Instructions for Cultivating an Herb Garden

Posted by

Lawn & Garden

Herbs are an intriguing and popular group of plants that have been utilized for various purposes over centuries. They are used for seasoning food, decorating gardens, perfuming homes and bodies, and even curing illnesses. In one way or another, herbs touch our lives and in this article, we will provide you with instructions for cultivating your own herb garden.

  • Soil Preparation for Herb Garden Planting

    If you are fortunate enough to have a garden with rich, fertile soil that is deep and easy to work with, count yourself lucky. However, good garden soil is rare to find, and most novice gardeners realize that they need to make some changes to the soil. Although herbs can grow in various soil types, by making some simple preparatory changes, your garden soil can be as productive and easy to use as you want it to be. Proper soil management is crucial. Therefore, in this section, we will teach you the basics of preparing your garden soil.

  • Techniques for Preparing Herb Garden Soil

    Now that you know what you need, you can enroll in a soil-improvement program. In this section, you will learn how to test your soil for texture and fertility and see how to improve soil deficiencies. If you are not satisfied with the results of your testing, there is no need to worry. Improving your garden soil is easily achievable and is a regular part of gardening. It is not necessary for the soil-improving process to happen in the first year of gardening. If you take time to work with your soil, you will reap the benefits of fruitful production for years to come. We will show you how to improve your soil, fertilize it, and recycle it to give your herbs the best chance of growth.

  • Cultivating Herbs

    Most of us eventually decide to try our hand at cultivating a few favorite herbs. If we haven’t prepared our soil, it usually starts with a pot of parsley on the kitchen windowsill or a short row of dill in the vegetable patch. Once started, most gardeners find themselves increasing the number of herbs they cultivate simply because so many of them flourish with little care. In this section, we will discuss the best methods for starting an herb garden.

  • Tips for Growing Herbs

    Like any other garden, there are various options for layout and design when planting your herb garden. Do you prefer a container garden close to the kitchen for the aromatic herbs that you love to use in your gourmet recipes? Do you like rows and rows of lacy anise to sway in the breeze on a windy day? Does a wistful sigh escape your lips every time you pass an intricate knot garden? Would you rather plant a mixed garden full of herbs, vegetables, and even edible flowers? In this section, we will explore the different herb garden options and help you lay out a garden plan to get you ready for planting.

Whether you are a cook or just love to eat, nothing tastes as good as something you have made yourself. Your herb garden will provide you with fragrant and delicious seasonings for your favorite meals. Let’s get started by preparing the soil for herb garden planting.

Preparing the Soil for a Herb Garden

Having good quality soil is essential for a low maintenance garden. Although herbs are robust and require minimal attention, taking the time to prepare the soil beforehand can have a significant impact.

Improving the Soil Quality

Soil is comprised of 50% solid and 50% porous space that provides air, water, and room for plant roots. The solid portion consists of inorganic matter (fine rock particles) and organic matter (decaying plant matter). The inorganic section of the soil can be divided into three categories based on particle size. Clay has the smallest particles, silt has medium-sized particles, and sand has the largest particles. The texture of the soil is determined by the amount of clay, silt, and sand it contains. Loam, the ideal soil for gardening, is a blend of 20% clay, 40% silt, and 40% sand.

Gallery of Culinary Herbs

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Healthy herbs require good quality soil.
View more pictures of culinary herbs.

In order to obtain a larger and better crop of herbs and vegetables, many gardeners choose to add vegetables to their herb garden. To improve the texture and structure of the soil, it is recommended to use organic matter. Organic matter is composed of materials that were once alive but are now decaying such as ground corncobs, bark chips, sawdust, hay, grass clippings, straw, and cover crops. A compost pile can also be used to provide excellent organic matter to enrich the soil.

Before planting, it is recommended to incorporate the organic matter into the soil by tilling it or turning it under with a spade. However, if noncomposted materials are used, nitrogen from the soil will be used by the microorganisms that break down the materials. To compensate for this nitrogen loss, it is advised to increase the amount of nitrogen fertilizer that is incorporated into the soil.

It is also important to have the soil tested for nutrient levels. The local county Cooperative Extension office can provide advice on how to test the soil in your area. Your soil sample will be sent to a laboratory to determine any deficiencies of the necessary nutrients needed for successful plant growth. The results of the soil test will indicate the pH balance of the soil as well as the nitrogen content, phosphorus content, and potassium content. The necessary nutrient levels are relative to the soil type and the crop being grown. Most vegetable plants produce best in a soil that has a pH between 5.5 and 7.5.

It is recommended to follow the laboratory’s recommendations as closely as possible during the first growing season. Fertilizing techniques will be discussed in the next section, Herb Garden Soil Preparation Techniques. To quickly check the texture of your soil, it is advised to lightly squeeze moist soil in your hand.

nutrients present: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Inorganic fertilizers are usually more concentrated than organic fertilizers, so less material is needed to supply the same amount of nutrients. They are also faster-acting and more precise in their nutrient content. However, inorganic fertilizers can also be more expensive and can harm beneficial microorganisms in the soil if overused.

