Starting an Herb Garden

My last post was getting long so this is a two parter. If you missed the previous information on starting an herb garden, you can find it here: Your First Herb Garden

When you install an herb garden in your landscape, these things are important:

If you're buying plants as opposed to seeds, larger is usually better. The one exception is if the roots of a potential plant candidate are so crowded that they're dangling out of the bottom of the pot -- in that case, pass.

If you're growing herbs from seed, pay attention to germination rates and whether or not an herb can be started in the garden or needs to be potted indoors first. Give yourself six to eight weeks prep before the latest frost date in your area if you're growing herbs (or vegetables) from seed. As with other plants, reading the label instructions on herbs is important. Seed depth, soil requirements and seed spacing are usually included in the informational material. If you're like me and hate disposing of extra seedlings in the compost pile, use restraint with your seed starts. You can also germinate seeds between sheets of paper toweling. This is one way to insure that what actually makes it into a pot is viable. It'll save you space and resources: Start Your Herbs Between the Sheets

Parsley (a common garden-herb favorite) is notoriously hard to germinate. You should let the seeds soak in very hot water (not boiling) before planting. I typically dump parsley seeds in hot water, let the water cool down naturally and leave the seeds in there for 48 hours before sticking them in soil. It always works for me. This is just one of a number of planting tips you can find in the herbs summaries on this blog and on other useful gardening sites.

Come up with a good labeling method. This sounds easier than it is. The Herb Gardening group over at Yahoo Groups recommends using a permanent marker on a disposable plastic knife (which you then stick in the soil). This looks great but can look a little peculiar.

Be patient - or cunning. Seeds typically like warm overnight temperatures. This means things will have to warm up a little before they really take off. You can beat the calendar by a week or more if you employ a soil heating system to get your seeds started. If you've been starting seeds for a few years without this aid, it will make things easier and more fun. Plant heaters are pricey, but you can use them from season to season, and they'll really let you get a jump on things. Tomatoes adore them.

Prep your outdoor location. You know to prepare your garden beds by adding soil amendments and mulch, but you might want to treat for pests before the plants ever make it outdoors. It'll save you heartbreak later. A little judicious early season pesticide application can eliminate or curtail later infestations. I know "pesticide" is a dirty word, but in some spots in the garden, like around roses, it's almost a must. You can companion plant later, but when your seedlings are at their most vulnerable, consider bringing in the big guns. If this is not an option for you, employing natural methods like adding beneficial nematodes to your garden soil can help, too.

Other Considerations

These things are neat but not so important:

Harvest herbs in something nice, like a wicker basket. It has an old world charm you'll like. Even if you don't opt for a colorful harvesting method, don't use a plastic bag. You'll risk wilting -- if not actually steaming -- your herbs.

If you can't tell one herb variety from another, put up signs. You'll need them. Even if you don't need them for yourself, your significant other or kids may -- and asking them to go out and harvest some fresh herbs for dinner is part of the fun. If you don't like the idea of labeling plastic steak knives with permanent marker, use labeled wooden popsicle sticks instead. You can usually find packets of sticks (50, I think) at the dollar store for -- a dollar. If you're looking for something more picturesque and less utilitarian, there are dozens of specialty garden sites that sell prepared herb signs as well as DIY kits. They're adorable and expensive, but your garden is worth it, right?

Walk on the wild side, and give a few uncommon (for you)  herbs a try. If you like the idea of growing a parsley plant but wouldn't know what to do with a patch of marjoram (a mild form of oregano - kinda) if your life depended on it, branch out. One nice thing about herbs is that they can transform your ho-hum -- eating at home -- menu into something worthy of an honest to goodness compliment. You probably know about adding a little fresh garlic, oregano or basil to your pasta sauce, but you can include some fennel leaves in your carrot dishes or throw some lemon balm into a nice fruit salad too. Once you have a little experience, you'll be creating designer dishes that'll make food prep (and mealtime) more satisfying for everyone. It isn't hard, and it is loads of fun.

I talk about fun a lot because herb gardening is one of the most fun niche gardens you can plant.

There's a lot more, but I'm out of time for now. Stay tuned.


  1. Anonymous12:30:00 PM

    I use old plastic window blinds for my markers. I cut them in the length I need, then cut the tips to a point. A permanent marker is used to write the names down. They really withstand the weather and for a fraction of the cost!

  2. Wow! That's such a great idea. Thanks for sharing.



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