If you love to cook and want to grow your own food but don’t feel confident enough to start a veggie patch, learning how to grow herbs is the way to go. Fresh herbs can elevate your food from a bland concoction to a delicious dish.
Herbs have been appreciated for thousands of years by many cultures. Their flavors and medicinal properties were once considered gifts of the gods.
One of the best things about culinary herbs is that you don’t need a lot of space to grow them. You can quickly start your very own indoor herb garden with just a few basic things: high-quality seeds, a sunny windowsill, organic potting soil, and lots of TLC.
If you’re tired of buying packaged herbs that shrivel up in a matter of days, this step-by-step guide can give you the confidence to grow your own herbs successfully. The varieties on this list are some of the easiest to start from seed, so they’re perfect for beginners or anyone who thinks they don’t have a green thumb.
How To Grow Herbs: Getting Started
First things first: Most herbs are native to the Mediterranean, so the trick to supporting their growth is to provide similar conditions. This means plenty of sun, moderate temperatures, and soil with good drainage.
If you plan to grow and maintain your kitchen herb garden indoors, you can start at any time of the year. But if you’re thinking about creating a little herb corner in your garden or outdoor planter, then the best time to start planting herbs is spring, once the danger of frost has passed.
If you’re not sure when that is, feel free to use the Back to the Roots grow calendar to find out the date of the last frost based on your location.
Most culinary herbs thrive in full sun, between 7-8 hours of exposure — Mediterranean conditions, remember? This is the ideal amount of time for them to produce the essential oils that make them so fragrant and delicious.
Some herbs — like basil, parsley, and cilantro — may enjoy partial shade from the hottest midday sun during the scorching summer months.
When you grow herbs indoors, the best spot for them is by a sunny window. If your house doesn’t have enough natural sun, consider investing in a grow light. These helpful accessories not only provide your plant with the necessary amount of light they crave, but they also encourage them to grow fuller.
Avoid using garden soil if you’re growing your aromatic herbs inside containers or pots, as it doesn’t provide proper drainage. Opt for a well-draining organic potting mix, which is engineered specifically for this type of gardening.
Terra cotta pots with drainage holes are also a better option than plastic planters, as they provide more aeration for the plants and help prevent moldy roots.
Herb plants are perfect for container gardening, and you can even grow different types in the same container, except for certain species (more on that later). A great perk of growing your herbs inside pots is that you can relocate them, ensuring they always have ideal growth conditions.
Before sowing your seeds, make sure to read the seed packets carefully. They provide lots of important information, including how much spacing to leave between seeds, growing season, and what kind of sun exposure they prefer.
When it comes to watering your herbs, keep in mind that overwatering is more likely to kill them than underwatering. A great trick to assess the soil’s moisture level is to stick your finger an inch or two in the pot.
If it’s still quite moist, skip watering. If the soil is loose, then it’s time to hydrate your herbs. Aromatic plants enjoy less frequent yet thorough waterings rather than superficial frequent waterings. The latter can encourage roots to come to the soil’s surface to draw water, which you want to avoid. You want a deep root system that provides your plant with stability and strength.
Seeds or Seedlings?
Just like any other plant, you can either start herbs from seed or buy them as young plants — or seedlings — at your local plant nursery. Even though starting with seeds has its advantages, you may feel more confident going for seedlings if this is your first attempt at growing herbs.
If you’re looking for a foolproof growing kit for beginners, check out Back to the Root’s kitchen herb garden kit, which comes with everything you need to start your own herb corner. It features organic basil, mint, and cilantro seeds, and a custom soil blend that provides your herbs with all the nutrients they need to grow strong and sturdy.
Back to the Roots growing kits also come with a zero-risk gardening policy. In other words, you’ll get new seeds until you grow your herbs successfully.
Annual, Biennial, and Perennial Herbs
All plants fall into one of three categories — annual, biennial, and perennial — and herbs are no exception. It’s essential to know which plant is what, so you know how they behave and what to expect when you start to grow your culinary herbs.
