Think of planting an outdoor herb garden as the first step toward earning a green thumb. Herbs are perfect for beginners to practice on because they are tough, tolerant plants with built-in pest resistance. Experienced gardeners consider herb gardens essential for producing fresh, pungent seasoning for meals. Fortunately, fitting in herbs isn't difficult. You can squeeze herb plants into vegetable gardens, seed them in areas between shrubs or plant a separate herb garden near the kitchen door. Herbs don't take much effort as long as their cultural requirements are met.
Please Don't Take My Sunshine Away
Often grown as annuals, most herbs require large doses of sunshine to thrive. Sun exposure helps the plants produce the flavored oils that contain an herb's flavoring. Find a spot in the garden with between six and eight hours of direct sun every day to plant herbs. While they may appear healthy in locations of partial shade, the quality of the flavor will diminish. A few herbs do better out of direct sun, so check when you buy the seeds or transplants, or read the best exposure information on the seed packet.
Irrigation Is a Double-Edged Sword
Every plant on Earth needs water, and herbs are no exception. The trick is, they don't like too much of it. In general herbs don't require frequent watering as long as they get a drink when they need it. Check the soil with a moisture meter or your fingers to determine whether it is dry 2 inches under the surface. That's the time to water, and keep watering, until the top 8 inches of soil are wet. Fertilizer generally is not required for herbs, and too much will cause the flavor to deteriorate.
Good Drainage is Non-Negotiable
The water that you offer your herbs must do its job, then depart. Well-drained soil is one of the herbs' non-negotiable demands, and herbs stuck in heavy, wet soil won't be around very long. If your soil isn't well-drained, you can remove and replace the upper foot of soil with a mixture of peat, sand and compost. Alternatively, construct raised beds and fill them with appropriate soil. Choose soil that is pH neutral or almost, with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5, rather than very acidic or alkaline.
Getting Down and Dirty
When you are ready to start your herb garden, you need to select herbs and determine whether to use seeds or transplants. Growing from seeds is less expensive but involves more lag time. Unless your seeds indicate that the particular herb doesn't transplant well, start seeds indoors in late winter and transplant the seedlings in spring. If you opt for transplants, look carefully to be sure they don't have insects.
Things You'll Need
- Herb transplants
Cultivate the soil in the area you intend to plant herbs to 12 to 18 inches deep, using a shovel. Break up chunks of soil, remove rocks and eliminate weeds. Pull out the weeds by their roots to prevent reappearance. Smooth the top of the soil with a trowel.
Plant the herbs well apart, spacing them at the recommended distances indicated on the seed packet or label. This provides adequate spacing for the plant when it matures. Do not try to squeeze plants too close together since this invites insect pests. Place sun-loving herbs in direct sun, those that need less sun in partial shade.
Spread a layer of straw on the soil in the herb garden, keeping it several inches from the plants' foliage. Water the herb garden thoroughly.
If you live in a cold-winter area, increase the straw mulch around your perennial herbs to protect them from winter's worst. Four inches of mulch should do the trick.