Growing herbs is easy.
Growing herbs is something anybody can do no matter their level of gardening experience. Not only do you require very little in the way of equipment but you also need little in the way of maintenance and upkeep, yet these plants just keep on giving.
Now, we do admit there is a little bit more to it than just letting these plants get on with growing all on their own as you do need to take care of them.
If, however, you are selective in the herbs you grow, and get them off to a good start, minimal interference from you will lead to a rather impressive herb garden.
Let’s not forget - herbs and other plants having been growing perfectly well on their own for thousands of years before human beings started interfering!
But, where do you start?
Well, that is the entire reason for this guide. Throughout the following section, we will guide you through everything you need from start to finish.
We will offer advice on the best herbs to grow, the easiest to grow, the conditions they need, how to harvest them, and what to look out for in the way of pests and diseases.
In other words, we present here a complete guide perfect for beginners, whether you are new to gardening in general or just learning to grow herbs.
So, let’s begin.
An Introduction to Growing Herbs
When it comes to growing herbs at home there are several available options. Do you grow herbs from seed? Do you grow them from established plants to avoid the germination process? Which variety of herbs do you grow? Where are you going to grow them? Will it be inside or outside?
All kinds of questions need to be answered before you even begin.
The good news for most us is it doesn’t really matter how you start or what you intend to grow, because the beauty of herbs is they need limited only input from you and are quite content to grow on their own.
You also do not need any expensive equipment to grow herbs effectively. People have had some amazing results using an old, plastic ice cream tub, They just added some soil, planted their herbs and off they went. Now, if they can grow in that kind of setting, you can start to see there is no reason whatsoever you should fail.
We started off by saying growing herbs is easy, but we should perhaps offer some clarification on one point.
You see, not every herb is equal. Some varieties require more specialized knowledge. Some herbs just cannot really grow next to one another for a host of reasons. Mint tends to take over everything. You can’t just throw a bunch of herbs together and hope for the best.
Instead, you need to know about the different lighting and soil conditions each herb prefers so you can grow them alongside other complimentary herbs.
At this point, let’s forget about themed herb garden. Some people will focus on Italian herbs for example, but such specificity is a bit too fancy for beginners. If you really want to try, nothing should stop you – even a novice can pull off a themed herb garden.
Remember, human beings have spent thousands of years growing herbs. Herbs go all the way back to the ancient civilizations of Egypt and China.
You may also be aware of a number of herbs mentioned at various points in the Bible.
Herbs are known for their healing properties alongside their ability to add a special something to a wide variety of recipes.
We add them to drinks, extract their oils for aromatherapy and even use some to repel pests from other plants in the garden (companion planting).
Why they are Easy?
Throughout this guide, we will examine in some detail why different herbs are so easy to grow, but let’s start things off by looking at them in general.
As we mentioned earlier, herbs are easy to grow because they pretty much do everything for themselves. You can even skip past the seed germination process, which can be a blessing for some people, and jump straight into the healthy, young, and vibrant plants that will take off and provide you with herbs you can use, piece by piece, for months.
They do not require much tending and are also rather hardy, which is quite surprising especially when you live in colder climates. The option of growing them indoors increases their attractiveness.
Minimal equipment required. Minimal gardening knowledge required. Minimal upkeep required. It all starts to make sense why herbs are some of the easiest plants for you to grow. Oh yes, and minimum space required as well.
The exact requirements vary depending on the herb in question. Each one needs slightly different things and conditions in order to grow. We will focus on each herb in turn.
By the end of this guide, you will be equipped with everything you need to have your very own successful herb garden.
Key Herbs to Grow at Home
If you walk into your local supermarket and check out the herbs section, you will see the same old varieties waiting.
The regular selection does not illustrate the entire spectrum of herbs you can grow at home, however, they are the most popular for good reasons. They are versatile and can be used in a broad range of dishes.
Each herb has different variations within its own sub-group, affording you hundreds of different options. Such a selection makes life slightly harder (but so very enjoyable).
You will more likely be familiar with the likes of rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme, etc. But, are you aware of orange thyme? Agrimony? Sweet cicely? The list continues.
It can get confusing as to what to grow, but we are going to keep things nice and simple and focus on the main herbs you are most likely to use on a regular basis. So, which herbs are we going to highlight throughout this guide?
1 - Rosemary
Rosemary is widely used in Italian cooking, but it is also popular for its aromatic smell, which is why it appears in aromatherapy as well. This is a perennial plant and it is also quite hardy, able to grow in a variety of locations and climates.
You can grow rosemary in pots, garden soil, indoors, outdoors, in a rock garden and even on the top of a wall. It is extremely versatile and easy to control (not true of every herb). You can use rosemary in a number of pasta dishes although it also works well with chicken, lamb and can be a wonderful addition to a variety of soups.
Rosemary enjoys being in full sun and prefers sandy soil since it hates to have its feet wet over an extended period of time.
Rosemary’s “vital statistics” may help you make a determination about putting it in your garden:
- 1Height: It can grow up to 6ft in the correct conditions.
- 2Planting: Rosemary plants should be a minimum of 18 inches apart.
- 3Survival: It struggles if temperatures go below -1C on a regular basis.
2 - Basil
Here’s a surprising titbit about basil - there are close to 150 different varieties, each with a slightly different taste or smell. Well, we are not going to wander through all those different varieties as that would be pointless, but this is certainly one herb we highly recommend for your garden.
This is an annual plant known for its bushy appearance. It only grows in the summer, so its growing season is relatively short. You need to make the absolute most of it at the time.
Basil is used in Italian dishes; the most common variety is known as sweet basil. It is very easy to grow, but for it to develop properly, it requires loamy soil and full sun. Placement of the plant is key.
- 1Height: It can often grow to around 2ft.
