When choosing a site for your herb garden, there are several important factors you need to consider before selecting a permanent location.
Sunlight for Your Herb Garden
First and foremost, you’ll need to choose a site that receives at least six to eight hours of sunlight per day. Most herbs need plenty of sunshine in order to grow and reach their full potential. Herbs, like most sun-loving plants that don’t receive their minimum daily allowance of sunlight, will end up leggy, awkward-looking and unproductive instead of lush, beautiful, and useful.
Before digging, spend a day making note of all the sunny spots in your yard. Check on these spots at hourly intervals to see exactly how long the sun remains at any given location in your yard. Trees, bushes, building structures, and even tall-growing flowers or vegetables can cast shade at different times during the day. Knowing the sunny spots in your yard will make your garden planning easier.
Of course, there are some shade-loving herbs, but you will find that your choices among them are very limited, and aside from parsley, most of these herbs are not useful for cooking.
If sunlight in your yard is in short supply, you may want to think about container gardening. By growing your herbs in containers, you will be able to easily move them to follow that much needed sunlight.
Well-Drained Soil for Your Herb Garden
Herbs need well-drained soil to be able to do their best. The soil needs to be somewhat light and easy to till. When choosing a site for your herb garden, check the quality of your soil by running a hose at the chosen location for several minutes. If the water from the hose puddles up, you will need to amend the soil, possibly by adding some sand, peat, or compost. Be careful when adding compost though. You don’t want to make the soil too rich. If the soil is too rich, your herbs will become weak and more prone to diseases.
The perfect pH level for most herbs is 6.5, but herbs are frequently forgiving and can grow in soil that is slightly acidic or alkaline. For best results, they usually only need moderate fertilization.
Location of Herb Gardens
Herb gardens are meant to be used and admired; that’s why it’s important to consider practicality when choosing a site for your herb garden. No one wants to traipse across a dark yard at night or during a rainstorm in order to harvest a few leaves of basil or oregano. Choosing a site that is nearby will eliminate this problem and make it easy to reap the rewards of your herb-gardening efforts.
One of the best places to put your herb garden is right outside your back door, where not only can you get to it easily, but you can enjoy the rich, savory scents that emanate from it every time you walk outside.
If planting next to your back door isn’t convenient or isn’t an option for you, think about including some herbs in and among the shrubbery in your front yard. Most herbs are extremely attractive on their own and can make a lovely and somewhat unusual display when mixed in with the bushes and flowers of your landscape, helping to beautify your yard while also keeping the herbs handy for their appropriate uses.
Choosing a site for your herb garden that is close by will also make it easier to water, prune, and tend to your herbs as needed.
Spending a little extra time before choosing a site for your herb garden will ensure you of having the best producing, easily accessible, and most useful herb garden possible. After all, that’s what it’s all about.
How to Lay Out an Herb Garden
For thousands of years, gardeners and cooks have cultivated herbs for their enticing fragrance and bold flavors. Today, grocery stores sell bottles of dried herbs for your convenience, but fresh herbs are much tastier. Growing your own guarantees you access to the freshest herbs available and allows you to harvest as much or as little as you need. An herb garden also has curb appeal to passersby and visitors to your home. You don't need a large garden to grow several varieties of herbs. Lay out your herb garden according to a theme, or organize the garden by growing taller herbs behind shorter ones.
Select a site for your herb garden. Most herbs need at least six hours of full sun per day. Herbs typically prefer to grow in nutrient-rich, well-draining soil. In general, many herbs prefer a Mediterranean climate, including warm or mild winters. Grow herbs as close to your kitchen or front door as possible for easiest access.
Determine the size of your herb garden. The size of the garden depends on how many herbs you want to grow, as well as how tall the herbs grow or how wide they spread. In general, several varieties of herbs can grow in a bed measuring just 2 by 3 feet. Use a measuring tape to help you determine the exact size of the garden.
Draw a picture of your garden on a sheet of paper. This will help you visualize your garden as you plan it. For example, draw a rectangle to represent the garden border. Draw a grid of squares inside the rectangle. As you decide which herbs to grow and where to grow them, write their names in the squares.
Plan a theme for your herb garden, if desired. For example, you can give your garden an Italian, colonial, fragrant or herbal tea theme. Italian herb gardens may include basil, oregano and parsley. Herbal tea gardens include mint, lemon balm and chamomile.
Place tall herbs, such as fennel, angelica or lemongrass, in the back of the herb garden, commonly the north side. This allows tall herbs to get the sun they need.
