Planting Herb Seeds

Many herbs can be grown from seed, but that's not always a good idea.  Here's an example: It's easy to obtain lavender seed, but most lavender species are spotty and unreliable when it comes to germination.  The plants are fragile when they're small, too.  Below I have a list of popular herbs and some suggestions (yea or nay) about starting them from seed.

Here are a few general tips first:

New plant cultivars are coming out all the time, so making a blanket statement about any plant is risky.  A few years ago, I'd have shouted from the rooftops that growing rosemary where they're a risk of frost is a lousy idea.  Now there are frost tolerant varieties that can survive in areas as cold as zone-5.  The recommendations below have worked for me.  If you want to have a fun, successful experience in the garden, stick with seeds that are easy to propagate and buy small plants of other varieties you may want to try.

Lemon Balm
The expert resource for tips on growing a plant seed variety is always the seed supplier.  Those little graphics and recommendations on the backs of seed packets are important.  They tell you when to plant seeds, how deep to plant, how much water to provide and how much light the seeds (and plants) need.  Save the packets. When you're transplanting seedlings, they'll also give you information on how far apart to place plants in you flowerbeds.

When in doubt about what will grow in your area, check for zone recommendations on seed packet and in online plant descriptions.

Another excellent resource is your local nursery. Landscape experts in your area know what types of plants grow best in your climate. Take a look at what they're selling, and don't be afraid to ask questions.

You can also check with your local USDA Cooperative Extension Office for plant or planting recommendations.  This free regional service provides lots of information useful to gardeners. For more comprehensive information about regional growing zones and to find the phone number for your Cooperative Extension office, follow these links:


Herbs That Are Easy to Grow from Seed

Basil - Separate plants if you plan on planting more than one variety; they hybridize easily

Borage (Borago officinalis) - direct seed in the garden)

Calendula - start indoors in early spring. Calendula is pot marigold.

Camomile (Chamaemelum nobile) - start indoors in early spring

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) - start indoors in early spring

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) - can be started indoors or direct seeded (Chives self-seeds readily once established.)

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum ) - direct seed after the threat of frost. (also known as coriander)

Dill (Anethum graveolens) - direct seed after the threat of frost

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) - direct seed after the threat of frost

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) - start indoors or propagate from root cuttings

Mint (most varieties) - start indoors from seed or direct sow in late spring after the threat of frost

Sage (most varieties) - start seed indoors or direct seed in the garden

Relatively Easy Herbs to Grow from Seed

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) - Comfrey is relatively easy to propagate from seed, but the most common method is through root division.

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) - direct seed in areas with a long growing season

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) - start from seed indoors in spring

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) - start from seed indoors in late winter

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) - start from seed indoors early in spring or sow directly in the garden after the threat of frost

Rue (Ruta graveolens) - start from seed indoors in spring

St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum)- start from seed indoors in spring

Soapwort (Saponaria -) - start from seed indoors in spring

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) - start from seed indoors in spring

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) - start seeds indoors in spring

Thyme (multiple) - start seeds of German or French thyme varieties indoors in spring.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) - start from seed indoors in spring

St. John's wort

Special Needs and Challenging Herbs to Grow from Seed

Lavender (multiple) - Seeds germinate slowly and seedlings can be hard to cultivate. It's easier and less disappointing to start lavender from cuttings taken in spring or to buy seedlings.

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) - seeds germinate and grow slowly.  It may take four years or so for plants to reach maturity. Buy plants if possible.

Marjoram (Origanum majorana) - slow grower. Buy plants if possible.

Parsley (Petroselinum - multiple) - Soak seeds in hot water (not boiling) overnight before planting indoors in spring.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) - seeds germinate slowly and seedlings can be hard to raise. Plants may take up to three years to reach a useful size. Buy plants or start new plants from tip cuttings.


Other Propagation Methods

Bay (Laurus nobilis) - propagate from stem cuttings

Bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) also known as bergamot - propagate from root cuttings

Garlic (Allium sativum) - grown from a bulb (or clove), garlic is easy to start outdoors in spring, but it will take two seasons to mature.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) - grown from a rhizome in spring

Lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) - propagate from root cuttings in spring or purchase plants

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) - propagate by division in spring or purchase plants

Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) - propagate from cuttings or division

Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) - purchase plants and divide them in the fall

Pineapple sage
Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) - purchase plants in spring.

Tarragon, French (Artemisia dracunculus) - propagate by division or cuttings, or purchase plants

Thyme, English - propagate from cuttings or purchase plants.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) - propagate by division in spring or fall, or buy plants

Calendula Photo - Calendula2_Wiki_Public.JPG  By Wouter Hagens (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


  1. I'm always reading that parsley is difficult, but we've never had any trouble with it; starting from seeds or small plants, it has always not only grown happily, both in the Atlanta, GA area where we used to live, and now in NE Arkansas, but also very merrily set seed and propagated freely. Doesn't rampantly take over here like cilantro does (we have crazed cilantro plants growing literally all over the property now, all year long), but we never have to buy any more. We've never read to soak the seeds either, so the ones we started from seed we just direct sowed (and clearly the "volunteers" don't get any special treatment).

  2. Hi A.K.

    I haven't had your luck. I always have to soak parsley to get a decent germination rate -- sometimes really good, in fact. The folk wisdom is that soaking seeds with hard "shells" improves germination. Just my two cents.



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