- 2Planting: You need 9 to 12 inches between plants.
- 3Light: It prefers to be in strong light for at least 6 hours per day.
- 4Soil: It loves dry soil.
3 - Thyme
Thyme is a very small, perennial plant capable of withstanding a lot of punishment, which is why it is often planted between cracks in paving.
Once again, there are a huge number of varieties out there, but we will focus on the straightforward English thyme and lemon thyme as they are the two most popular options.
Unlike other herbs, thyme does not lend itself to use in aromatherapy. Instead, it is primarily for cooking. English thyme is the most popular version when it comes to it being used in dishes.
Thyme is known for its rather aromatic smell with a scent that will remind you of clover. It is an herb known to be tough to start, so we encourage you to purchase an established plant and take it from there. The plant prefers sandy soil for good drainage and it is quite content to be in either full sun or partial shade.
Vital Statistics (These can really influence your “go/no-go” decision on thyme.):
- 1Varieties: There are apparently over 300 different varieties.
- 2Height: Thyme is a low lying plant although some varieties will grow to 12 inches.
- 3Planting: Thyme needs to be spaced out - minimum recommendation of 18 to 24 inches.
- 4Soil: It loves well drained soil - the dryer the better.
4 - Mint
When it comes to mint there are a number of varieties you could grow, but here is one important point to keep in mind: mint has a tendency to spread quite quickly. In fact, you are strongly advised not to grow it alongside other herbs. It should be kept in its own pot or it will use up all of the resources.
It is a perennial plant with a pleasant, distinctive smell. Mint is not only used in cooking, but also as an effective ground cover plant, in air fresheners, and even in some home remedies for various medical uses.
Mint is quite a hardy plant and the fact it grows so well in so many different environments is one of the reasons it has become one of the most popular herbs. Mint can deal with any kind of light, so sun or shade is not a problem, but if you want to get the absolute best out of it, plant it in some loamy soil.
Mint is also very particular in what it likes, so take care.
- 1Height: Mint can grow up to 18 inches.
- 2Planting: Due to its ability to spread, it should be a minimum of 24 inches away from other plants.
- 3Soil: It has to be moist and well drained as mint hates having its roots soaked.
5 - Parsley
Parsley is used in a range of dishes and it is great for your health as it is full of Vitamin A and Vitamin C (as well as iron). It is a biennial plant and easy to spot thanks to its very distinctive foliage. It actually belongs to the same family as the herb dill although there are some important differences between the two.
Parsley needs the correct conditions to thrive, but when you get the proper balance, the plant is going to reward you accordingly. It likes full sun at times, but it can also cope with being in the shade, which does give you a number of options.
Parsley can be added to soups, where it helps bring down the level of salt required for taste. You can also add it to salads as a garnish or in a sauce. If you love making green smoothies, then adding some parsley helps if you are retaining water. When you remember the vitamins in this herb, you can really understand why people love to grow parsley.
- 1Height: Parsley is able to grow up to 18 inches.
- 2Planting: Parsley requires up to 12 inches space between plants.
- 3Soil: Parsley grows better when the nitrogen levels in the soil are higher.
- 4Conditions: It grows in fertile soil and prefers a number of hours of sun a day.
6 - Tarragon
Tarragon may not be the most popular of herbs, or at least not the herb you will automatically think of growing, but you are missing out on something that can really add zest to a number of dishes. If you are looking at growing it for cooking, consider French tarragon as it is capable of adding something a bit extra as opposed to Russian tarragon, which just does not have the same explosive taste.
Tarragon is a perennial herb, so it is going to come up every single year, and you can spot it quite easily thanks to its long stem and light green leaves.
When it comes to the conditions it enjoys, you are looking for full sun and soil that is very well drained. Consider planting in quite sandy soil.
Perhaps you are well-acquainted with tarragon, but let’s look at some important facts anyway.
- 1Height: It can grow up to 36 inches although most plants are around 12 inches.
- 2Planting: The plants must be anywhere between 18 and 24 inches apart.
- 3Feeding: It requires very little feeding throughout the year.
- 4Soil: It needs to be in a deep pot due to the length of the roots and it must be well drained.
7 - Oregano
Oregano is yet another herb you probably know thanks to cooking and the way it is often used in Italian dishes, but it is more versatile than you may know. This herb is another perennial and is quite hardy. It can be grown throughout the environment around the Mediterranean.
There are a number of varieties of oregano and it will come with either small, white flowers or variations of rose and purple. You may find the taste and smell of oregano not too dissimilar from thyme, but do not allow the resemblances to convince you to grow just one or the other.
Oregano loves full sun, so if you put it in a spot where it is shaded for half of the day, you may have trouble getting it to grow and to develop as it should. The soil needs it to be rich and fertile. (More on care and feeding later.)
Oregano is one of the easiest herbs to grow. But, as always, you need to know – the Vital Statistics:
- 1Height: It can grow up to 18 inches.
- 2Planting: Space plants approximately 15 inches apart.
- 3Soil: It thrives in soil that is sandy and quite dry.
- 4Feeding: It requires only a moderate level of feeding.
8 - Coriander
There is a lot more to coriander than its being used in Indian cooking and that is why so many people love to grow it in their own gardens. But, let’s clarify something here.
You may have read or heard of coriander and cilantro and think they are two different plants. No so. Instead, coriander refers to the seeds while cilantro refers to the leaves of the plant.
Coriander is a fast growing plant and also very aromatic. It can be one of the easiest plants for a new gardener to grow. While we will deal more specifically with uses and growing conditions a little later, right now, understand the coriander plant loves either full sun or partial shade and it is going to be at its best around the end of spring time. Coriander loves rich and fertile soil. Do not, however, “hit it” with a lot of feeding as that can be counter-productive.