When applying fertilizer, always follow the instructions on the package. Over-fertilization can cause harm to plants and the environment. It’s also important to note that fertilizers are not a substitute for good soil management practices, such as proper watering and weed control.

In summary, soil testing is an important step in ensuring a successful garden. It can provide valuable information on soil pH, nutrient levels, and recommendations for adjustment. Fertilizing is also important to provide plants with the necessary nutrients for healthy growth, but it’s important to choose the right type of fertilizer and to follow instructions carefully to avoid overuse.

The three major nutrients in fertilizer are represented by the numbers on the package, with nitrogen being the first (5% in this example), phosphorus being the second (10%), and potassium being the third (20%). The remaining 65% is a blend of other nutrients and inert filler. A well-balanced complete fertilizer is made up of all three major nutrients in relatively equal amounts and is recommended for herb and vegetable gardens as long as the nitrogen content does not exceed 20%. A common complete fertilizer used in edible gardens is 10-10-10. The table shows the N-P-K ratios for various organic fertilizers, and in addition to proper fertilization, it’s important to provide the right nutrients for your herb garden. The article then explains a two-stage program for fertilizing your garden, including broadcast fertilizing and sidedressing. Finally, the article discusses the benefits of composting, which can save money on soil conditioners and fertilizer while providing nutrients to growing plants and increasing the soil’s ability to control water.

Not only does it provide a solution for getting rid of garden waste such as grass clippings and weeds, but it also saves time. This compost pile has multiple benefits for the vegetable garden. The image below shows how it can be used.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This compost pile serves many uses in the vegetable garden.

layer of nitrogen-rich material, such as fresh grass clippings, vegetable scraps, or manure. This layer should be about 3-4 inches thick.

  • Add a layer of soil or finished compost on top of the nitrogen-rich layer. This layer helps to introduce beneficial microorganisms into the pile.
  • Continue to layer organic material in the pile, alternating between nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials. Carbon-rich materials include dry leaves, straw, and shredded paper. Keep the pile moist but not waterlogged, and turn it every two weeks to provide oxygen to the microorganisms.
  • After about six months to a year, the compost should be ready to use. It should be dark brown, crumbly, and have a pleasant earthy smell. Use it to amend garden soil, as potting soil, or as a mulch.
  • Remember that composting is easy and can be done with minimal effort. By following these basic steps, you can turn your garden waste and kitchen scraps into a valuable resource that will benefit your plants and enrich your soil.

    To start a compost pile, begin by laying down a layer of organic materials, then add nitrogen to activate the microorganisms and speed up the decay process. Adding ground limestone will sweeten the environment for the microorganisms, and garden soil will provide a starter colony. Keep the pile moist and add more garden waste as it becomes available, repeating the layers of fertilizer, lime, and soil as the pile thickens. Turn and mix the pile every two weeks to ensure even heating and kill off weed seeds and harmful organisms. Once your soil is ready, you can start planting and growing herbs. Herbs can be grown in a separate herb garden or blended with other plants. Culinary herbs like thyme, basil, and oregano can be grown in gourmet varieties to add flavor to your cooking. Plan your herb garden before planting, considering formal beds, knot gardens, or symmetrical planting plans. Provide sandy soil for herbs that need good drainage and moderate fertility, and consider growing them in pots if necessary.

    If your soil is naturally sandy and well-drained, then you are lucky. However, if it is damp clay, you need to raise the herb garden and add a 3-inch layer of coarse sand and 2 inches of compost to improve drainage. It is important to avoid excessive use of fertilizers, especially those high in nitrogen. To grow herbs that need light soil, plant them in pots using well-drained, peat-based potting mix. This will help herbs such as thyme, lavender, and rosemary thrive and look great.

    You can also plant perennials that double as herbs in flower beds and borders. Some herbs can be used for decorating, fragrance, or cuisine. For example, sweetly fragrant bee balm has flowers and foliage that are perfect for tea or drying for potpourri. Yarrow bears everlasting flowers for dried floral arrangements, and air drying is fine for golden-flowered forms. To preserve the color of pink, red, and white-flowered yarrows, dry them in silica gel. Lady’s mantle is a historical herb with lovely scalloped leaves and small sprays of yellow-green flowers for cutting. Pinks have fragrant flowers that can be used fresh for cut-flower arrangements or dried for potpourri.