Put shade-loving herbs, such as garlic chives or parsley, in the row directly in front of the tallest herbs. Taller herbs will provide shade for shorter ones.
Position shorter herbs, such as parsley and marjoram, at the front of the garden, often the south side. Low-growing herbs including thyme, Roman chamomile and yarrow look attractive when placed at the edges of the garden. Sun-loving herbs, including basil and sage, also get plenty of light at the front of the garden.
Place any other herbs, such as fragrant herbs that attract butterflies, in the center of the garden.
Plan to keep herbs from the mint family confined to containers. They spread rapidly and may take over your garden.
Decide whether you want a border for your herb garden. If you do want a border, determine the border's purpose. Rocks and logs provide a natural-looking border that increase the garden's visual appeal. A fence makes an attractive border that also protects herbs from hungry animals.
Growing herbs in home gardens
While chiefly grown for seasoning foods, herbs have many other uses. Their oils and fragrances are in cosmetics, perfumes, dyes and potpourris. Their medicinal properties are a focus of research worldwide. Some people use herbal materials in dried flower arrangements and related crafts.
Many culinary herbs grown in Minnesota are members of two plant families, mint and carrot.
The mint family, Lamiaceae, includes basil, oregano, marjoram, catnip, all the mints, as well as rosemary, thyme, lavender, summer savory and sage. All have aromatic leaves. Hardy perennials in this family can become invasive, especially mints. These plants are bushy. Most have some tolerance of excessive heat and dry soil.
The carrot family, Apiaceae, includes dill, parsley, chervil, cilantro (also known as coriander), fennel and lovage. Gardeners value all of them for their foliage and seeds. These plants have an upright, leggy habit. They require somewhat more moist conditions, and deeper, looser soil.
Common culinary herbs from other plant families include chives (Alliaceae), borage (Boraginaceae), tarragon (Asteraceae) and sorrel (Polygonaceae).
Soil pH and fertility
Soil testing and fertilizer
- The majority of herbs need well-drained soil with a pH range of 6.0-7.5.
- When planting outdoors, avoid heavy clay soils and wet areas.
- Avoid soils that have a high nutrient content.
- These rich soils may hurt the herb's quality by promoting rapid, lush growth that will contain only small amounts of the essential oils that give herbs their characteristic aromas and flavors.
- Containers used for growing herbs, whether indoors or outside, should always have holes in the bottom for proper drainage.
- Fertilize sparingly.
- In most cases, garden beds can benefit from using a 5-10-5 commercial fertilizer at the rate of three ounces per every 10 feet of row. Apply once during the growing season, unless the site is particularly poor or the plants show signs of deficiency.
- Use a liquid fertilizer at half the label-recommended strength once every six weeks for herbs in containers indoors and every three to four weeks for containers outdoors.
If a friend has a successful herb planting, you may propagate some perennial herbs by division. For example, you can divide and transplant a clump of chives or a mound of creeping thyme with a shovel in early spring.
How to keep your herbs healthy and productive
- Most herbs require at least six hours of direct sunlight in order to grow well. All-day sun is even better.
- The more intense the light, the more oils will develop within the glands of foliage and stem. Oils create stronger fragrances and seasonings.
- A southern or western exposure will meet the needs of most herbs, although some may do well in a bright east-facing location.
- Indoors, it is crucial to give herbs the best light available.
- Fluorescent lights are necessary to maintain healthy plants during winter when days are shorter and darker.
- Twelve hours of artificial light daily is enough for most indoor-grown herbs. Not enough light will result in spindly, thin growth.
- Water thoroughly once a week by soaking the soil to a depth of eight inches, to ensure that the root zone is receiving enough moisture.
- Water indoor herbs when the soil feels dry a half inch below the surface, depending on pot size.
- Outdoor container-grown herbs need water more often. Water daily if days are hot and sunny.
- Never allow the plants to wilt between watering.
- Avoid constant soggy soil conditions. Constantly wet soil encourages root rots, especially during winter. Root rots are the most common problem of herbs grown indoors.
- Mulching materials such as straw, marsh hay, compost and leaves provide good winter protection for hardy perennial herbs.
- Depending on the size of the plant, a mulch two to five inches thick will keep temperatures constant around the plant during late fall and early spring. This reduces winter damage to your plants.
- Mulching during hot, dry periods of the summer can help maintain soil moisture.
Growing tender perennial herbs
Grow perennial herbs that are not winter-hardy in Minnesota with a mixed indoor-outdoor regime. You can grow a rosemary shrub, flowering lavender, bay tree or a fragrant sage that otherwise might die during a harsh winter. Although Minnesota winters can be too cold for these plants, they thrive in hot, sunny Minnesota summers.