If we can just forget about the coriander/cilantro debate for a moment, let’s look at Vital Statistics:
- 1Height: It can grow up to 24 inches although 18 inches is more common.
- 2Planting: It only requires approximately 9 inches between plants.
- 3Feeding: Coriander loves some organic fertilizer, but only sporadically.
- 4Soil: The soil must be fertile as well as having exceptionally good drainage.
9 - Chives
The final herb we are going to consider is chives. This is completely different from anything we have mentioned, but it is one of the easiest and most popular herbs out there and not just because of its rather garlicky taste and onion-like aroma.
Chives are perennials and are also capable of withstanding quite a lot of punishment from the weather. It is extremely hardy and you will also see it throwing off some purple flowers during the growing phase, so it is not exactly the ugliest of herbs either.
Look at planting chives in the early spring as they do quite well in slightly colder conditions even though they love to be situated in full sun. The only problem is it does love to spread its seed, which means it can effectively take over your garden - not a good thing. On the flip side, chives are very easy to dig up and if you find it is getting too big for the pot, you can easily split it into two plants, both of which will still grow well.
- 1Height: It can grow to 18 inches, which often surprises people.
- 2Planting: You should look at planting those 6 to 9 inches apart.
- 3Soil: The soil has to be packed full of nutrients for it to develop.
- 4Feeding: Be prepared to give it some feeding throughout the year to keep the nutrients high.
We are not saying this is the exhaustive list of herbs, but the details we are going to provide throughout the above can be applied to pretty much any herb. The next step is to delve deeper into herbs and the key things you should know in order to have your very own successful herb garden.
The Things You Need to Start Growing Herbs
When it comes to growing herbs, it makes sense for us to begin by looking at the equipment and general set-up you should have at your disposal to be a success.
There is no need to rush out and buy expensive equipment as herbs are ideal for those on a budget. They need very little, but at the same time you are probably going to get better results if your special plants get the best things possible.
So, where to begin?
1. Deciding on the Location
The first step is to decide on where you are planning on growing your herbs. Are you thinking about having them in pots at your window? How about pots outdoors? An actual herb garden?
The location is important simply because it will directly influence the number of herbs you grow and also the types.
Each herb is going to spread to a certain extent and to compete with other plants for the resources in the soil. Keep in mind that the likes of mint will quite easily take over an area, so if you are planning on growing it, you might want to consider an alternative location for other herbs.
2. Look at the Space
Once you have settled on the location, spend some time measuring the space. This applies even if you plan on growing herbs in pots because you will be restricted regarding the number of pots you can put in the one spot.
At the same time, examine the light in the growing area. Light will help determine the best placement for each type of herb. Remember, some love full sun while others are able to deal with being in partial shade, so just throwing them into the soil and hoping for the best will spell disaster.
3. Deciding on the Planting
We provided you with an idea of plant height and how far apart the different herbs need to be spaced to allow them to grow without competing against one another. If you are planning on having an herb garden, carefully examine your available space.
Our tip: when you are planting them in an actual garden (and not all in pots), get a tape measure, some paper and a pencil and sketch out what you intend to do.
This is important because the herbs will compete for resources. You can imagine how the nutrient-hungry chive plant can deplete the resources for other neighbouring plants; it will thrive – they will struggle.
4. Deciding on Seeds or Plants
You must also decide if you are going to germinate the herbs from seeds or if you wish to avoid that particularly stressful part and just go for young saplings that are already healthy and quite well established. To be honest, if you are new to gardening in general, then we would not recommend trying to grow from seeds because there are too many things that can go wrong.
If you do decide to go for seeds (and we will cover this later), you will need additional equipment to get started. Seeding planting requires more space, more time, and more effort on your part and you are clearly not guaranteed the seeds will ever sprout. If you want to try, however, go for it!
With plants, be careful what you purchase and focus on those plants that are clearly healthier than others. Here are some tips to follow:
As long as you keep those few points in mind, things should go well for you with your brand new plants.
What Equipments You Need to Grow Herbs at Home
Once you have your answers to the points we just mentioned, you will have a better understanding regarding the equipment you will need to get started growing your herbs. At this point, we will consider how the equipment differs depending on whether you are growing indoors or outside.
1. Growing in Pots Indoors
If you plan on growing your herbs in pots indoors, you clearly need to get the correct soil and pots that are going to fit the size of the plants. Generally speaking, you do not need a large pot if you plan on continually pruning the plant to keep it small. However, you need to keep checking the roots to make sure there are no issues or else the plant is going to suffer.
If you grow them indoors, your main concern has to be the light source. A number of people will put herbs in an area where there is a lot of natural light, but be prepared to invest in some grow lights as they can really make the difference.
For growing herbs indoors, we recommend the following equipment:
That is really all you need when growing your herbs indoors.
2. Growing in Pots Outdoors
For growing outdoors, you basically need the same equipment as indoors version, but you can drop the grow lights. You might want to be aware of the need to protect some of the herbs from bad weather, so a small greenhouse might be a good idea. Aside from that, you need the following equipment to make this particular approach work:
3. Growing in Garden Soil Outdoors
The third and final option we will consider is your decision to grow herbs in garden soil outdoors. This changes the kinds of items you need in equipment, but it is not going to be as difficult as you perhaps presumed.
For example, you can obviously forget about the pots and light source as that is all dealt with by nature. However, you still need some key items to make all of this a success:
As you can see, there are not many things required to get started, but things will get slightly more complicated as we progress.
The Type of Soil for Growing Herbs
Another point to think about is the soil and there is a bit more to it than just picking up some dirt and throwing it into a pot, believing the herbs will start to grow.
Instead, different herbs require different things from the soil and having knowledge of their growing needs will prove to be quite useful.
