Herbs are easy to grow! They are a wonderful complement to vegetables in the garden and in the kitchen. Their pungent qualities repel pests when planted among vegetables and not in a row of their own. In the kitchen, herbs can flavor foods that you might normally douse with salt and butter. You can experiment with your cooking to come up with unique flavors!
Put your herb garden outside your kitchen door for the most use. Fill each section of a wagon wheel with a different herb. You can also put herb plants in flower borders and rock gardens. They are very adaptable! Plant them along walkways where you can brush up against them and enjoy their aroma.
Give herb plants lots of sun and a light, compost-enriched soil. Pinch off flower heads. When herbs start to flower, the pungency of the leaves diminishes.
Herbs are well suited for container gardening, too. You can mix them up with other herbs and flowers, but don’t cramp them for best production. If you have them in pots, you can bring them in for the winter. They would do fine on a sunny windowsill, but you can also use grow lights.
Use herbs fresh or dry them by making small bunches and hanging them on a string in a bright, well-ventilated area out of direct sun. Check them after about a week for crunchy leaves. Don’t crumble the leaves to store them! They will last longer as a whole leaf. I store the whole branch, if possible, in gallon zip lock bags.
Annual herbs are easy to start from seed, but you can also find them at garden centers as plants ready to be put into the ground. Many come in 2” or 4” pots, so you can buy one or two. Buying a 6-pack of herbs can be overwhelming, especially for a beginner! If they only come in 6-packs, maybe you can split them with other gardening friends.
Annual herbs are different than perennial herbs in that they need to be grown every year. They are killed by frost in fall and do not overwinter. Perennial herbs come back each spring, so they start growing early. Annual herbs have to be planted after your spring frost date has passed, otherwise you will kill them. Find your region on this map.
Here are some easy annual herbs.
Basil – This is the most versatile herb there is. You can put it in anything – salad, soup, butter, sauces, breads. There are different flavors and colors, which adds visual interest to your garden. Basil grows well in a garden plot as a complement to tomatoes. It also does well in containers.
Parsley – I recommend buying parsley plants. It is difficult to germinate seed without ideal conditions. It is a biennial, so it will come back a second year to flower and seed. We grow it as an annual, though. It is low growing and makes a beautiful border plant. It is also well suited to container planting. Add it to soups, salads and dips, or just munch on it for lots of vitamin C.
Dill – You can use the leaves and the seeds of dill. When I need dried leaves, I fertilize regularly with nitrogen to encourage leaf growth. Then I cut and hang it to dry. If I am running low on dill seed, I fertilize with a phosphorous fertilizer for flower growth. Give dill some space. It is tall and wide! It reseeds easily, so you might find it coming up as a volunteer in the spring.
Cilantro – This is another plant that offers its seeds, leaves and flowers for your kitchen. The leaves are called cilantro, and the seeds are coriander. This is a staple in Mexican cooking and other spicy dishes. Plant it every couple of weeks for a continuous harvest of fresh leaves, since they don’t dry well. Like dill, it reseeds easily.
I love perennials! You buy them once, and they come back each year. After a few seasons, you divide them and replant for a larger harvest or share with friends.
Perennial herbs green up long before you are doing much gardening. In mid-March, mine are showing new leaves, and they inspire me to get in the garden, rake, check the irrigation, add compost and do a general clean up.
These are the first herbs to harvest, since they green up so early. That’s my favorite part – early garden harvest! They don’t need much care except for compost. If necessary, you can fertilize with nitrogen for lush leafy growth. I have never found the need to do so, though.
Here are some common and easy to grow perennial herbs.
Oregano – The basic flavoring in pizza and marinara sauce. It is in the mint family and spreads readily as a groundcover. I like to dry it, since it is one of those herbs I don’t use a lot. It is all over my garden, though! Easy to grow!
Sage – After a few years, sage stems get woody, and the plant will need to be divided. New, soft growth will come from the smaller plant. Sage is an upright plant with blue green foliage that is a soft contrast in a dark green garden. I use it in soups and beans all winter long, and it has astringent properties for facial blends. One year, I put whole fresh leaves under the skin of the Thanksgiving turkey before roasting it. It was tasty and decorative!
Thyme – There are over 100 varieties of thyme. It can be used in meat, fish and vegetable dishes as well as breads, sauces and soups. Creeping thyme is a low ground cover that can be planted between flagstones to soften the look and smell good when you walk on it. It is easy to divide and transplant when you find it taking over!
Chives – The oniony taste of chives is wonderful in a spring salad. You can eat the purple flowers, too. I have used chives in the front of a perennial border for texture and color when in bloom.
Tarragon – I bought one tarragon plant about seven years ago, and it provides more herb than I can use in a year! I mainly season soup with it in small amounts. Too much gives it a licorice flavor that goes with nothing. It is wonderful for flavoring butter and vinegar.