Written by Meg Dickey, Contributing Writer

This month at Keeper of the Home, we’re discussing Gardening 101.  What better way to throw off the weariness of winter than with the joyous awakening of the earth around us?  Today I’ll be sharing some tips on gardening with herbs, and next time we’ll talk about what herbs work best in different environments.

Let’s start with the basics:

WHY should I grown my own?

Growing your own herbs is easy to do, and you’ll be amazed at the difference you can taste, see, and enjoy from freshly cut herbs.

I think you’ll also be pleasantly surprised at the cost-effectiveness of growing your own.  I paid $3.00 a bunch for fresh herbs at the Farmer’s Market for years before realizing I could buy a packet of organic seeds for that same $3.00 (or less).

WHERE can I grow my own herbs?

The short answer is: anywhere!   Your options are only limited by your imagination (and perhaps space!).  One of my favorite examples of a “plant where you can” was a flowering herb garden planted in an old wheelbarrow.

One of my original herb “gardens” was in a strawberry pot, and I loved it for it’s compact design, ease of watering, and having all my herbs in one place!  Now that I have more area for gardening, I’ve been able to branch out.  If you have plenty of space, here are some great ideas:

  • Raised beds
  • Herb wheels, which use borders to separate different sections, with a focal point at the center
  • Theme gardens (which I’ll touch on next time, when we discuss the needs of specific herbs)

An example of an Herb Wheel

HOW do I grow my own herbs?

One of the many reasons why I love herb gardening is the ease with which so many of them thrive!  Here are some general rules for gardening with herbs.

Soil and Light Requirements
Herbs do not require a rich soil, but the soil must drain well. A good soil blend is to add equal parts of topsoil, sand and compost. Make sure your plants receive at least 5 hours per day of sunlight.

Watering
Most herbs require about 1-inch of water a week. Others such as lavender, sage, or thyme can get by with less.

Fertilizing
Herbs don’t usually require fertilizer, unless you have remarkably poor soil.  One of the benefits of many hardy herbs (such as lavender and rosemary) is they thrive under less than ideal conditions. We use an application of manure in the spring and a dose of compost tea in mid-summer to provide all the extra nutrients they need.

Harvesting
Don’t be afraid to use your herbs! Cutting leaves and stems will make the plants become a lot thicker, fuller and more productive. Harvest early in the morning when essential oils are strongest before the sun warms the leaves, releasing the oils.

Deadheading
Some herbs require deadheading the blooms in order to keep the plant productive. Basil and mint both benefit from having the flowers pinched back before they mature.

Cleaning Up
After the first killing frost in autumn, pull up annual herbs such as basil. In spring, cut back dead stems on perennial herbs like mint. In the spring, prune overgrown herbs by removing about one-third of the plant before new growth begins.

WHAT herbs do I grow?

This is my favorite part of gardening! You can decide to do a mix of a few herbs, or be specific in your plantings, also called theme gardening.  I particularly enjoy doing theme gardens, since I think it appeals to my organizational side, but you can plant whatever meets your needs.

You also need to take into account the area in which you live.  You can find much of the information you’ll need at your local extension office, or ask around at the garden stores.

We’ll talk more about this next time, so stay tuned!

Do you grow herbs in your garden?  Which ones are your favorites?

top photo credit

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