We recommend you buy something more than just any soil. Look at buying some sand, vermiculite, and perlite as well. These three things will improve the drainage in the soil and, since a number of different herbs require well-drained soil, these items will help prevent root rot.
You can go with a general-purpose soil, but look to get one with nutrients in it. They are out there and you will probably find them in the “Fertilizer/Feeding” section. In some cases, this can almost remove the need for you to feed the herbs yourself although, once again, this comes down to the herb in question.
How much soil you need depends on how many plants you are growing, so calculate your requirements before you go out and spend money.
Why You Should Feeding the Herbs
Some of your herbs are going to require feeding from time to time, but making sure they get the correct fertilizer will have a major impact on the plants’ development.
Avoid products full of chemicals. Look instead for an organic fertilizer - it is also best to get a slow-release formula. Instructions for application and use will be come with the product. Follow the guidelines closely for best results.
You will find your herbs are going to require three main things: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Some herbs need more of a certain element than others.
Let’s not rush out and buy everything in the Home and Garden Section. Owning a lot of tools is fun – maybe – but this guide wants to inform you so you can grow the best herb garden possible without breaking your bank. The exact tools will depend on whether you are growing your herbs in pots or in the garden.
If you are going for the garden option, you will need to have the correct tools to prepare the soil. This involves a spade or garden fork so you can work some feeding into the soil as well as breaking up any lumps. (This tool will also help you as you add some sand or perlite to the ground to improve drainage.) It will also be useful to have a garden hoe as this helps to eliminate weeds that will compete for nutrients and space.
If you are growing in pots, then a hand trowel or hand fork will be useful. You will also need pots or containers in which to grow the plants. Depending on the herb you choose, it may also be a good idea to have some stakes to which you can tie plants when they become large. A watering can with a rose sprinkler head will also prove to be useful.
Finally, you need a good garden knife or secateurs so you can harvest the plant, piece by piece, when the time comes. The correct tool will keep you from damaging the plant and enable you to have delicious herbs over an extended period of time.
Now you have a better understanding of what is required from an equipment point of view. Let’s get started with the growing. We begin with seeds and the germination process.
Sowing Seeds and Germination Process
Even though the easiest option is to purchase herb plants that have already matured somewhat in order to avoid the entire germination process, there is no doubt even an individual new to gardening should be able to get most herbs to sprout from seed. Some herbs, however, are notoriously harder to germinate, but we will advise you as we go along.
Choosing the Seeds
Packets of seeds are easy to find and easy to use. There are a number of well-established companies that can provide seeds for all of the herbs we have mentioned. Still, there is a bit more involved than just picking up the first packet you see.
Go for a quality brand with a good reputation - you will enjoy a higher success rate with the actual germination. No one can enjoy a 100% rate, but you clearly want to get as close as possible. A quality brand is more likely to have spent time ensuring the seeds are in pristine condition before they have been packaged. As you can imagine, this makes a huge difference when you sow them, although there are a few tricks you might want to keep in mind.
Tips to Aid Germination
Some people will simply throw the seeds into some soil and wait for nature to take its course. Obviously that method is going to work to a certain extent, but what if you could do something very simply and boost the germination rate and the speed at which it happens?
All you need to do is to soak the seeds overnight in some water. This begins to break the seed’s shell, making it easier for the seed to germinate. There is clearly a bit more to it than just soaking them in water because the way in which they are sown can also have an impact.
Sowing Your Seeds Correctly
The exact process of how you sow the seeds is going to vary slightly depending on the herb in question, but there are a number of things that apply across the board. To help, try to follow the following:
a. Sow the Seeds Indoors
This is important because seeds need controlled heat and light to germinate. If you have a greenhouse and the correct set up, by all means sow them outside and keep them in the greenhouse. If, however, if you do not have a greenhouse, all is not lost.
b. The Soil to Use
Use a special seed potting mix as this will have the correct nutrients to encourage the seeds to begin the germination process. Seed potting mix is easy to find and (you will discover) feels substantially lighter than the soil you would normally use. This is important as it makes it easier for those first sprouts to poke through the surface, at which point light starts to play an important role in their development.
c. Remember the Heat
When you have sown the seeds (and we will go through the specific requirements shortly), do not place them in direct sunlight. Instead, just make sure they are able to get some warmth and, if you feel like investing some money, purchase a heat mat to place under them. This will help speed up the actual germination.
d. Cover the Seeds
If you are sowing in a plastic seed tray, cover the seeds with clear plastic to help them germinate. Covering helps to increase the humidity and, at the same time, keeps the soil moist, resulting in perfect conditions for germination. As soon as you see seedlings coming through the soil, remove the plastic or they will start to grow too fast, leading to weaker plants.
e. Those Early Stages
When you see your seedlings have come through the soil, you need to be careful or they will not progress and develop into mature plants. But, in the early stages, look at spraying them lightly with a fertilizer as this is going to provide them with a real boost of nutrients. Also, make sure they get a lot of light, either naturally or artificially. If you plan on keeping them indoors, then some grow lights, which do not have to be expensive, will be your best plan of action.
Clearly, you will have to transplant the seedlings into larger pots once they have become more established. We are going to backtrack a little and consider different herbs, focusing on how to help you understand the germination process and the potential timeline for each.
1 - Seeding Rosemary
For rosemary, the most important thing is the time of the year when you sow the seeds. The best sowing time for rosemary seeds is anywhere between 6 to 12 weeks before you are due to get warmer weather. The time difference depends on how much you plan on forcing the germination process or if you are happy to allow Mother Nature to be in charge.
Rosemary will do better when you soak the seeds overnight before planting. The rest of the germination process will follow the five points we have previously mentioned.