    Using herbs with attractive foliage in perennial gardens can provide season-long color. Amid the comings and goings of perennial flowers, neatly or colorfully clad herbs maintain enduring style and beauty. Some of the best herbs to grow for decorative foliage include globe basil (small mounds of emerald green), bronze leaf basil or perilla, ornamental sages (with purple leaves, variegated gold leaves, or tricolor green, white, and pink leaves), and silver-leaved herbs such as gray santolina and lavender. For convenience, you can plant commonly used culinary herbs in a clay planter near a sunny kitchen window.

    Here are some tips for growing herbs that will make them a beautiful addition to any garden. To create a great color scheme, match the color of the foliage with nearby flowers. You can plant common culinary herbs in a clay planter by a sunny kitchen window so they’re easily accessible. To keep rampant herbs like mint and bee balm in check, make sure to restrain them with firm limits. For spreading herbs, plant them in large plastic pots with the bottom removed, and cut back any errant sprouts to renew the plant every year or two. Pinching back annual herbs like basil will prevent them from blooming and ensure a bushier growth. You can also remove a few bricks in your garden path and plant low-growing thyme or oregano for a charming natural look and fragrant walkway. Plant more parsley, dill, and fennel than you think you need to attract swallowtail butterflies. Finally, harvest perennial herbs when they develop flower buds for the best flavor, but make sure to give them a break from heavy harvesting 45 days before the first frost in cold climates. With these tips, you can design a formal or informal herb garden that suits your needs.

    Growing herbs doesn’t necessarily require a formal layout separate from the rest of the garden. Most herbs can be mixed in with other plantings, except for a few aggressive herbs like mint that should be planted in separate beds or containers to control their spread. The design of the herb garden can range from very formal to extremely informal, depending on personal preference. When planning a vegetable garden that includes herbs, it’s important to follow basic design rules such as placing tall plants at the rear of side beds, plants of intermediate height in the middle, and low-growing plants at the front to maximize their access to light. To decide which herbs to grow, make a list of the ones you’re most likely to use and note their soil, light, and water needs, as well as their height and spread. Sketch the herb garden area to scale and fill in any empty spots with appropriate species. Formal herb garden designs often feature balanced geometric layouts centered around a special garden feature, while informal layouts can be backed by a wall or fence or stand as an island in the middle of a lawn area.

    /> Soil Culture Height Spread Basil A Y FS A E 12-24 12-15 Chives P Y FS A E 12-15 6-8 Cilantro A N FS A E 24-30 12-15 Dill A Y FS A E 24-36 12-15 Fennel P N FS A E 48-72 18-24 Lemon Balm P Y FS A E 24-36 18-24 Marjoram P N FS A E 12-24 12-15 Mint P Y FS A R 12-24 24-36 Oregano P Y FS A E 12-24 12-18 Parsley A Y PS A E 12-24 12-15 Rosemary P Y FS A E 24-36 24-36 Sage P Y FS A E 24-36 24-36 Summer Savory A N FS A E 12-24 12-18 Tarragon P N FS A E 18-24 12-15 Thyme P Y FS A E 12-24 12-15

    Revised text:

    When it comes to harvesting herbs, it is typically best to gather them just before they bloom, as this is when they have the highest level of flavor in their leaves. The best time to harvest each herb is noted in the directory of vegetable and herb plants, along with the best preservation methods.

    For herbs that are intended for fresh use, harvesting can be done throughout the growing season. For perennials such as thyme, sage, and rosemary, it is best to snip their active growing shoots in 4 to 6-inch lengths. For annuals, a few leaves can be collected as needed.

    If you plan to preserve herbs for future use, wait until the plant is at its aromatic peak, as noted in the directory. Harvest the plant early in the morning when the aromatics are at their highest levels of the day. Remove any diseased or insect-infested portions and wash thoroughly if there is any dust present. It is best to wash the plant a day before harvesting, if possible.

    When harvesting seeds, it is important to time it correctly to allow the seeds to ripen completely but catch them before they disperse. One way to do this is to keep a daily watch and harvest as soon as the seeds begin to dry. You can carefully snip off the heads over a large paper bag, allowing the seeds to fall directly into it. Keep the seeds in the bag to complete the drying process. It is important not to compact the seed heads, as air circulation is needed to prevent the growth of undesirable molds.

    If you can’t keep a close track of the maturation process, another alternative is to enclose each seed head, while still on the plant, in a small paper or mesh bag once all flowering has ended and the green seeds become obvious. Then, when the heads dry, any seeds that fall out will be captured in the bag. Once you notice that seeds are being released, snip off the heads, bag and all, and dry them indoors.

    The most common method of herb preservation is hang drying, but many herbs can also be preserved by freezing them. This is a quick and easy method, and the flavor is usually closer to fresh than dried. If you have enough freezer space, freezing is probably the most desirable choice for cooking herbs. Some herbs lose flavor when exposed to air, but they will retain it if stored in oil or liquor. There are some herbs that don’t retain as much flavor when preserved by any means, and they can only be used fresh. However, you can extend their season by growing them indoors as pot plants during the winter months.

