Want to grow your own herbs outside? Herbs have a certain allure and mystery to them. Humans have used herbs for thousands of years to flavor and preserve food, add fragrance to a home and heal sickness. During Medieval times, people scattered lavender in their homes because they believed it would ward off diseases, such as the plague. Turns out, lavender does have some anti-microbial properties. Chamomile has long been used as to calm troubled nerves or bring sleep. Herbs were also used as dyes. Early Britons dyed their skin blue with the herb woad, before going into battle.
Today, most modern gardeners grow herbs for their culinary value. Whatever your motivation for planting an herb garden, you’ll find the process easy and rewarding. Herbs are among the simplest plants to grow.
Herb Garden Site Selection
When choosing a location for your herb garden, consider the growing needs of individual plants. In general, Mediterranean herbs thrive in full sun. These include sage, thyme, basil, rosemary, tarragon and oregano. Woodland herbs tolerate a bit of shade, and even prefer it in hot climates. Mint, lemon balm, chervil, chamomile, cilantro and parsley fall into this category.
Most herbs tolerate poor soil, but don’t tolerate damp roots. Amend the soil before you plant your herb garden with some compost or manure. These amendments lighten clay soils and improve drainage. In sandy soils, they slow down the leaching of nutrients and moisture.
Herbs aren’t fussy about where they grow. Tuck a few into a flower bed. Many herbs have fragrant flowers and fine foliage, making them excellent additions to a perennial bed. Some attract bees, while others repel pests and deer.
Another option is to grow herbs in the vegetable garden. Some gardeners claim tomatoes taste better when planted with basil. Whether this is true or not is debatable, but growing the two together simplifies harvesting when you want to make a marinara sauce.
Herbs also adapt remarkably well to containers. Grow herbs in pots near your kitchen door for a charming kitchen garden. Savory additions to the cooking pot are just a few steps away.
Easy Herbs to Grow Outdoors
Basil (Ocimum basilicum). This tender annual herb is beloved for its fresh, inviting flavor. Add it to pesto, marinara sauce or salads. Basil grows quickly from seed if started indoors. Plant it in full sun in moist, well-draining soil. Pinch the plant back to encourage compact growth and don’t allow it to bloom, which causes bitter leaves. A few varieties to try: ‘Sweet basil,’ ‘Spicy Globe,’ ‘Dark Opal,’ or ‘Chocolate.’
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum). This perennial belongs to the onion family and grows from bulbs. Chives have a mild onion flavor and make a great addition to salads or eggs. They grow in full sun and appear in early spring. Their purple blossoms are edible, as well as the green stalks. Divide chives every 2 to 3 years to encourage new growth and cut them back mid-summer.
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum). Also known as coriander, people either love cilantro or they hate it. It imparts a fresh, clean taste to salsas and salads. This tender annual grows best in slightly cool weather and moist soil. It bolts when temperatures rise.
Dill (Anethum graveolens). Plant dill once and you’ll probably never have to plant it again. This annual herb is a prolific self-sower. If you leave a few seed heads on the plants, you’ll have more dill the following spring. Grow dill in full sun and keep the soil moderately moist for best flavor.
Rosemary (Rosarinus officinalis). Rosemary is an evergreen perennial in warm climates, but dies out in the north. Bring it indoors before the first frost to overwinter it. Rosemary thrives in full sun and slightly dry conditions.
Thyme (Thymus). Thyme thrives on neglect. Plant it in full sun and water it occasionally. It will reward your small efforts with rampant growth. In fact, cut it back mid-summer to reign it in. Thymus vulgaris is the variety commonly grown for cooking. Others to try include lemon thyme, French thyme, and English thyme.
Basic Herb Care and Harvest
In general, herbs require little care. Perennial herbs, such as thyme, mint and oregano can quickly overtake the garden. In time, they become tough, woody and shrub-like. Cut these herbs back at least once each season to solve both problems and divide these herbs every 2 to 3 years to promote new, young growth.
Go easy on fertilizer. A little compost applied early in the season is usually sufficient. Too much fertilizer promotes rapid lush growth. This growth is less flavorful and is also more prone to disease and pest problems.
Harvest herbs when the leaves are small for best flavor. Cut them in the morning and use them fresh or hang them to dry.
To learn more, visit the following sites:
Growing Herbs from Herb Expert
Growing Herbs from Purdue University
Your Backyard Herb Garden: A Gardener’s Guide to Growing Over 50 Herbs Plus How to Use Them in Cooking, Crafts, Companion Planting and More a terrific, comprehensive book on herb gardening that covers 50 of the most popular herbs.