These steps will make life easier:
2 - Seeding Basil
Basil is pretty easy and straightforward to germinate. You will find this is one of the fastest herbs to germinate, sometimes taking as little as four days. Basil is a good herb for beginners, so you might want to give it a try. For basil, keep these points in mind:
3 - Seeding Thyme
Thyme might not be the idea herb for you to try to grow if you are new as it is often regarded as quite difficult. The seeds are so small is easy to sow a clump of them together, which causes problems.
4 - Seeding Mint
When working with mint, remember, once you get it started, there is pretty much no stopping it. The “getting it moving” is always the most difficult part.
5 - Seeding Parsley
Parsley has the ability to flourish in a number of locations and it is pretty straightforward to get the seeds to germinate, which will enable you to mature a number of plants at the one time. Most of the steps are the same as for every other herb, but each one does have its own slight individual preferences. There are a number of variations of parsley but these steps apply across the board.
6 - Seeding Tarragon
Growing tarragon from seeds can prove difficult, but the results you will achieve should be pretty fantastic. The steps here are going to apply no matter which version of tarragon you are planning to grow.
7 - Seeding Oregano
The good news about oregano is you should be able to grow it without too many problems at home. You need to be rather patient with it as you could easily be looking at weeks for the seeds to germinate. A number of people actually give up on the plants, believing the seeds are dormant, but this may not be the case.
8 - Seeding Coriander/Cilantro
We are going to refer “cilantro” since the name focuses on the foliage of the plant rather than the seeds. This herb is different from many others as it hates being transplanted - something that can really set your plant back considerably. In some instances, transplantation may even kill it.
9 - Seeding Chives
Chives are quite hardy and capable of withstanding a considerable amount of adversity. This ability also applies to the seeds and the way in which they will be able to grow and develop. Chives are one of the easiest herbs to grow from seed and will self-sow in your garden and then sprout, which should really give you a lot of confidence.
As you can see, differences arise in germination, the way seeds are sown and the amount of water needed in the soil. However, getting the seeds to germinate is only part of the process. You have to know either how to transplant them or, in the case of seedlings, how to get the plants to mature.
How to Mature the Plants
The aim is to look at how you can effectively move your herbs along from young seedlings into fine, strong plants that are going to serve you well. At this stage of development the herbs really begin to take on their very own individual preferences for heat, light, feeding and watering conditions.
If you get them mixed up, you are may end up with very unhappy plants – not what we want at all.
We are not going to look at each herb individually. Instead, we are going to take a different approach and look at the different stages of maturity. Within those stages, we will reveal what the different herbs prefer and help you identify the correct methods you need to use.
So, let’s see what your first steps are going to be.
1 - Getting to the Transplanting Stage
If you have chosen the option of growing your plants from seed, be aware of the correct time they need to be transplanted into a larger container or perhaps even out into the garden if that is where they are to reside. The correct time for each herb differs. You certainly do not want to transplant at the wrong point.
A lot of people do not realize how fragile a young plant can be. The act of transplanting can disrupt the delicate root system they have fought so hard to establish. Stress is not any better for plants than it is for us; you do not want to move them around too often or else you will run into problems.
In the next section we will look at the actual steps for transplanting, which will apply no matter whether you used seeds or you bought the established plant from a store. At this point, it is more about knowing when your own seedlings have reached the correct stage of development.
2 - Seedlings to Transplanting
Do not attempt to transplant your seedlings the first time you see them poking through the soil. They are still too weak and under-developed and patience really is a virtue.
Often, it comes down to the experienced eye to determine readiness, here are a few pointers that will make your decision easier.
The moment your seedlings have developed their second set of leaves represents a good time to transplant. Some people say the first set of fully-developed leaves is good enough, but you want to be careful and not jump the gun. Remember, you will stress out the young plants if they are not well-established, which can be detrimental.
Be aware, the first set of “leaves” you see are not actually leaves. Instead, they are part of the seed as cotyledons. Ignore them and only start counting once true leaves appear on the plant.
In the first few weeks of germination, you need to keep the majority of herbs moist and well-lit. Do not let the young plants get either too dry or too hot. Too much direct light is bad as it forces the plants to stretch too quickly resulting in a weakening of their main stem.
Pay attention to the foliage. At first, it will be a very light green. As the plant develops and becomes stronger, the color will become darker thanks to the development of the chlorophyll in the leaves. This is a good indicator and can certainly help you determine the transplanting point is fast approaching.
Another tip is to look at the base of the pot or seed tray. Do you see the roots starting to come out of the drainage holes? If so, consider transplanting before their roots become too entangled.
3 - The Stages of Transplanting
Transplanting is easy to do, but people tend to make it far more stressful than it needs to be. There are a few, simple steps to follow that will make the process a breeze. Even if you have never tried transplanting, there should be no issues if you are just willing to take your time.
Step 1: What You Need?
You only need a few items in order to transplant your seedlings. First, you need pots. Even though they might look huge in comparison to the new, small plants, they should be large enough for mature plants. Next, you need potting soil and make sure it has some feeding incorporated into it.
You need a trowel, some water, and, depending on the herbs in question, some perlite or sand to mix into the soil to help with drainage.
Step 2: Mixing the Soil
Once you have everything together, mix the soil so it is ready for the plant. Use a mix of 3 parts of soil to 1 part of perlite. This will give the correct amount of drainage and allow the soil to hold onto some of the moisture for just the correct length of time.
Step 3: Fill the Pot
Next, fill the pot or container, but never put the soil all of the way up to the very top. You need to leave some space at the top else, when you water the plants, water will just pour over the side. Once you add in the soil, gently press it down. The soil should be slightly compacted, but it should not be unyielding.
Step 4: Preparing the Seedlings
Now, prepare the seedlings for transplant. You cannot manhandle them because they are still quite fragile and you do not want to disrupt their rooting system. If you grew them in a smaller pot, place your hand over the top with the seedling sticking between your fingers. Give the pot a gentle shake or tap the bottom with your other hand to help ease out the plant. Remove the plant from its small pot and gently break up the soil to free the roots.
