Imagine this: you’re busy in the kitchen, rustling up some grub for dinner when inspiration hits. The bland boxed mac and cheese would be perfect with a bit of oregano! Instead of grabbing a dusty old shaker from the back of the pantry, you reach for your kitchen shears and head out the backdoor. Just outside, you snip a few leaves, give them a rinse, and throw them in the pot. Voila! You’ve turned a bland meal into something delicious and partially homegrown, all thanks to your raised bed herb garden!
Whether you’re a boxed meal kind of person or a culinary expert, you’ll love the freshness and convenience of growing and cooking with your own herbs. There are tons of herb varieties out there, so you can tailor this garden to fit your taste buds. You’ll also find that most herbs are surprisingly easy to grow, especially with a bit of strategic planning.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to create an herb garden the best way: in a raised bed! After a simple initial setup, your herbs will thrive in their little garden box. So let’s dig into one of the most fun ways to grow your own seasonings.
Why a Raised Bed?
We talk about raised garden beds a lot here at Epic Gardening, and for good reason! The best feature of a raised garden bed is that the soil level is elevated above the ground. This allows for more accessible gardening since you won’t have to crouch down just to reach your plants. Better accessibility is a huge plus if you suffer from any type of back pain, arthritis, or other mobility problem. It’s also important for herb gardens since you’ll have frequent harvests, often in between recipe steps!
Another upside to elevated gardening is fewer weeds. You hardly ever find weeds in your outdoor potted plants, right? That’s mainly because these use potting soil that isn’t carrying unwanted seeds. Also, raising the soil level makes it trickier for weed seeds to reach and take root in it. Any weeds that do manage to grow in the planter will be easy to remove since they’re at your level.
As well as an absence of weeds, you’ll see fewer pests in a raised garden bed. Fresh soil mix is unlikely to carry eggs, larvae, and bacteria. Many insects will also have a hard time reaching the plants, particularly if they usually move through the soil.
Raised Beds Vs. Container Gardening
Raised beds and containers share many of the same benefits, so why go through the extra trouble to build a raised when you could use one of the many plastic planters stacked up in the garden shed? Well, it all comes down to two words we love to hear: low maintenance.
A good chunk of gardening time is devoted to watering when you’re using containers. Since a planter has such a small amount of soil, it’s not going to hold much moisture. That means busting out the garden hose daily (at best!). Raised planters, on the other hand, often hold enough to quench even the thirstiest plant without constant watering. So, while using a planter may be easier initially, a raised garden bed will save you a lot of time and water in the long run.
In our online store, we stock a kind of raised bed/container hybrid: the Grassroots Fabric Raised Bed! It does everything a raised bed does, but has the versatility and portability of a container. Try it out if you’re hoping to break into raised bed gardening from a container gardening standpoint.
Choosing a Raised Bed for Your Herb Garden
There’s no shortage of raised bed designs out there (we have over 50 ideas in this post!). You can buy a kit that’s easy to put together, like our favorite, the Birdies Raised Bed. You can repurpose old materials, such as wooden crates or cinder blocks. Or, you can go off-script and design something completely unique to your garden!
Whatever design you choose, there are just a few things to keep in mind. For growing herbs, your elevated planter must be:
- On level ground
- Tall enough to allow good drainage
- In partial shade
- Made of sturdy materials, like wood or metal (plastic will likely be too flimsy)
Now, I don’t know about you, but all the outdoor space closest to my kitchen is a concrete patio, not dirt. Luckily, that isn’t an issue because it’s just as easy to build raised beds on concrete. However, you’ll have to take some precautions such as filling gaps between pavers with sand to prevent weeds. It’s also a good idea to put landscape fabric at the bottom so the concrete underneath doesn’t get stained.
If you’re using Birdies beds, before you fill your bed, lay down a 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch of gravel underneath. This allows for excellent drainage and protects the bottom of the bed. Another great benefit of using gravel under the bed is you won’t struggle with weeds throughout the season. Of course, if you’re working with our Patio Metal Raised Bed with Base there’s no need for this!
Finally, before you build a raised bed garden, you’ll need to consider the herbs you want to grow. Then, you can ensure the planters are perfectly positioned for your living spice rack!
Choosing Your Herbs
Choosing what herbs to plant has to be the most fun part. There are so many to choose from! Unless you’re planning to fill the entire planter with basil, grouping the herbs by growing demands will make maintenance even easier and help the plants thrive. Herbs are usually divided into two categories: drought resistant and water-loving. We highly recommend that you have two separate planters for each one.
