How to Plant an Herb Garden

When my husband and I were college sweethearts, we spent a lot of time in the summers in his parents’ back yard just talking. I loved that place. I felt like I was in a lovely botanical garden with the gorgeous flowers and trees, budding bushes and quaint bird feeders. It was park-like and perfect!

In addition, his mom grew a lovely herb garden. When it was time to grill out chicken, she’d send me out to snip some lemon thyme springs from off of the plant to add to the marinade. We topped our baked potatoes with fresh chives harvested from her herb patch. Mint leaves swirled around in our iced tea glasses. Herbs were everywhere!

And so, when I got married, I decided I wanted to learn to grow herbs too. And so, the first three summers, as an apartment dweller, I grew them in pots placed in an old red wagon. From there, I graduated to having a patch of my own yard to serve as a culinary garden ready to be harvested and enjoyed by my family. Here are some simple tips for planting your own herb garden:


1. Don’t get too ambitious and decide to plant 18 different herbs and create a lot of work for yourself.

Just start with 5 or 6 that will form the foundation of your garden. You can branch off from there later. {Be sure to be thinking this though when you plan a place in your yard for your herbs. Leave room to expand later.}

2. Ask yourself, “Will we really eat this?”

Sure there are fun and funky herbs like orange mint, sweet cicely, and pineapple sage (one of my favs!) but if you don’t think you will eat it, you’ll be less likely to give it attention. When first starting out, stick with ones you will really use in cooking. A good basic garden would include things like mint, oregano, basil, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. (You Simon and Garfunkel fans— see what I did right there?)

How to plant an herb garden. At karenehman.com
Variegated sage. Delicious in poultry dishes.

3. Location, location, location.

Herbs need at least 4-6 hours a day of direct sun and well-drained, but fertile soil. Think about this when deciding the location. No use digging up a plot of ground that is mostly shaded during the day and then fretting when your herbs don’t flourish.

4. Mix up some fertile soil.

You can get very technical and research just what ph levels each type of herb needs and adjust your sold accordingly, but I never have. I have found that simply digging down about 6-8 inches and then filling in the plot (or raised beds, if you prefer) with a mixture of 2/3 garden soil or black dirt and the remaining 1/3 of peat moss works well. If you get a garden soil that has fertilizer already in it, even better. Cover soil with a light layer of mulch or wood chips to retain moisture. {Ok. Truth be told, actually my HUBBY does the digging and mixing and mulching. I just make him a glass of iced tea as a thanks!)

How to plant an herb garden. At karenehman.com
Chocolate mint. I keep it in a pot on the picnic table to snip and put in iced tea.

5. Know what to put in the ground and what to put in pots.

Some herbs send of “runners” underground and they are annoying because they pop up new growth all over the garden. These herbs are better off in pots. The main one is any type of mint. Plant these in pots to keep them contained. You may also want to plant herbs that won’t winter over in your area but only last one season like basil, parsley and cilantro. For the herbs you plant in the ground, space them 24 inches apart or more. They will fill in over the years and you don’t want them crowding each other out.

How to plant an herb garden. At karenehman.com
Sweet basil. Ready for pasta sauce or to wrap around shrimp for the grill.

6. Snip and use often.

One of the first things my mother-in-law taught me was that when most herbs “go to flower” they may look pretty but they then taste bitter. By snipping the tops of your herbs often, keeping them from flowering, you get a longer culinary life out of them. Once you are done harvesting or drying them, you can let them go to flower. They are pretty!

Rosemary. FABULOUS in potatoes diced and fried in a little olive oil in a cast iron pan.
Chives that have “gone to flower”.

7. Think ahead.

Speaking of drying….will you grow sage? Cut off a few large stems of it, secure them with a rubber band, rinse and hang upside-down to dry. After it has dried for a few weeks, crumble and keep in an airtight container. Then, use in your Thanksgiving stuffing! Love to make fresh spaghetti sauce? Snip off some basil and oregano and dry too. You can also freeze fresh herbs right on the stems. Wrap them in foil or plastic wrap. Simply thaw later and chop fine or grind with a mortar and pestle. Or, what seems to work the best is to chop them fine and place in ice cube trays. Pour a little olive oil over them and freeze until hard. Transfer to a freezer bag. Use frozen herbs within 2-4 months.

How to plant an herb garden. At karenehman.com
Rosemary. FABULOUS in red potatoes that have been diced and fried in a little olive oil in a cast iron pan, along with some sea salt and lemon pepper.

8. Divide and share.

You may need to thin out your herbs every spring if they become too invasive and begin to crowd. Simply dig up some of the plant around the outer edges to keep a nice shape. Then, give a starting of the herbs to a friend for their garden.

So, I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever panted herbs before? What ones do you enjoy eating? Any recipes you want to share?

Happy planting!

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