With the last frost date passing in many USDA growing zones, it’s time to get out there and plant! You may be wondering where to start. An herb bed is a great place to start for beginner gardeners since most herbs are easy to establish and care for.
Herb beds are also great for experienced gardeners that appreciate the satisfaction of non-stop harvests throughout the growing season. It’s a great weekend activity over the Memorial Day weekend and since most herbs are grown for their foliage, they’re ready to harvest right away! So plant an herb bed for Memorial Day weekend and you’ll have plenty of fresh herbs for your cookout.
Herbs are a staple in any well-rounded kitchen garden. They are easy to grow and as mentioned above, since you generally aren’t waiting for any fruit or flowers to form, they’re ready to harvest almost immediately!
For most herbs, regular harvesting encourages them to grow bushier and denser. Herbs add an extra layer of flavor to whatever you happen to be whipping up in the kitchen. There’s nothing more satisfying than picking your own herbs fresh and using them that same day in your dinner! Not to mention they are easy to dry and store for later use, giving you the ability to grow your own custom herb cabinet.
Picking a Planting Site
When planting your herb garden you’ll want to first consider the planting site. Most herbs require full sun which equates to 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
Another thing to consider is the proximity to your kitchen. Planting your herb garden right outside of your door makes it easy to pop outside while preparing a meal to grab a fresh handful of herbs! You will also want to decide whether or not you want to grow your herb garden in a raised bed, containers (like pots or grow bags), or directly in the ground.
Beware of growing herbs directly in the ground. Some herbs can easily spread! Planting them in a confined space like a raised bed or grow bag makes them a bit easier to contain.
Perennial vs. Annual
To take your herb bed to the next level be sure to plant a mix of perennial and annual herbs. Perennial means that these plants will return year after year. Annual means that these plants only live for one season and don’t return after the first fall frost.
The perennial herbs will provide your herb garden with reliable harvests that will become increasingly bountiful year after year. The annual herbs are great for tucking into the space between your perennial plants. Popular perennial herbs include oregano, thyme, rosemary, mint, chives, and sage. Popular annual herbs include cilantro, basil, dill, and chamomile.
Caring For Common Herbs
The next thing to know is how to care for your herbs! As mentioned above, most herbs require at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Consistent water and moisture are appreciated by most, though there are some that prefer the soil to dry out between waterings.
Most of these herbs can be transplanted as started plants unless otherwise noted. Are there more than 10 herbs to choose from? Yes! The list of herbs is pretty much endless, however, we chose the most popular herbs that are easy to grow and most commonly used in cuisines across cultures. Read on to learn about the specific care requirements of our top 10 favorite herbs!
This herb is a bit divisive, with the discovery of a gene that causes some people to experience the taste of soap when eating cilantro. If you’re lucky enough to have been born without this gene, you’ve likely enjoyed cilantro in salsa and guacamole, Thai food and more. You might have also consumed this herb as a dried spice in the form of coriander.
Coriander is produced from dried cilantro seeds that are ground into a powder and used as a spice. In certain parts of the world, both the leaves and the seeds of cilantro are referred to as coriander. In North America, the leaves are referred to as cilantro, and the seeds are called coriander.
Provide cilantro with full sun, rich, well-drained soil, and water deeply at least once a week, depending on the weather. You should increase watering if you live in an area with hot summers. As the temperatures rise, cilantro is known to bolt. Bolting is when the plant begins to flower and go to seed.
This is great if you want to collect the seeds to use as coriander! But not so great if you want the foliage to continue to grow. There are slow bolt varieties that hold out a bit longer, and providing these plants with afternoon shade can help delay bolting. If your cilantro does bolt, you can also let the seeds fall to the ground to self-seed your crop for next year.
This classic Italian herb has a scent that reminds many of pizza! It is one of 3 herbs that makes up many Italian herb blends (oregano, thyme, basil).
This perennial herb is hardy in many zones and seeds can even be sprinkled into your lawn to fill in bare spots (who doesn’t want their lawn to smell like pizza when they mow it?) Oregano prefers full sun and well-drained soil.
Oregano prefers to dry out between waterings. Italian oregano is a great choice for zones 6 and above, while Greek oregano is a hardier variety that is better suited for zones 5 and below.
Another herb that is a part of the classic Italian trio, thyme is experiencing a resurgence in popularity due to new varieties that are emerging, like lemon thyme and orange thyme.
Thyme prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Like oregano, thyme prefers to dry out between waterings. This perennial herb is also drought resistant, so it’ll likely be fine if you forget to water it for a few days.
Thyme is great in savory dishes like roasted meat, vegetables, fish, and savory baking. Lemon thyme and orange thyme make a great addition to cocktails and teas.
Whole thyme sprigs can also be added to soups, stews, and stocks to add another layer of flavor. Thyme is most often sold in grocery stores dried, but it also tastes great when used fresh! Plus it can be harvested, tied in bundles, and dried for long-term storage.
This herb is native to the Mediterranean, but its culinary uses have since spread worldwide. This perennial herb is slow growing at first, but once established, it can grow to the size of a small bush when left unharvested for too long.