Step 5: Potting them into their New Home
Once you have removed the young plants from their existing home, it is time to move them to a new location. Dig a hole in the new pot that matches the size of the seedling’s root ball. Some people are tempted to sprinkle some water in the soil at this point so the roots come into contact with the moisture immediately, but this depends on the herb in question. Gently lay the plant into the hole.
Step 6: Firming It Down
After placing the plant in its new home you cannot simply leave it. You need to do something called “firming it down,” which is going to help the plant to bind with the soil. Gently press around the plant. Take some additional soil and sprinkle it in to fill up the hole. If necessary, add some extra soil to the top to make sure all of the roots are covered.
Step 7: Completing the Process
Some water will constitute the final step in the transplanting process. The main thing here - the plants need some water, but you have to be careful with how much. Avoid putting water on the leaves, so if you thought you should get a watering can or just spray and soak away, think again. Give them water until you see it starting to trickle out of the drainage holes in the base. Then - stop.
As you can see, the actual transplanting process is easy and the steps can be applied to each and every type of herb. Remember, some herbs do not take kindly to being transplanted at any point, so you might want to check prior to sowing the seeds. The steps we have mentioned can also be applied no matter if you are growing from seed or have purchased an already established plant that needs to be moved.
4 - Growth Requirements
Now we move onto something very important - the actual requirements to help the herbs grow into healthy, mature plants. Clearly this is going to differ somewhat between herbs, so we will make reference to any fluctuations as we go along. If you are planning on growing them outdoors, take from this section whatever is relevant and just ignore the rest.
Herbs are quite different in their needs. People mistakenly believe they can throw all kinds of light, water and feeding at them and they will take off and grow to huge sizes, but this is the wrong approach.
Even though they are flexible, there is still a need to be aware of the specifics required by each different herb in every, specific area. Let’s look now.
When your seedlings were just poking through the soil, light was not important as the process of photosynthesis had not started. That all changes, however, when the plants mature.
Light is food to herbs. They need light to develop; without it, you are going to have a plant that is either stunted or dead.
There can be a few issues related to light. It is possible to give plants too much of it, which can lead to all kinds of problems. Getting the correct balance between light and dark may be tricky at first, but it is something anybody can master.
You see, even though we have mentioned a number of plants that thrive in full light (natural or artificial), that does not mean they look for light 24/7. Such would only damage the plant.
When you are growing your herbs indoors, you have two options when it comes to the light. First, you can place them in a spot in your home where there is ample natural light, but be warned, typical requirements are a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of quality light per day. You might have to move your plants around a great deal.
If that is not possible, another option is using grow lights. These are very easy to find and to use. They do not have to cost a fortune and this option guarantees your plants will get enough light to grow.
When it comes to feeding, always look for organic fertilizer. This will prove much safer for your plants. We strongly recommend your using organic stuff wherever possible.
The required level of feeding differs somewhat depending on the herbs you are growing. Some are very light “eaters” – they seems to get by on next to nothing. Others need additional upkeep and should be fed accordingly.
So, with that in mind, look at the herbs we are focusing on in this post and determine what each one needs in the way of feeding as the plant matures.
Rosemary can be quite drought resistant but, when it comes to feeding, it will certainly benefit from having a regular, balanced fertilizer. The main thing is to avoid soaking the plant as it will develop root rot.
Basil will always grow better when it is in quite fertile soil. If it is rich, you do not have to worry too much about adding extra fertilizer. If you add fertilizer, use only use small amounts. Avoid giving too much water or food since doing so will have a negative impact on the growth of the plant.
Thyme needs alkaline soil. It does not really need fertilizer, but if you add some, use either manure or a balanced, organic option. Thyme is also capable of withstanding drought conditions, but light irrigation will not hurt.
Mint loves to be in slightly moist soil that is also very rich and high in nutrients. Add fertilizer in the spring time and make sure it is a slow release version. Avoid giving the plant too much water and check the pH of the soil (it should not go above 7.0).
Parsley loves to be in soil with a high level of organic material. It also needs to have excellent drainage to avoid a number of different diseases. For fertilizer, consider adding some extra nitrogen as this will increase the productivity of the plant. In addition, add some slow release fertilizer before planting.
Tarragon grows better when the soil has been prepared with some all-purpose fertilizer before the plant is added to the pot. You need to water it on a regular basis, but only do so when the soil is dry as it hates to sit in too much moisture. Avoid adding any extra fertilizer when the plant is in the pot as the flavor of the herb is better when the nutrients in the soil are reduced.
Oregano needs more water when the plant is young than it does as it matures. Also, you only need to add fertilizer to the soil once a year. On most occasions, you simply have to provide some water when the plant is very dry, but even then, there is no need to add too much.
Cilantro certainly needs substantial drainage, so sandy soils are going to offer the best environment. When the plants have become more established, you have to cut back on the amount of water because this is a plant that will not do well in damp conditions. Fertilizer is not overly important since potassium and phosphorus actually inhibit the growth of the plant.
Chives love rich, well-draining soil. Unless you have placed the plants in manure, they are going to require some all-purpose fertilizer at relatively regular intervals throughout the year to achieve outstanding growth. Add some liquid fertilizer once every four weeks for the best results.
Harvest and the Potential for Cuttings
So, you have successfully gotten your herbs to mature and they have reached the stage where you are able to start harvesting them. How do you know when they ready?
The answer varies from herb to herb and some can be harvested relatively early. We need to work through the various herbs we are discussing in order to really provide the correct information.
At the same time, we will deal with another potential use for your herbs and that is to propagate cuttings. This process proves very useful as it helps you grow your herbs over and over again. Each herb is different, so we will tackle both issues at the same time.