To get you started, here are the most common herbs – along with some of our favorites – by category.
Drought Tolerant Herbs
- Lemon balm
Water Loving Herbs
- Parsley (or its fancy cousin Chervil)
- Cilantro or Coriander
- Tea plant
- Garlic chives
- Dill weed
Some herbs can go either way and so will fit into either bed. Some examples are savory, calendula, garlic chives, and sage.
Themed Herb Gardens
Are you usually cooking Mexican food? Indian? Italian? No matter your tastes, you can bet there are specific herbs you default to. So, why not pick a culinary theme (or two) and run with it? Here are some herb garden themes that are both fun and practical:
- Indian spices: cardamom, saffron, and cumin (curry comes to mind, but this herb is actually a 30 foot tree that’s very difficult to grow in the United States. If you’re an experienced gardener looking for a challenge, then give it a shot!)
- Mediterranean herbs: rosemary, marjoram, cumin, oregano, dill weed, lavender, sage, savory, tarragon, garlic
- Tea garden: tea plant (Camellia sinensis), chamomile, lemongrass, lavender, mint, borage, calendula, dandelion, stevia (yes, it’s a plant!)
- Medicinal herbs: chamomile, lavender, motherwort, licorice, calendula
- Whimsical herb garden: dandelion, mullein, borage, wild pansy, rosemary, lavender, parsley, chamomile
Some other theme ideas are Asian cuisine, edible flowers, aromatic, salad bar, kitty snacks, or even a pizza herb garden. Feel free to get creative with it!
Putting It All Together
You have your planter design and you have your herb theme. Now, we just need to pull it all into a lovely garden. After you’ve built or installed your elevated planter in the yard, move on to filling it with layers of soil. Herbs need good drainage, so fill the base with something that will let excess moisture pass through, such as wood. The top layer should be a fertile, well-draining potting mix that’s right with organic matter. For drought-tolerant or native Mediterranean species, the soil should be a bit grittier and sandy in texture.
It’s easy to grow herbs from seed. To speed up the process though, most common herbs are available as pre-planted starts at your local garden center. Plant depth and spacing is going to vary by the plant, so check the directions on the seed packets beforehand. You don’t want to end up with way too many herbs planted in a tiny space. If you plant seeds directly into the planter, you may want to sow extras and weed out the weaker seedlings as they grow.
Your herb garden will need to be watered at least once a week, depending on the region and temperature. As with any garden plants, keep the area weed and pest-free.
As it turns out, harvesting is just as beneficial to the herbs as it is for your plate! Frequently trimming back the leaves and stems will encourage the plants to become bushier and leafier (which leads to more harvesting!). Since frequent pruning may delay flowering, this will also extend the harvesting season so you can have herbs all summer long.
When you harvest fresh herbs, you should generally go for the newer leaves and flowers. This tasks the older, larger leaves with photosynthesizing and keeping the plant productive. Also, in most herbs, the newer leaves have the most delicate flavor. A good example is the tea plant, which is actually harvested at different growth stages to make different types of tea (the newest growth is used for white tea).
Use clean and sharp kitchen shears to clip your fresh herbs. Clip the stems or petioles just above the node so they can grow back easily. As a general rule of thumb, you should never clip off more than a third of the plant at a time.
Like most fruits and vegetables, herbs have the best flavor when they’re straight off the plant. If you end up needing to store some though, keep them in a sealed container in the fridge. They’ll store best when kept as dry as possible, so don’t wash the herbs until you are just about to use them.
For long-term storage, most herbs can be dried. A simple way to dry them is to spread the herbs on a baking sheet and stick them in the oven for 2-4 hours at 180°F. You can also dry them in bundles by hanging them upside down in a dry location. However, this method will take a week or two at least. If you have one, a food dehydrator is also an excellent choice.
Dried herbs will last at least a year – 2 or 3 if they’re ground up after drying. As with any produce though, they’ll have the best flavor the earlier they’re consumed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What herbs grow well in raised beds?
A: Small and medium-sized herbs should thrive in an elevated planter. Some herbs, such as oregano, can grow pretty big but can be contained with regular harvesting.
Q: How deep should a raised bed be for herbs?
A: Most herbs need at least a foot of soil to grow. Some have larger roots, such as basil and rosemary, and need at least 2 feet. Be sure to check the average size of the herbs you want to plant before building your raised bed.