Picture this – the whole family has gathered around, the table is set, and right in the middle, a fantastic home-cooked meal waiting to be tasted. Wouldn’t it be great if the food was prepared with freshly picked herbs? We think so!
Having a herb garden is a great way to spice things up in the kitchen. With a little bit of consistent care, growing your own herbs is easy even for a beginner! So, for all you home-cooking and gardening enthusiasts out there, we have prepared the ultimate herb gardening for beginners guide!
Then look no further, because this article has the answers!
Herb gardening basics
Who wouldn’t want a constant supply of fresh herbs to use in the kitchen? A little effort goes a long way when it comes to herb gardening. So, today we’ll be going over what you need to know as a beginner gardener to get you on the right path. Let’s get right to the basics!
Types of herbs
In this section, we will explain the difference between the two main types of herbs, so you can get a better understanding of what you need to do to maintain each one.
Like all plants, herbs are also either annual, perennial or biennial.
Annual herbs. These plants have a specific growing season and only live for a year, which means they will die and you’ll need to replant them the following spring. Before these herbs die and go to seed, they will flower. We recommend that you harvest them just before the winter’s first frost and sow their seeds again in spring to regrow them. Some annual herbs are basil, cilantro, dill, and summer savoury.
Perennial herbs. These plants live for two or more years. They will die back or go dormant in winter and grow again from their roots the following spring. They require annual pruning and fertilising in spring and autumn to encourage higher production. Examples of perennial herbs are chives, mint, lovage, tarragon, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage and winter savoury.
Biennial herbs. Other plants, such as parsley and watercress, live for two years. They grow during their active season and go dormant during the winter months. After that, biennial herbs flower one more time before they die and need to be replanted.
Some plants are self-seeding, which means their seeds drop around them and grow out afterwards, so you don’t need to replant them yourself. These types of herbs can make for a lovely garden that keeps on giving.
Easy-to-grow herbs for beginners
When selecting your starter plants, you need to have a clear plan for your herb garden. Do you want annual or biennial herbs that will need replanting every spring or couple of years, or do you want to fill the space with perennial herbs that will require little more than pruning, watering and feeding? Will you opt for a self-seeding garden? Will you use all the herbs you plant?
Even though most herbs are easy to grow, don’t get carried away! Only grow what you need or intend to consume; otherwise, you might find your kitchen or garden overtaken by plants you have no use for.
So, without further ado, we give you our six favourite herbs for beginners!
Chives. These self-seeding perennials are quick-growing, flower in a beautiful pink or purple colour, and all of their parts are edible! You can sow their seeds directly out in the garden in March and April, and soon enough you’ll have a whole bunch of them! They like growing in full sun or partial shade and prefer consistently moist soil. After flowering, cut them down to the ground to encourage the production of fresh new leaves. Chives are a perfect companion plant for carrots. Oh, and did we mention that they are a great deterrent against certain insect pests, such as aphids, Japanese beetles and ants?
Oregano. Grow this perennial herb in full sun or partial shade and keep it in a warm spot. Oregano prefers light, fluffy soil, so do your best to avoid compaction. You can sow the seeds outside in spring when the soil is warm, or you can start them in pots indoors. When the plant reaches 10cm, pinch off the top tips to encourage it to grow bushier and produce side growths.
Thyme. This perennial likes full sun and prefers that you let the soil dry out in between waterings. Thyme is hardy and drought-tolerant, which makes it a great starter when it comes to herb gardening for beginners. However, it can be a bit tricky to start from seed, so we recommend growing it from cuttings or purchasing already established seedlings from a garden centre. To boost its leaf productivity, you can trim the plant lightly after flowering.
Parsley. This biennial herb grows incredibly fast and prefers full sun or partial shade, and slightly damp soil. Its seeds can be slow to germinate, however, so start them indoors and soak them in water overnight to speed up the process. Parsley is a great companion plant to roses, carrots and beans.
Mint. This perennial can be a bit tricky to grow from seed, so we recommend that you buy young plants from a garden centre. Mint likes growing in full sun or partial shade, and it can survive in damp soil. However, keep in mind that it is pretty invasive and spreads very quickly, so if you don’t want it to overtake your entire garden, grow it in containers. When flower buds appear, pinch them off to encourage new leaves to grow. Mint does well if planted next to tomatoes and cabbages.
Basil. This annual herb prefers to grow in full sun. It is easy to grow from seed, so sow them from the end of March onwards until mid-May and keep watering it consistently. To delay flowering and encourage a large, bushy plant, remove the tips once the herb reaches 15cm. You can plant basil near tomatoes and asparagus.
The placement of your herb garden is essential to the plants’ wellbeing. Most herbs require full sun or partial shade (at least 4-6 hours of sun a day is ideal), as well as good drainage. If you live in an area where the summers get really hot, make sure the area you choose provides shade in the afternoon.
To make for successful growth, ensure that your herbs have adequate space to grow. In the garden, you’ll need the following diameters:
Rosemary, mint and oregano require 90-120cm of space.
