How to Start an Herb Garden (for Dummies)
A simple tutorial on how to start an herb garden. Quick, easy steps for novice gardeners!
I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of cook.
Instead of following a logical process — finding a recipe, going to the grocery store and buying the ingredients for the recipe, then making said recipe — I tend to start at the grocery store, pick an ingredient that looks enticing, then try to figure out a use for it later. Conversely, I’ll find a recipe I want to try, forage the fridge for compatible ingredients, and end up making it despite lacking key components.
Both scenarios are a recipe for food waste — particularly for herbs, which tend to go bad quickly.
As a healthy cook, herbs play a major role in creating flavor and complexity without adding extra salt, fat, or other unsavory ingredients. So, I like to have a few on hand at all times.
But purchasing fresh herbs every week can add up, and when you inevitably forget about them and find them wilting in the back of the refrigerator, it’s pretty frustrating.
Which is why I’ve been itching to start an herb garden.
Having fresh, ready-to-go herbs is a great way for off the cuff cooks like myself to maximize usage and prevent waste.
I’d been a little nervous to try my hand at gardening though, given numerous failed attempts at plant parenting.
After a couple of hours at Home Depot and a few Google searches though, I managed to figure it out this weekend and throw together a pretty legit little herb garden in the span of an afternoon.
It turns out the process is pretty easy and doesn’t require too much time or money.
All you need is a sunny spot to store your bounty. I chose the walkway that connects our house and carpark.
If you’re looking to up your herb game and eventually save some cash, I highly recommend starting an herb garden.
Here’s how to do it…
1. Buy your supplies: pots/boxes, potting mix, starter plants, tarp (optional).
You’re going to need a small planter box or several small pots/boxes with holes in the bottom for drainage. I chose vintage looking crates which were big enough to fit a couple of plants each.
Some herbs, like mint, should be kept in their own pot as they grow rapidly and can snuff out surrounding plants. Other plants can share a box/pot, as long as you give them room to grow (about 8-12″ apart). Rosemary and sage are both drier plants, so they make good box mates. On the other hand, basil and oregano both use a lot of water, so they pair well together too.
Next you need potting mix. This is different from soil in that it is specifically used for pots. It has nutrients to help your little herbs grow and is formulated to help with drainage. If you’re looking to make an organic herb garden, make sure to buy organic potting mix.
If you’re using wooden crates like I did, you’ll want to line them with plastic to help prevent the wood from rotting. I just used heavy duty trash bags.
Lastly, if you’re a novice gardener like I am, choose “starter plants” versus seeds. They’re past their fragile sprouting stage and already producing usable leaves, so you’ll be much less likely to commit plant-acide.
2. Assemble your garden.
If you’re using unsealed wood/crates, line them with the plastic/trash bags, cut them to fit the box, and poke several large holes in the bottom for drainage.
Add the potting mix, filling your box/pot up about half way.
Remove your starter plants from their plastic wrap or pots and place them in the mix. Add more potting mix until you’ve buried the roots. Pack the soil loosely around the plant.
3. Feed your new friends.
Make sure to place your herbs in an area that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day.
Water them regularly – possibly every day in the summer. You’ll know when they need water when the soil is dry an inch below the surface. Water until you see liquid leaking out the bottom of the pot/box.
The potting mix should have enough nutrients to keep your plants healthy for about three months. After that, you should regularly supply them with fresh fuel by way of compost (I’ve heard coffee grounds and egg shells will do the trick) or special plant food/fertilizer. Again, if you want to go organic, look for organic formula.
4. Keep em looking fresh.
Much like your own mane, keeping your herbs nicely trimmed will help them grow better. Once a basil shoot has three sets of leaves, it’s ready for its first haircut. Snip the main stem just above a set of leaves.
A good rule of thumb for the other herbs is to never trim more than a third of the plant.
5. Enjoy your herbs!
Celebrate your successful harvest by making some tasty recipes with your fresh herbs.
May I suggest:
- Using your mint for a Raspberry Blackberry Spritzito.
- Tossing that sweet basil into this Sun-Dried Tomato + Tuna Pasta Salad
- Using your lemon thyme to make a scrumptious tahini dressing for this Savory Buckwheat Breakfast Bowl
If you’re not able to immediately use your herbs, you should still trim the plant, then save the herbs for later. You can do this by freezing the herbs with water in ice cube trays or by pressing them between two paper towels and leaving them in a cool, dry place to dry out.
And that’s it.
My next garden goal — tomatoes. I can taste the gazpacho now…