Rosemary prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Like thyme and oregano, rosemary also prefers to dry out between waterings. This makes them all great companions to plant on the same side of your herb garden.
In zones 5 and above rosemary may need to either be brought indoors over winter or provided with additional cover or protection if temperatures fall below 20 degrees Fahrenheit in your area.
This herb has a reputation for being fast-growing and spreading like wildfire with little to no care or intervention. Mint does spread via runners and can quickly become uncontrolled when planted directly into the ground.
This is definitely true for most types of mint in most areas, however, there are a few things to know to ensure that your mint stays happy. Mint prefers full sun but can also benefit from afternoon shade in hot climates.
Keep your mint well watered, but avoid overwatering. Consistently wet soil can cause mint roots to rot. It is hardy to -20 degrees Fahrenheit and is usually one of the first plants to come back to life in the spring.
The culinary uses for mint are almost endless, but some favorites include use in cocktails, dried leaves for mint tea, mint chocolate chip cookies, garnish for desserts, mint simple syrup, and mint chutney.
Mint is also delicious when combined with cilantro, dill, and parsley. Mint can also be left to flower at the end of the season. It puts up spikes of purple flowers that attract beneficial insects like hoverflies to your garden!
Like most herbs, basil prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Water basil deeply at least once a week. Basil prefers moist but not overly wet soil. It does not like to dry out between waterings.
Basil is a prominent herb in Italian cooking and is commonly used as a garnish for pizzas and plates of pasta, in sauces, and is the main ingredient of pesto. Purple basil can be brewed as a tea which produces a purple-blue beverage that turns bright pink with the addition of lemon!
Basil is also very easy to propagate from cuttings. Place a cutting into a glass of water, and within a week, you should see measurable root growth. Once roots have developed, they can be placed into soil. This can give you an endless supply of basil from only one seed!
There are many interesting varieties of basil outside of the standard Genovese type basil, including lemon basil, purple opal basil, thai basil, tulsi holy basil, and blue African basil. As with most herbs, the more you harvest your basil, the bushier and fuller it will grow.
Harvest frequently to prevent flowers from forming and keep your basil producing all summer long. At the end of the season, you may choose to allow your basil to flower and go to seed in order to collect seeds for next year.
This member of the allium family prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Chives grow best when the soil is allowed to dry slightly, but not completely, before watering again.
Chives can be cut back to harvest, allowed to regrow, and then harvested again. Alternatively, allow them to flower and harvest the edible flowers as well. Chive blossoms can be infused into vinegar, which can then be combined with olive oil to make a salad dressing.
Chives can be used as a garnish or a substitution for green onions. This perennial herb is hardy in zones 3-10. It grows in a clump that will become larger each growing season.
Dill is also known as dill weed, and for good reason. It grows and spreads like a weed! Though it is an annual herb, when it is allowed to go to seed, you may find dill popping up in areas all around your garden well outside of its planting site.
This isn’t too much of a concern, since you can harvest it as baby dill if it pops up in an area where you don’t want it to continue to grow.
Dill prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Dill does not transplant well, so it’s best to direct seed, though it grows from seed very fast! Keep seeds evenly moist, and once they’ve germinated, you can water deeply at least once a week.
Because of its small feathery foliage, it is very easy to dry for long-term storage. This is a great herb to grow if you also happen to be growing cucumbers.
Then you can make your own homegrown pickles! All parts of the dill plant can be used for pickling, including foliage, stems, and unopened flower buds. Should you choose to allow your dill to flower, their yellow umbel flowers attract many beneficial pollinators to your garden, like parasitic wasps. Dill is also a host plant to black swallowtail butterflies.
If you see tiny green caterpillars with black, yellow, and white stripes, then you may consider sacrificing some of your dill plants for them to chomp on. In return, you’ll be rewarded with the joys of watching chrysalises form, and butterflies emerge!
This herb grows best in full sun with well-draining soil. Sage can be watered once every 1-2 weeks after it is fully established. It is better to err on the side of underwatering since overwatering can cause sage to rot.
Sage is often found in fall and winter time holiday dishes, like traditional stuffing. It is also used to produce sage brown butter, which pairs deliciously with homegrown butternut squash. This perennial herb is hardy in USDA zones 4-11. Depending on the variety, it can also flower and produce spikes of purple or white flowers.
This one is beneficial for pollinators as well as people. This is actually a flower, but it is used like an herb and commonly shows up in many herb gardens!
Chamomile performs best in full sun but will also tolerate part shade. In hot southern climates, afternoon shade can be beneficial to prevent blooms from dropping. Chamomile needs regular water while plants are young, but once established, chamomile can tolerate drying out between waterings.
You may know this herb from the tea of the same name, but did you know that it is made from its flower heads? Harvest once flowers are fully opened before they begin to die back. The more your harvest, the more it will continue to flower.
Chamomile is known for its calming properties, which is why it is generally consumed as a bedtime tea. Flower heads can be harvested and dried for long-term storage. Allow your chamomile to go to seed at the end of the season, and new plants will pop up year after year.
Now you know everything there is to know about starting your very own herb garden this Memorial Day weekend (plus some ideas for which perennial and annual herbs to include). Let’s get planting!