You can ultimately end up with an endless supply of herbs for your cooking or whatever reason you wish. Sound good? Well, thankfully both aspects are very easy to do.
1 - Rosemary
Rosemary is a great herb for cuttings. Use a healthy mother plant and cut off a stem at least two inches long. Strip away the leaves from the lower half of the cutting since this will be going in the soil.
Place the cutting in a pot containing some perlite as well as seeding compost. You might also want to dab the end of the cutting in rooting powder to help push it along.
For harvesting, rosemary is one of those plants you can trim relatively early. Make clean cuts and do not remove more than one-third of the plant at any given time. It will throw up new shoots and you will end up with a plant that becomes bushier and more rewarding.
2 - Basil
Harvesting basil at the correct moment is key to having a thick and healthy plant. When it has five sets of leaves, remove the top. This encourages further growth lower down. You can repeat the process every couple of weeks. If your basil plant develops flowers, you should prune all of them.
This process will enable you to harvest a huge amount of basil from the one plant. The key is in cutting it on a regular basis, but doing so gently.
For cuttings, look for a leaf node and snip off a stem above it that is at least two to three inches long. Remove the lower leaves and place it in a jar of fresh water. Leave it at your window. You will see roots appearing in the water. When they are well established, you can then plant the cutting in a pot with some compost.
3 - Thyme
Thyme can be harvested at any point during the summer. You can remove either just the leaves or the sprig. If you want to preserve the herb longer, it is very easy to dry the leaves. You can take cuttings on a repeated basis since thyme is a really rugged plant.
Cuttings are important to take because of the difficulty of growing thyme from seed. The key here is to take the cutting from a node off the main stem where a healthy branch is sprouting. If you take a cutting, do so up to 10 weeks before the last frost. This means you need to be growing a plant indoors.
4 - Mint
Mint is one of those herbs that just keeps on giving. With mint, you have two options as you can either take some leaves as you need them or, alternatively, you can hard prune the plant two or three times in a growing season. This hard pruning involves cutting the plant to within an inch off the ground as it will grow back.
For cuttings, you should always take them from the very top of the plant and try to make sure they are around 8cm in length. Strip away the lower leaves and place the cutting in a glass of water. Keep an eye on the cuttings until the roots start to appear before you transplant it into a pot containing some soil.
5 - Parsley
With parsley, you have to wait until the stems have three leaves before harvesting. You should focus on removing leaves from the outer part of the stems as the inner section of the plant should be left alone to allow the parsley to continue to mature.
To make a cutting, take a section at least three to four inches long. Strip off the lower leaves and leave a number of healthy leaves at the top. Place the cutting in some water to allow the roots to begin to develop. Then, move the cutting to a pot containing a mixture of potting compost, perlite, and some sand as parsley needs fantastic drainage.
6 - Tarragon
Tarragon can be harvested up until around one month before the first frost in your area. You should harvest it on a regular basis in order to prevent it from flowering and to make sure the plant does not grow too tall. Harvesting is important because it prevents the plant from falling over as it will become top heavy.You can also take cuttings in two different ways with tarragon. First, you can divide the plant at the root and allow it to develop. Alternatively, you can take cuttings from a stem, making sure the stem is at least four inches in length and, once again, with the lower leaves removed.
7 - Oregano
You can start harvesting oregano as soon as it is a minimum of four inches in height. It is best to wait a bit longer, however, so you can cut back around 2/3 of the plant. Cut just above the leaves as this will then make it easier for the plant to grow back.
With cuttings, make sure the plant has no diseases or signs of stress. It is important to remove a number of cuttings around four inches in length and, once again, remove lower leaves. You might dip the bottom part of the cutting in some rooting powder before planting it in soil that drains well.
8 - Coriander/Cilantro
It is important not to harvest too much cilantro at the one time. This will weaken the rest of the plant and make it harder for it to produce new shoots. Avoid the heart of the plant and only remove a maximum of 1/3 of the plant at any one time.
For cuttings, you need to check the health of the plant and then remove a stem, stripping off the lower leaves. Place it in some water and make sure it is in a spot where it can get a substantial amount of light. When roots appear – about two inches long - you can then move it to a pot to allow it to grow normally.
9 - Chives
Chives can be harvested in a brutal way. You should basically cut the plant down pretty much to its base, usually around thirty days after the initial cutting has taken root. Take the plant down to a maximum of one inch from the ground. If you are growing it in ideal conditions, it should be possible to harvest in this fashion two or three times in a year.
For cuttings, the best way to deal with chives is to split the entire plant. Simply remove it from its cutting pot and tear the plant apart at the roots. You can afford to be quite harsh with it as it will survive without any problems.
How to Deal with Diseases and Pests
Finally, to deal with an issue of the utmost importance - diseases and pests. No matter the precautions you end up taking, you can never guarantee your herbs are going to end up pest and disease free. It is worth your while to learn what to look out for and how to increase your chances of avoiding any of these issues.
But, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Many herbs are relatively pest-free, one reason so many people decide to grow herbs at home. However, it goes even farther. Some herbs have a tendency to repel various pests, which is why some gardeners actually grow herbs close to other plants such as tomatoes or peppers as a way to stop various pests from attacking the plants.
As has been the theme throughout this guide, we will look individually at the herbs we have been mentioning. Not every disease or pest is going to target the same plant. There is a very real need to understand what issues can attack which plant so we can understand what defences we need.
Let’s look at coming to grips with the diseases and pests that might harm your herbs.
First, we need to get one thing straight. We do not believe in using various chemicals when dealing with diseases or pests. It hardly bodes well for your own health if the herbs you use have been soaked in chemical sprays.
The good news is there are other options available.