Plant the herbs in unglazed clay pots filled with potting mix. In spring, sink the entire pot in your garden. The porous clay will allow water and nutrients to pass from the soil into the pot.
As the days start to cool off in September, dig the pots up and clean them off. Inspect your herbs for insect infestation and treat them before bringing the plants inside. They can spread pests to any other indoor plants you may have.
Your herbs may drop a few leaves after you bring them indoors. They will not thrive during the darker days of winter. Do not fertilize them. Water them only as necessary when the soil feels dry. Do not use too much of the foliage in cooking, as the plants will be unable to recover from the harvest until they go back outside.
In April, start taking your potted herbs outside on warm days, and bringing them back in at night. Keep them out of direct sunlight at first. Sink them into the garden soil again in May.
A large unglazed clay pot, or a large plastic bucket with the bottom removed, sunk into your garden is also a way to contain invasive mints, including catnip. You may leave the pot in place over winter, since mints are quite winter hardy.
- Harvest culinary herbs throughout the growing season by snipping sprigs and leaves as needed.
- Many herbs will have the best flavor if harvested just before flowering.
- Mid-morning hours are the best time to pick herbs, as this is when oil content is highest. This time is usually just after the dew has dried and before the heat of the day begins.
- For fresh use, gather only what you will use each day.
- For drying or freezing, gather only as much as you can dry or freeze at one time.
- For mint family herbs, make the cut a few inches down the stem and just above a set of leaves.
- New growth will arise from buds at this point, and a bushier plant will result.
- Annual herbs such as basil and marjoram can become woody, less productive and somewhat bitter if allowed to seed. Seed production will also shorten any annual herb's life.
- For carrot-family herbs, cut each leaf stalk at the base of the plant.
- For these plants as well, flowering signals the end of the plant's life. The flavor of the foliage may not be as pleasant once the plant flowers.
Once picked, keep herbs out of bright light. Washing the herbs may be necessary if there is dirt or debris on the foliage. If this is the case, wash the herbs gently with warm water and pat them dry. You can also use a salad spinner to remove water from the leaves. Excess water will slow the drying process.
Ideas For Outdoor Herb Garden
1: Bucket Herb Garden.
This one is an amazing idea if you are on a budget. The good thing about this idea is, you can place your buckets anywhere you want. You can place buckets outside, indoor or even at your balcony or rooftop. Just put some potting soil in the buckets and you are good to go.
2: Old Tires Herb garden.
This one is also a money-saving idea. You can use some old tires to make your herb garden. But don’t use too old tires, because when tires start to break down, they are not fit to grow foods in them.
Pick a nice sunny location for your tire herb garden, put potting soil in them and grow your herbs. You can even paint the tires to add a cool look to your garden.
3: Raised Herb Garden.
This idea is an excellent choice for senior gardeners or if you have back pain problems. There are so many kinds of raised beds you can start with. The height of these beds is ideal for people with back pain.
You can also change the location of these herb gardens. They are also an excellent choice for indoor gardeners. Check out these ideas if you are interested in raised herb gardens.
4: Container Herb Garden.
This one is the most excellent and easiest way to start an outdoor herb garden. You can start with any kind of container you have at your home, like a bucket herb garden I already mentioned.
Grow bags and pots are also a great choice to start with. I believe grow bags are great. They are cheap, bio or non-biodegradable, easy to carry and have great aerated fabric. You can buy grow-bags from amazon here.
Oregano is a semi-evergreen perennial that can be used in many different ways. (Photo: Submitted)
Oregano is a semi-evergreen that is a tender perennial in Ohio. To overwinter this tender-perennial, you will need to provide some protection. As a companion you can place both peppers and tomatoes near the oregano. There are many benefits of growing these plants together. This oregano is for the most part native to the Mediterranean. For first timers, I prefer to grow greenhouse plugs because they have the greatest chance at success. Our oregano has a great flavor and is very useful in many different ways. Clip smaller stems off the main stem. One noted factor of oregano is that it is very flexible and can endure this kind of pruning. If it has been established it comes back. You can use oregano when roasting a chicken, worked into dinner rolls, as one of the herbs for a perfect burger, mixed in a pot of with black beans, or finish a tomato sauce seasoning for spaghetti. Some of the healing aspects of oregano are that it helps with two different enzymes called carvacrol and thymol which are both used as antioxidants, antifungals, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral. A quality that I learned recently about oregano is that it does battle cancer.