn’t loose or crumbly?
The good news is you can improve the quality of your soil by introducing the right organisms to it. This doesn’t change what you have. But, it does improve your soil’s overall structure.
Organic Matter & Compost
Organic matter is the most important component of soil. It’s what helps your plants grow. And, it’s the reason why attracting the right organisms to your soil makes it healthier for growing plants.
In gardening, organic matter consists of plant and animal debris that are decaying. This includes leaves, grass clippings, kitchen scraps and many other items from your garden that are destined for the garbage bin.
Just as importantly, you need the right kinds of organisms that do the decomposing. These include worms, snails, bacteria, fungi and many others.
They’re valuable because the decomposition process releases nutrients that are beneficial to plants, among them are nitrogen and potassium. It also improves your soil’s structure.
That’s why a lot of people compost their kitchen and garden scraps.
Compost is “top of the line” organic matter.
It is the result of combining the proper ingredients and allowing them to decompose over a few months to get what many gardeners call “black gold”. That black gold looks exactly like soil but isn’t.
Yet, it has all the features you want in soil, including the dark, loose, crumbly texture that both holds water and allows it to drain. It’s also full of nutrients.
This is what’s called humus, which is the end product of composting. Similarly, it is also what decomposed organic matter in your garden’s soil becomes.
And, contrary to how many people would think decomposed items would smell, it’s not stinky at all.
Best of all, you can “cook up” compost yourself.
And, since it’s made from your scraps, it’s not only free but also environmentally friendly.
The bottom line is, adding organic matter and compost whenever you can boost the overall quality of your soil for growing herbs and plants.
Depending on the kind of soil you have and the weather in your area, you may or may not need to use mulch.
Just for good measure, here’s a chart of the different types of mulch, their pros and cons.
Soil pH Levels
The last thing to consider with soil is its pH level. pH levels tell you how alkaline or acidic the soil is.
This is important because plants typically enjoy pH levels that are neutral to slightly acidic. Herbs like a pH that’s between 6.0 to 7.5.
But, most soil have pH levels that are between 4.5 and 8.0.
To explain, the pH scale runs from 0 to 14.
- Alkaline = pH level of over 7
- Neutral = pH level of exactly 7.0
- Acidic = pH of less than 7
So why bother?
That’s because the pH level affects how well the nutrients in the soil are absorbed by plants. pH that’s too high reduces its availability. As such, even if you have very rich soil, your plants aren’t going to get the optimum benefit from it if your soil has poor pH.
Additionally, the organisms decompose organic matter to help make your soil healthier. Thus, when you’re starting out, it’s a good idea to test your soil. You can do so with a soil testing kit or have it tested in a lab.
Doing so will let you know its pH level, fertility and many other things that will help you decide which plants are best suited for the soil you have.
And, if you need to do anything to improve it.
Increasing or Decreasing Soil pH
If your soil pH is too high, use sulfur to lower soil pH.
Below is a chart that shows you how much sulfur to use to lower soil pH based on the soil pH level and type of soil.
If your soil pH is is too low, use limestone to increase it.
Below is a chart that shows how much limestone to use to increase soil pH to 6.5 depending on the kind of soil you have.
How to Plant Your Herb Garden
Once you know all there is to know about the soil in which you’ll be planting your herbs, it’s time to decide where you’ll be growing them.
Getting Started: Indoor or Outdoor Herb Garden?
In this section, it’s time to grow herbs from seeds. This method is probably the method most people use. Of course, you can buy your herbs from the garden center to get a head start.
Similarly, you can propagate what you already have.
But, for me, it’s always amazing to see something come to life.
Since this isn’t a biology guide, I’m going to keep things short and simple.
Germination is the process of seeds sprouting into a plant.
- It all starts with the seed taking in moisture from the soil
- This causes the seed to swell
- Due to the swelling, the seed coat will burst
- From there a small root will come out
- It then moves toward the ground in search of soil
- Next come the leaves, although they’re not mature yet. As such, they don’t look like the leaves you’re familiar with. At least, not yet.
- After a few days, leaves form. Their job is to harvest the sun’s energy.
But, as a gardener, how does all this happen?
First you need to make a decision. That is, do you want to grow them:
- Indoors (or inside your house)
- Outside (in the ground/soil)
I’ll cover both processes below, so you get a complete picture of how they work. This also lets you decide which one you want to use.
