There are many reasons to create your own herb garden. First and foremost, herbs aren’t cheap, so growing your own can save a lot of money.
Moreover, when you grow your own herbs, you can feel confident in their quality. When you buy them from the supermarket, it could be filled with pesticides.
With that being said, before you can ever eat your herbs, you need to grow them first. Growing herbs might not be rocket science, but it does take a good deal of effort.
There are a variety of things that you need to know about caring for a herb garden. Therefore, this is what we are here to teach you today, how to care for a herb garden.
We’re going to cover everything from planting and choosing your soil, to mulching, fertilizing, watering, and more.
How to Care for a Herb Garden: Step by Step
To help you care for your herb garden, we’re going to give you a step-by-step tutorial on exactly that. We’re going to start from the beginning, from your seeds, and then go from there.
Planting and Transplanting Your Herbs
First things first, you need to choose which herbs you want to grow. Then, once you have chosen your herbs of choice, go out and buy the seeds. Generally speaking, to plant them, you just want to follow the directions as listed on the seed pockets.
With that being said, you do probably want to start them indoors. This is a special case if you want to start as early in the season as possible. The best way to plant seeds indoors is to use seed starter pods. You generally just have to put them in the pods, give them some water, and keep them in the light.
If the herbs in question are not cold-resistant, you want to wait until that last average frost date to plant them. That said, with hardier perennial herbs, you can plant them a couple weeks before the average last frost date of the spring.
Once it is time to plant your herbs outdoors, you then need to choose the right soil. This is something that we will discuss below.
With the right soil in place in your outdoor garden, you now need to transplant your plants. To do this, you need to dig a hole that is about twice as wide as the pot that the herb in question is currently growing in.
The hole should be about the same depth as the pot. You want to very carefully remove the herb from the pot, place the root ball in the soil, and then slightly cover it. With your herbs planted, you now want to water the roots fairly well. This will help establish a good root system.
On a side note, you do also need to make sure that the soil has good drainage. You want the soil to be able to drain water away. This will help prevent the roots of your herbs from being flooded and from rotting. Root rot is a huge problem when it comes to herb gardens, so making sure that soil drains properly is essential.
Choosing the Right Soil, Mulching, and Fertilizer
To allow your herbs to grow properly, you also need to choose the right kind of soil. Generally speaking, some basic potting soil that is designed for leafy plants is best. An important thing to pay attention to here is the nutrient ratio, the NPK ratio.
NPK stands for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. For leafy plants such as herbs, you do want to look for a decent amount of nitrogen for the beginning growth stages. Although, later on during growth, phosphorus and potassium are also important. Some well-rounded potting soil is generally best for this.
What you do however need to keep in mind is that you want to use slow-release fertilizers. The reason for this is because herbs that get way too much nitrogen at once aren’t going to have very much flavor.
If you have good potting soil, adding more fertilizer is likely not necessary. However, the nutrients in the potting soil will run out eventually.
Therefore, anywhere between three to four weeks after planting herbs, you will want to give them some fertilizer. You will then want to fertilize them on a regular basis according to the instructions on the fertilizer of your choosing.
The other thing to consider doing here is adding mulch to the top of the soil on your herb garden. Mulch serves a variety of purposes. For one, mulch will help control weed growth. Mulch should help to prevent weeds from growing through the surface of the soil.
Mulch will also help prevent water from splashing onto your herbs. This in turn can help prevent disease and fungus from taking hold. Mulch is definitely something that we recommend looking into here.
Now, going back to the soil and fertilizer, you do want to look for natural ingredients. Do not choose any kind of soil, fertilizer, or anything else that contains toxic chemicals.
The fertilizer and soil should both have 100% natural and organic ingredients. Remember, these herbs are things that you are going to eat. You, therefore, need to make sure that anything and everything you use on those herbs is safe for ingestion.
Watering Your Herb Garden
Of course, your herbs are going to be watered properly. First of all, remember that you do want soil with good drainage. Herbs generally develop the most flavor when they are slightly drier as opposed to being very moist. Exactly how much you water your plants does depend on the plants in question as well as the soil being used.
For instance, soil that has a lot of clay will hold onto a lot more water than sandy soil. Therefore, herbs being grown in sandy soil will need more water. Moreover, when the temperature is really high or when it is very windy, plants will also need more water. Generally speaking, you want to poke your finger about an inch down into the soil.
If the top inch of the soil is bone dry, then it is time to water your herbs. Moreover, an average rule of thumb here is to provide your herbs with about 1 inch of water per week. When you do water your herbs, make sure that you water the soil so that it penetrates down to around 6 inches.
You need the roots of your herbs to get enough water. Also, make sure that you only watch for the soil, and not the plants themselves. You don’t want water to get onto the plants, especially the leaves. This in itself can cause a variety of issues. In terms of when to water, early morning before the sun comes up is generally best.
Pinching, Pruning, and Harvesting
While your herbs are growing, a good practice is to regularly pinch off 2 inches from the tips of the stems. You want to do this every few weeks. This will cause more branch growth and lateral growth. This new growth is always the most succulent, flavorful, and juicy. Therefore, you want to pinch off the tips of the stems, as well as any flowers that form.
In terms of pruning, it is recommended that you do so in the beginning of the spring before the growing season. If you don’t do this in the early spring, in the fall, at the end of the growing season, is an option too. You want to prune these plants back by about a third. You want them to be about four inches off the ground before new growth begins.
In order to increase your output, you may then also want to propagate your herbs. Now, some plants can be propagated through cuttings. Others produce their own offshoots that you can separate from the main plant. Exactly how you propagate your herbs really depends on the herbs in question.
When it comes to harvesting, you want to do so fairly often. The new growth is always the tastiest. Most herbs can be harvested every two or three weeks. Always use sharp and clean blades when cutting the herbs off of the main plant. This will help to prevent disease from spreading to the plants due to dirty utensils.
Weed & Pest Prevention
The other thing to take note of is that herb gardens are somewhat susceptible to pests and diseases. They’re also susceptible to growing weeds.
To help prevent weeds from growing, mulch goes a very long way. You also want to avoid tilling your garden too much. Tilling your garden too much will bring weed seeds to the surface and allow them to grow.
We could write a whole separate article on weed, pest, and disease prevention. There is simply too much to cover here.
With that being said, there are many good methods to help prevent diseases and pests from taking hold in your herb garden. There are also many good measures you can take to prevent weeds from growing. We definitely recommend doing some more research on this front.
What we do, however, want to say is that if you use any kind of insecticide, fungicide, or weedkiller, it needs to be natural. Once again, these are herbs you will be ingesting, so you don’t want to be spraying poison onto them.
As you can see, caring for a herb garden is not rocket science by any means. Sure, there are a lot of factors to consider, and a lot of work to be done. That said, the results are usually always worth it. This is especially the case when you get to cook some food using your very own homegrown herbs.