Growing herbs is easy and rewarding, but there are a few things you need to think about. How and where to plant them. The care that they will need once they’ve started to grow. Although you’ll soon find that growing herbs will become second nature, the following guide has a few tips to get you started.
Easy does it
You don’t have to plant all of your herbs at once – just start with a couple and add to them as you go. Basil, rosemary and parsley are herbs that most people could not live without, so why not start with these and save money on your shopping bill? You may then realise you’re missing oregano, sage and thyme for stews, mint for pea dishes and dill for fish, beans and carrots. And why is it you don’t have any fresh coriander? The more you have, the more you’ll want, until there comes a time when it’s hard to imagine life before chervil and borage...
Indoors vs outdoors
Culinary herbs are popular as indoor plants and are often grown directly on kitchen windowsills for convenience. This is great, so long as your kitchen can provide them with at least 6 hours of full sunlight per day. Otherwise, look for a room that can, or consider planting outdoors.
In general, indoor herbs are easier to look after, but outdoor herbs grow faster and have better flavour. In addition, the moderate temperatures most herbs need can’t be guaranteed all year around in most regions. Growing herbs in portable containers offers you the best of both worlds: you can give herbs the full benefit of the sun during good weather, but take them inside if there’s any danger of frost.
Some herbs, like chives and borage, look as good as they taste. So if you’re growing herbs that have beautiful flowers, make sure they’re somewhere you can see them!
A good start
Wherever you want them eventually, if you’re growing herbs from seed, it’s easier to start them indoors. Herbs that are easy to grow from seed include basil, dill, oregano and coriander (parsley, sage, rosemary, mint and thyme are a bit trickier, so consider buying them in pots). To grow from seed:
- Gather plant pots, seed trays, or any other containers you have lying around. If they don’t have drainage holes, make some.
- Fill with good potting soil and water so that soil is thoroughly moist but not soaking wet.
- Sow the seeds, following instructions on the packet.
- Find them a warm spot where they will get plenty of sun.
If you are transplanting them outside, wait until after the last frost then ‘harden them off’. This means getting them used to outdoor temperatures by leaving them outside for just an hour or two at first, then building up gradually to longer periods before finally planting them out. To prepare outdoor beds, dig around a foot down, turning over the soil as you dig. Break up the soil and remove any large stones or roots, then mix in some nutrient-rich compost from the garden centre or compost heap.
Caring for herbs
Fortunately, most herbs are easy to care for and fairly resistant to pests and diseases when mature. Young seedlings need protection from slugs and snails, but you can avoid this problem by growing herbs to a good size indoors before planting them out.
At all stages, herbs need good drainage and the right amount of watering. This varies greatly between herbs, with some - like parsley – preferring fairly moist soil, and others - like rosemary and thyme – doing better with less moisture. Because of this, it’s helpful to only have plants with the same watering needs sharing any given container or area of soil.
As with most plants, overwatering herbs can lead to root rot, which can be fatal. The best approach is to check soil moisture 1-2 cm below the surface by making a small hole with your finger, as a dry surface doesn’t necessarily indicate dry soil underneath. With plants in light containers, you can often tell just by picking them up – dry soil is much lighter than soil with a lot of moisture.
When growing herbs, don’t feel bad about picking them! That’s what they’re there for, after all. Indeed, some – like basil, oregano and parsley – actually benefit from regular harvesting, although you do need to leave them enough leaves to continue growing. Most herbs should be harvested before they flower, as their leaves may become bitter afterwards. Some plants, like coriander and dill, go to seed within a fairly short amount of time, so consider starting off a few plants within a couple of weeks of each other, so that you’ll have a constant supply.
Whichever ones you decide to start off with, few things are simpler than growing herbs. To start in the easiest way possible, just buy a plant or two and get used to their watering needs. Don’t waste another minute before getting into this tasty and fulfilling branch of gardening!