Various organic solutions can be applied as well as some home-made ones that can be effective combatants. You can treat pest/diseases effectively without spraying chemicals all over the place.
If you do find your plants have been exposed to pests or disease, act fast. As you treat the issues, be prepared to remove the affected herb. There are several things you can do to help from a preventative side.
Be proactive. Ensure your herbs are getting the correct amount of light, feeding and water because stressed plants face an increased chance of developing some kind of disease.
1 - Rosemary
There are several things that can attack rosemary, but, generally speaking, there are two common afflictions and two prevalent pests.
Powdery mildew appears on the foliage and can be spotted easily. This issue can be treated; the same cannot be said for root rot.
If your rosemary contracts root rot, the plant will look wilted and the leaves will drop off. Root rot is caused by a fungus. The best course of action is to remove the plant immediately.
The most common pest issue is spittlebugs. You will spot them by the appearance of spittle (hence the name) on the foliage. They mainly attack plants growing outdoors, but are also capable of getting to plants growing indoors (although this is rare).
The other main pest is whitefly or aphids. They are annoying and will be found on the underside of the leaves. They can be effectively washed off by using a spray of soap and water, but they do have a tendency to spread and will suck the sap out of the leaves.
2 - Basil
Basil has its very own problems when it comes to disease. The first one to is called fusarium wilt and, as the name suggests, if infected, your basil is not going to look too healthy. There will be yellow or brown spots on the leaves. If your basil has this disease, it is best to discard the entire plant.
You may also find leaf spot, which is a common bacterial infection. There is no cure, but the best thing to do is to circulate as much air as possible around the plant.
For pests, there are as few things to anticipate. Slugs love basil plants and the best course of action is slug pellets around the base of the plant. Pellets, however, will not stop other “critters” such as aphids and thrips from attacking the plant. Both will suck out the sap and kill your plant if they are not dealt with so keep checking the leaves for any signs.
3 - Thyme
Thyme absolutely hates having wet feet. Overt dampness can lead to all kinds of diseases, primarily root rot and mold on the leaves. These issues are clearly linked to a fungal infection and both are deadly in their own way.
You can tackle the mold issue if you spot it early enough. You should avoid getting the leaves damp and also remove any that have been affected. Water your plant in the mornings rather than at night to allow it to dry.
For pests, the most common issue has to be spider mites. They will damage the plant significantly. The best approach is to blast them off the stems with some water. If, however, there are a lot of them, it is easier to remove the infected stem.
4 - Mint
There are a number of diseases that can affect mint. One is called mint rust, a fungus that can attack several members of the mint family. If you see orange spots on the leaves, remove the plant completely, but do not throw it on the compost heap as the spores can survive.
Pests can arrive in the form of thrips, aphids, spider mites, and cutworms. Each one can have a devastating impact on the health of the plant, so you may have to remove affected areas of the plant in order to deal with the issue.
5 - Parsley
The first disease to be aware of is leaf blight, which manifests as brown or black leaves and eventually kills the plant. It tends to come from infected seeds. Another fungus is called crater spot, a fungus with spores that will dry out the plant. Once again, removal is the only option.
A number of pests love parsley. Aphids are commonplace as are army worms and cutworms. They will all eat away at the plant and either devour the leaves and stems or the sap contained inside. There are various organic solutions that can help to resolve this issue.
6 - Tarragon
The main issue with this herb is known as tarragon rust. The growth will be stunted, and there will be either white or yellow spots under the leaves. To avoid “rust,” you need to allow a lot of air to circulate around the plant. Remove any damaged leaves.
A number of pests have a preference for tarragon from the usual aphids to thrips, nematodes, and whitefly. Consider spraying your plant with a water solution or organic spray to remove them although with nematodes it may be best to remove the plant completely.
7 - Oregano
The main disease affecting oregano is mint rust which leads to orange or yellow spots on the underside of the leaves. As is the case with mint, this fungus will cause leaves to fall. If you spot rust, the best approach is to remove the entire plant to prevent the malady from spreading.
There are various pests that can cause a problem with, but the main culprits are aphids, spider mites and cutworms. Either rinse your plant with water to clear the intruders or place some diatomaceous earth around the base of the plant to stop cutworms from an invasion.
8 - Cilantro/Coriander
Cilantro, a rather delicate plant, can be susceptible to various diseases including bacterial leaf spot, damping off and carrot motley dwarf. You are best to avoid watering it from on high to reduce the splashing of soil as well as allowing air to circulate. If plants do become infected, move them to prevent the spread of the diseases elsewhere.
Cilantro is susceptible to several pests but primarily cutworms and aphids. Either one can destroy the plant in no time either by eating the foliage or sucking the sap in the leaves. Look for weak or dead leaves as signs of the issue and remember to check the underside as they the bad guys to hide there.
9 - Chives
One of the main issues with chives has to be damping off, which is caused by a fungus. This will kill the plant quickly. They are also susceptible to mildew. You will notice some fuzz appearing on the surface of the leaves. Also, pink roots are an indication of another fungus.
As for pests, thrips and onion maggots are the two main problems. Thrips will cause the leaves to discolor. You can reduce the problem by making sure not to plant them too close to onions. The same can be said about onion maggots. To help solve the problem, use a simple insecticide (organic would be the preferred option) to kill them.
We have covered a number of issues throughout the course of this guide and, if you are, indeed new to the idea of growing herbs, you are trying to absorb a lot of information.
There follows a brief recap of the key points intended to freshen your memory as you take the next step – as you get started growing those plants. Remember, look after your herbs and they will reward you in turn.
We strongly recommend you go back to the different sections in order to study the individual needs of the various herbs. No two are the same as they can all prefer slightly different amounts of light, can survive at different temperatures, last for years or just a single growing season - and on and on the list goes.