    The herb chart below can help you identify the plants that are best suited to your site. It also notes whether the plants are annuals, biennials, or perennials, and how large you can expect each herb to be at maturity. It also identifies especially attractive landscape varieties.

    Herb Chart:

    Name Plant Landscape Light Soil Culture Height Spread

    Basil A Y FS A E 12-24 12-15

    Chives P Y FS A E 12-15 6-8

    Cilantro A N FS A E 24-30 12-15

    Dill A Y FS A E 24-36 12-15

    Fennel P N FS A E 48-72 18-24

    Lemon Balm P Y FS A E 24-36 18-24

    Marjoram P N FS A E 12-24 12-15

    Mint P Y FS A R 12-24 24-36

    Oregano P Y FS A E 12-24 12-18

    Parsley A Y PS A E 12-24 12-15

    Rosemary P Y FS A E 24-36 24-36

    Sage P Y FS A E 24-36 24-36

    Summer Savory A N FS A E 12-24 12-18

    Tarragon P N FS A E 18-24 12-15

    Thyme P Y FS A E 12-24 12-15

    A-S, M 24-72 24-48 E Sage P FS A-S, M 12-36 18-24 E Savory A FS A-S 12-18 6-12 E Tarragon P FS, PS A, M 24-36 12-18 E Thyme P FS A-S, M 6-12 6-18 E

    The table shows various herbs and their characteristics such as soil type, height, spread, and culture. It includes information on Angelica, Anise, Basil, Chervil, Chives, Coriander, Costmary, Dill, Fennel, Garlic, Geraniums, Horehound, Marjoram, Nasturtium, Oregano, Parsley, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Savory, Tarragon, and Thyme. The table also includes symbols that denote the different characteristics of the herbs.

    The table displays various herbs with their specifications such as growth type, ideal temperature range, light requirements, and hardiness zone. It includes Rue, Sage, Savory, French Sorrel, Southernwood, Spearmint, Sweet Woodruff, Tansy, French Tarragon, Thyme, and Wormwood. The article mentions that there are numerous other types of herbs available for cultivation. However, it provides a list of some commonly grown herbs to assist readers in their herb garden. The article credits Publications International, Ltd. for the information.


    1. What are some easy herbs to grow as a beginner?

    Some easy herbs to grow as a beginner include basil, chives, mint, parsley, and thyme. These herbs are relatively low maintenance and can thrive in a variety of growing conditions.

    2. Can I grow herbs indoors?

    Yes, you can grow herbs indoors. Many herbs can thrive in containers placed near a sunny window or under grow lights. Make sure to choose herbs that do well in low light conditions if you don’t have access to a lot of natural light.

    3. How often should I water my herb garden?

    The frequency of watering your herb garden will depend on a few factors such as the type of herb, the size of the container, and the growing conditions. Generally, you should water your herbs when the soil feels dry to the touch, but not completely dried out.

    4. What type of soil should I use for my herb garden?

    Herbs generally prefer well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. You can use a pre-made potting soil mix or make your own by combining equal parts of peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite.

    5. How much sunlight do herbs need?

    The amount of sunlight herbs need will depend on the specific herb. Generally, most herbs prefer at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. However, some herbs such as parsley and mint can tolerate partial shade.

    6. Can I grow herbs in a small space?

    Yes, you can grow herbs in a small space such as a balcony or windowsill. Many herbs can thrive in containers and even hanging baskets.

    7. How often should I fertilize my herb garden?

    The frequency of fertilizing your herb garden will depend on the specific herbs and the growing conditions. Generally, you should fertilize your herbs once a month with a balanced fertilizer.

    8. Can I grow herbs from seeds?

    Yes, you can grow herbs from seeds. However, some herbs can be difficult to grow from seeds and may require specific growing conditions. It may be easier for beginners to purchase herb seedlings instead.

    9. How do I know when my herbs are ready to harvest?

    You can harvest herbs when they are mature enough to use in recipes. Generally, you can begin harvesting herbs when they have enough leaves to sustain the plant’s growth. Be sure to only harvest a maximum of one-third of the plant at a time to prevent stunting its growth.

    10. Can I grow herbs year-round?

    Yes, you can grow herbs year-round by using indoor growing methods such as grow lights or by using a greenhouse. Some herbs such as rosemary and thyme may require extra care during the winter months.

    11. How do I store my harvested herbs?

    You can store harvested herbs by drying them or freezing them. To dry herbs, hang them upside down in a warm, dry place until they are completely dry. To freeze herbs, chop them up and store them in an airtight freezer bag or container.

    12. What are some common pests that affect herb gardens?

    Some common pests that affect herb gardens include aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies. You can prevent pest infestations by keeping your herb garden clean and healthy, removing any dead or diseased leaves, and using natural pest control methods such as neem oil or insecticidal soap.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *