Getting Started

Basil GardenHerbs can be grown indoors or outdoors. Indoors has the advantage of a year-long growing season as well as ease of use (no heading outside to weed!). The disadvantage of growing herbs indoors is that they are generally less productive and less flavorful. Of course, the opposite is true for plants grown outside — more work, but higher yields and, generally, more flavor. Whether you choose the great outdoors or the window sill in your kitchen, the needs of your herbs are the same: plenty of sunshine and good, well-draining soil.

Indoor Gardens

Start by choosing your herb growing spot. Window sills are great, particularly those that face south or west. In the winter, you may need to supplement natural light with grow lights or other plant lights to keep your herbs humming along (see Bring in the Herbs).

A good growing medium for herbs in containers is a soiless mixture of peat, vermiculite and perlite. Add a cup of dolomite lime per bushel of soil or about one teaspoon per five-inch pot to keep the soil non-acidic.

You’ll want to water well, but be sure that your pots have drainage holes. Keep the soil moderately moist. That means not sopping wet, but not so dry that your herbs wilt from lack of moisture.

If you’re using seeds, plant annuals in the late summer. They can be kept indoors in pots or other receptacles for their entire life. For perennial herbs, it’s best to keep them outside during the summer and then bring them in before the first frost. During their time outdoors, keep herbs in containers in a sunny area that is well protected from intense heat and/or wind. Keep in mind, that soil in pots dries faster than what’s in the ground, so herbs grown in containers may require more frequent watering during the summer months.

Outdoor Gardens

Although, exact requirements vary by plant, here are some general guidelines about herb gardens.

Before you decide where to put your herb garden, figure out how much sunlight the plants you want to grow need. Most herbs enjoy sun, however, a few, including angelica, woodruff and sweet cicely are better grown in partial shade (see Growing Herbs in the Home Garden).

Determine the size of your garden by deciding how many herbs you want to grow — usually a dozen or so will give you great variety — and how much space they need.

Actually map out your garden on paper. This will help you with your planning.

Choose a site that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight each day and is large enough to meet the needs of your herbs. (Or consider several different plots if necessary.)

Locate your herb garden on soil that drains well or improve the drainage by adding organic matter (compost, peat moss, composted manures). You can also use raised beds (see How to Build the Perfect Raised Bed). Group herbs according to their requirements. Place herbs that require lots of sun with like herbs and group shade loving plants together.

Herbs are less picky than many vegetables, but still require adequate soil. Usually you’ll get the best results from a soil that is close to neutral with a pH of between 6.5 and 7.0.

Drainage is also important. Most herbs do best in well draining soil. Only a few — such as mint, angelica and lovage — love fairly moist soils.

Watch out for too much of a good thing with fertilizer. Overfertilizing your herbs will cause more growth, but will decrease the concentration of essential oils and will make your bushy herbs prolific, but less flavorful.

To prepare your planting beds, dig down 10 to 12 inches and turn the soil over. You can do this with a spade or a garden fork. If you have it, add organic matter so that it gets down to the root level of the plants. Remove any large clumps and stones that you happen to find. Finish the preparation of your garden by leveling it with a rake.

Figure out the best way to propagate herbs. Some don’t transplant well and should be directly seeded. Others do better when propagated as cuttings.

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