Starting Seeds Inside
This section covers what to do if you decide to start your seeds indoors.
From above, you already know that you’ll need to allow the seeds to germinate first.
And, that takes time and work.
So, there’s another option you can go with if you aren’t willing to do that.
Depending on how much natural light you get from the sun in your home, you may supplement this with artificial lights.
Below is chart of the different kinds of artificial lights, their intensity and best uses.
Seeds or Plants?
Buying herbs from your garden center allows you to skip the entire process of germination and have a grown plant right away.
As such, it saves you time and effort. And, it works if you’re busy as well.
That said, most garden centers will carry the basic herbs. So, you’ll find things like sage, rosemary, dill, mint, parsley, basil, chives, oregano and many more.
Often, they’ll have few of the less popular herbs on hand.
And, in some cases like tarragon, which you can’t grow seeds from, they won’t have at all.
But, as I mentioned, you don’t need to start from seeds to grow a successful herb garden.
Here’s a chart that will shows you whether you should direct sow the seeds or transplant each kind of herb.
Also, how deep to plant the seeds and how much spacing the seeds need. And if you transplant how much plant spacing do they need.
Sowing the Seeds
Here’s how to start seeds indoors.
- Start by choosing your containers. Seed trays are the conventional way. You can also use pots. But, there are a lot of other options. You can even use egg cartons, yogurt containers and even the cardboard rolls of tissue paper.
- Pick up potting soil from the garden center. I can’t stress how important it is to choose high-quality potting mixes. This makes all the difference in every stage of your plant’s growth. Of course, you can add compost and other amendments later on to improve so-so soil. But why not just get it right from the beginning?
- Moisten the soil-less mix in a spare bucket. This is an extra step I’ve found to be helpful when you’re just starting out. Instead of going straight into the pot or container, wet the soil in a bucket to test first. Use warm water. The goal is to put enough water to make the mix moist. Be careful not to overdo it. You can add water a bit at a time to allow the soil to absorb it. Then check. If it’s still dry, add some more. Ideally, it should feel like a sponge that’s been wrung out.
- Put the moist potting point into the pot or container. When you have the right texture, fill the actual container with the moistened potting soil. Pat down as you go to get rid of air pockets. But, don’t make it too compact. Leave about 0.5-1 inch of space between the top of the soil and the lip of the pot.
- Sprinkle the seeds on the soil then cover it with a little more potting mix. Don’t over sprinkle. Most seeds will germinate fairly well. So, you’ll get a good yield with a few. To make sure, check your seed packet’s instructions. It will tell you how much to put. That way you won’t overcrowd the container once they start growing.
- Label each container. You can do this any way you want. The goal is just to identify each one easily.
- Check your home’s humidity level. Most homes have dry air. Unfortunately, seeds like high humidity. A good way to increase humidity is to mist the soil and then cover it with a plastic bag. This will allow it to maintain moisture. But, be sure to take it off for a few hours each day. This allows air to circulate and reduce the risk of too much moisture.
- Put the containers somewhere they can get bright light. A window facing south is perfect. You also want to keep the temperature between 60-75 degrees. Do keep an eye on its moisture level. If it gets too damp pour off any excess water. Or, remove the cover when they start getting damp to allow it to dry a bit.
The chart below shows you when is the best time to plant herbs indoors.
Once the Seedlings Sprout
Soon enough, the seeds will start to sprout. When this happens, it’s time to change the conditions to help it get to the next level.
- Light. Seedlings need a lot of light. Ideally, they should get 14 or more hours of sunlight each day. If you don’t have a location that can give them that, supplementing with grow lights works just as well. This condition is probably the trickiest, which is one of the reasons some people prefer just buying a grown herb from the garden center.
- Temperature. In addition to a lot of light, seedlings also enjoy cooler temperatures. Somewhere between 65 and 75 degrees works well. They will also expect the temperature to drop about 5 degrees or so at night.
- Air. Seedlings also need air. As such, spacing is important. Additionally, you want to put them somewhere there’s good air circulation. Stagnant air can cause disease and pest issues. Strong wind is also a problem. So, as long as the air is somewhat moving in the room, you’re good to go.
- Water. As always, add water. And, be wary of too much water. Also, use room temperature water.
- Fertilizer. Like growing children, you need to feed your plants. Fertilize them about once a week to 10 days. This will keep them happy and growing.
