Guide to Growing Herbs
Discover details about a wide variety of herbs and how to grow them in your garden with this guide.
Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow, and they grow vigorously. Most require very little maintenance; they'll provide not only scented, attractive plants, but also fresh plants for culinary use. Consider growing a variety of herbs throughout your garden, including annual, perennial and hardy shrub herbs.
Fast-growing annual herbs are a must in the garden, even if you only have space for a few pots. They thrive in beds or containers, so plant them close to your kitchen door or backyard grill to pick fresh whenever needed.
How to Grow Annual Herbs
Annual herbs grow quickly and easily from seed sown in batches from late spring to summer. They provide a constant supply into fall; when covered, they can even provide fresh herbs in winter if given enough light and warmth. When they are large enough to plant out, they can be grown outside in beds and containers in a sheltered, sunny site in moist, well-drained soil or compost. When planting in beds, avoid very fertile sites; this promotes leafy growth that is poorly flavored. Similarly, feed herbs planted in containers only sparingly. Watering is more important however, since coriander and dill are prone to suddenly bolting (running to seed) if plants become dry. Harvest the leaves and stems as needed, picking regularly to encourage new growth. Keep some for drying, freezing, or for making into pesto.
Watch Out for These Pests
Aphids are attracted by the leafy growth provided by annual herbs; they suck sap and weaken plants. Avoid using insecticides; use organic control, encourage natural predators (such as ladybugs), or blast the pests off using water. Slugs and snails are also major pests, spoiling leaves or eating whole plants. Apply slug pellets, use beer traps or lay gritty trap barriers.
Hardy Border Herbs
Once established, hardy perennial and shrubby herbs provide a wealth of different flavors and scents year after year. Many form large clumps or bushes, so you won’t need many plants to supply all your culinary needs.
How to Grow Hardy Border Herbs
Most perennial and woody herbs originate from the Mediterranean and prefer a hot, sunny location with poor, dry soil. Good drainage is essential, and if planting on heavy soil, first dig in some coarse grit and bulky organic matter, such as composted bark.
Perennial herbs are normally sold container-grown, and are planted in spring and summer when in active growth. Some, like tarragon and mint, spread quickly and can be invasive; these should be planted in containers placed into the soil to restrict their growth.
Hardy herbs are easy to grow and often develop stronger scents and flavors when neglected. In addition to watering in dry spells, support taller herbaceous herbs, like mint, in summer but cut all growth to the ground in fall. They also benefit from being divided every couple of years. Once established, shrubby herbs like sage and bay require only a light trim in spring to keep them in shape.
Many hardy herbs can also be grown in containers, provided they have good drainage. Plant into soil-based compost, and site the pots in sunny, sheltered locations. Water regularly; feed herbaceous herbs monthly, shrubby ones annually.
As with annual herbs, it's important to watch for slugs and snails when growing hardy border herbs. They like to eat the softer leaves and stems, especially in spring. Herbaceous herbs are most affected. Apply slug pellets, use beer traps, or lay gritty traps. Cats can also be a particular problem on herb beds, which they often use as litter areas. Use cat repellent sprays or powders, or insert twigs or stems and netting to act as a barrier.