Basil, thyme, tarragon and savoury need at least 60cm.
Provide at least 30cm for chives, dill, parsley and cilantro.
It’s a good idea to research how your plants spread. Some herbs reproduce by their seeds, and others, like mint, do so by their roots. So, check that you have enough space before planting and pay attention to how and where you plant invasive herbs to prevent them from taking over.
Preparing the soil
Getting the soil ready for herb gardening is honestly pretty easy. Break it up and turn it to make sure it’s light, fluffy and not compacted. Add some compost to fertilise the earth and help improve the drainage. Depending on the herbs you will be growing, you may need to amend the soil with lime, peat moss, or other materials. Check your herbs’ specific soil requirements before planting to provide them with the environment they need.
Watering your herbs can get a bit tricky, as different plants have different needs when it comes to moisture. Your best bet is to read up on exactly what amount of water your herbs need, check the soil regularly and water as needed.
But how do you check if the soil needs water? It’s simple, really. Use your finger!
Stick your finger a couple of knuckles deep (that’s around 5cm). Is the soil dry to the touch? Then you need to water your plants. If it’s moist, you can leave it for now. If the soil is only slightly damp, you may still need to water, depending on whether or not your herb likes consistently moist soil or it prefers for it to dry out first.
How to harvest herbs
For the freshest leaves and the best taste, harvest your herbs just before using them. However, we understand that’s not always possible as you may need to do it more often, so here are some tips on how to go about it.
Harvest little and often to encourage your herbs to grow thicker and fuller.
Never cut more than ⅓ of the plant off, as it may stunt its growth.
For annual herbs, pinch off the growing tips regularly to delay them going to seed.
Preserving your herbs
Depending on the number of herbs you’ve planted, you may end up harvesting a lot more than you use. If this is the case, you’ll want to learn how to preserve your herbs, so they don’t end up going to waste. There are a few ways you can do this.
Freeze. Spread your herbs out on a sheet of baking paper and place them in the freezer. Once they’re frozen, transfer them to zip lock bags until you need to use them. This is an excellent method for herbs such as mint, where you can take the frozen leaves out and drop them directly into a refreshing drink. Yum!
Dry. There are two drying methods you can use. You can either air-dry your herbs by hanging them upside down in bunches, or you can place them in the oven on a very low temperature until they dry out. Drying works well for herbs you want to store out in airtight containers.
Convert. If you want to get a bit more creative with preserving your herbs, you can turn them into something else! Use your freshly picked herbs to prepare consumables with a long shelf life, such as sauces, dips and pestos, or use them to make pickled veggies.
Container herb gardening for beginners
We realise that not everyone has the space to grow herbs in their garden. Or maybe you just prefer to keep your backyard looking simple with just a beautiful lawn and a small flower bed. If this sounds like you, then container herb gardening may be the answer!
In general, growing herbs in pots isn’t all that different from growing them in your garden. However, there are some things you need to keep in mind. So, here are our tips on container herb gardening for beginners!
Container size. Make sure the pots you choose are large enough to accommodate your herbs. You’ll need at least 20cm in diameter, depending on the plant you’re growing.
Drainage holes. Choose containers that have holes in the bottom to ensure proper drainage. A drowning plant is an unhappy plant.
Placement. Pay attention to where you place your herb containers. For easier access, you can put them in or right outside the kitchen, if the conditions are favourable. If you are placing them indoors, make sure the plant’s light requirements are met. For example, put rosemary, oregano, thyme and basil on a south-facing windowsill. East and west-facing windows are better suited for parsley, chives and mint.
Watering. Pay close attention to your container herbs’ watering needs. As pots hold a lot less moisture and the soil dries quicker, you may need to water them more often. Use the finger method to check.
Fertilising. Feed your herbs during their growing season, but be careful not to over-fertilise them.
Growing herbs together. As a space-saving solution, you can grow your plants in the same pot if they have the same care requirements. Just make sure the container provides enough space for the herbs to spread comfortably.
Self-watering containers. These are a great low-effort solution for a lot of plants. However, herbs that need the soil to dry out before watering won’t do well in them, as they keep it consistently damp. So, if this is the case, steer clear of self-watering containers.
If you’re excited to start your brand new herb garden but have no idea where to begin, why not turn to the professionals? Fantastic Services offers an excellent planting service that is sure to transform your green space and give your plants the best possible start! The expert gardeners will take all your requirements into account and design a herb garden you can be proud of! So, book your landscaping survey today using our simple online form and choose a time and date that best suits you!
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Take the time to choose the best herbs to start with.
Make sure your herbs get at least 4-6 hours of sun a day.
The soil should be light and fluffy. Avoid compaction.
Planting herbs is easy! Just make sure you give them enough room to grow.
Use your finger to check whether your herbs need watering.
Harvest little and often and never cut more than ⅓ of the herb off.
There are many ways you can preserve your herbs, including drying and freezing.
Container herb gardening is a great space-saving solution.
Did you find this article helpful? Are you ready to dive into the world of herb gardening? Let us know in the comments below!