Transplanting (Moving the Herbs from Indoors to Outdoors)
After 5-10 weeks the seedlings will be ready to move outside
After about 2-2.5 months, your seedlings will be ready to move outside. If you want to grow them as houseplants or for cooking, you can just repot them as needed when they outgrow their containers.
Keeping them indoors means they continue growing in similar conditions. So, there’s no extra work there.
But, if you plan to move then outside, here’s what you can do.
- First, pick the right time. Don’t do this during winter. Instead wait till the freezing temperatures have passed. Seedlings like cool temperatures, but frost is extreme. So, wait till the weather warms a little. That said, do choose a fairly cool day to move your plants outside.
- Also make sure to let them harden off first. Hardening off is the process of gradually acclimating them to another environment. Since the conditions outside are very different from that in your home, it’s not a good idea to shock them to the new conditions. Instead., move them outside the house to a shaded area starting with a few hours and slowly working your way up to a full day outside. You can allot close to 2 weeks for this to make the move gradual.
- Water before transplanting. Do this about 2 hours before transplanting. Alternatively, you can soak it in balanced fertilizer as well.
- Prepare the ground before moving them. This way you can put them in directly without having to dig when the moment comes. Make sure that the hole is bigger than the container. This allows you to set the plant easily.
- Remove the herbs from their pots and gently place them into the soil. Slowly remove the entire plant from the pot or container. Once you do, you have two choices, you can plant the entire rootball in the ground. Or, you can untangle then spread the roots out. Either way works.
- Fill the hole with soil and tamp. You want to plant to stand in the soil just like it did in the pot (at the same level). Once it’s in the right position, fill the rest of the hole with soil and tamp. You can add compost and organic material as well.
- Water it and keep it protected from too much sun and wind initially.
The chart below shows you when is the best time to transplant herbs outdoors.
Starting the seeds indoors gives you the advantage of being able to kickstart your herb garden while the temperature outside is still cold.
But, it also means you have to go through the trouble of transplanting your herbs outside (if you want to grow them in the garden) later on.
So, if you live in a warm climate area where there’s no snow, you can start sowing the seeds outside.
Similarly, if you don’t want to go through the transplanting process, you can wait for the frost to pass before starting your garden.
Either way, this allows you to directly plant your seeds in the soil outside.
Starting Your Garden from Scratch
Another option besides starting seeds indoors is to directly plant them into the ground.
This is a good option if you want to grow a lot of them. This way, you have the space for it.
Here’s how to directly seed herbs outdoors.
- Pick the right time. Don’t sow right before or during winter. Instead, wait for the cold to pass before starting. This saves your seed and seedlings from having to try to survive through the frost.
- Make sure the read the instructions of seed packets. Before doing anything, get familiar with the seed packet’s instructions. Doing this helps because different plants (and herbs) have varying preferences. The packets will give you a lot of information including the zone, planting instructions, spacing and also how deep to plant.
- Start digging. A trowel is perfect for this. It’s quick and efficient. You can likewise supplement with your hands. Take into account the depth. This is very important since going deep enough allows the plant’s roots to develop properly.
- Scatter the seeds. Make sure to follow the spacing that’s suggested in the packet. As a rule, you’re better off scattering more seeds than fewer of them. Since it takes a while to grow, doing this saves you time. If there’s too many growing at the same location you can thin them later. In contrast, not enough plants growing means having to start over
- Cover the seeds with soil. Once they’re in the ground, cover them with a layer of soil.
- Water. Check to see if the soil gets dry. Outdoor conditions like the wind and sun affect how quickly the soil can dry up. As such, you’ll need to keep a close eye on it.
- Label. As always, label them.
One good thing to be aware of is how long do the herbs take before they sprout and mature.
The chart below shows you how many days each herb needs before it sprouts and how many days before it matures. Also, it includes eventual size of the herb at maturity.
This way you can plan out when you will plant and when to harvest. Also, how much space to give each herb.
- 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
- What are Herbs & What is Herb Gardening
How to Grow Herbs
The chart below shows you how to plant different kinds of annual herbs including, when to plant or sow each herb, the spacing per row and how to propagate them.
The chart below shows you how to grow perennial herbs including the best time to plant or sow each herb, the spacing when planting in rows and how to propagate each herb.