- Annual herbs: This variety germinates, blooms, sets seeds, and dies all in one year. They will only come back to life the following year if they’ve dropped seeds that germinate successfully in the spring. Basil, cilantro, and marjoram are examples of annual herbs.
- Biennial herbs: These plants have a life cycle of approximately two years, which means they germinate and grow one year and bloom and die the year after. Parsley and chives are biennial plants.
- Perennial herbs: Perennial plants live for many years. Depending on your local climate, they may continue to provide through the winter months. More often than not, they shed their leaves during the cold season (looking like dead, dry sticks) as a protection mechanism. Perennials come back every year, as they grow from the roots that have survived through the winter. Good examples of this variety are thyme, mint, oregano, tarragon, and lemon balm.
Harvesting is undoubtedly one of the best and most enjoyable parts of herb growing. It’s also necessary to encourage new leaf and branch growth.
When you’re harvesting herbs, the best course of action is to snip them just above a natural junction or lead node. When you do this, you’re stimulating new growth, which will branch out on each side and make your plants grow fuller.
Annual herbs prefer small, regular clippings until the end of their growing season or first frost. On the other hand, perennials can handle a good prune, especially once the warm season is in full swing. If you live in an area that commonly freezes during the winter months, it’s best to avoid heavy pruning past August.
Once an aromatic herb starts to bloom and flower, this is usually a clear signal that they are ready to begin forming seeds and eventually hibernate for the season.
When this occurs, the edible leaves become smaller, tougher, and more bitter. If you want to delay this, simply pinch or snip off the flowering tips as soon as they pop out. If they persist, it’s best to cut the entire flowering stem. By removing the flowers, you’re ensuring your plant is directing its energy on growing leaves.
9 Easy Herbs To Kick-Start Your Herb Garden
Now that you know the basics on how to grow herbs, you’re ready to find out which aromatic plants are the easiest and most versatile for your space. These are all traditional herbs that will add that extra boost of flavor to your favorite dishes and take your cooking to the next level.
If you love pizza, pesto, and bruschettas, you must grow basil. There’s nothing quite like freshly-picked basil sprinkled on top of a hot Margherita pizza. This classic Italian herb loves regular clipping, as it helps the plant grow less leggy — weak stems that make it floppy — and more rounded.
If you love fresh pesto, plant a couple of basil plants to have a fresh supply anytime you crave this delicious green sauce. Sowing the seeds 12-16 inches apart will ensure the plants have plenty of space to grow.
Chives, along with spring onions, are the ultimate savory garnish. Chopped chives are great sprinkled on top of soups, roasted potatoes, avocado toast, and smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels.
It’s one of the easiest culinary herbs to grow, and it’s great to build up a new gardener’s confidence. Make sure you plant them 4-6 inches apart and cut them two inches above the soil every time you harvest. They usually grow back in the early spring.
If you get confused about cilantro and coriander, news flash: they’re the same thing. You call the leaves cilantro and say coriander when talking about the seeds. Mystery solved!
This super versatile herb is common in many different cuisines from Mexican to Mediterranean to Asian. It’s perfect for chopping and adding to dishes to give them a fresh, herbaceous taste.
However, when it comes to cilantro, you either love it or hate it. This is due to this herb’s richness in aldehydes, a compound also found in soap. Some people have a gene that allows them to detect this substance, and they’ll claim that when they chew cilantro, it tastes like a soap bar.
Plant your cilantro plants 6-8 inches apart and make sure you protect them from the hot summer sun, as they’ll bolt quickly and try to drop seeds fast.
4. Lemon Balm
Like chamomile, lemon balm is one of the best calming herbs and valuable addition to your herb garden. It’s part of the mint family, and once you smell it, you’ll detect a delicious mix between mint and lemon. Use it fresh in desserts, salads, to brew tea, and as a garnish for cocktails.
It should be consumed fresh and not cooked. Otherwise, it will lose all its beautiful aroma. It’s quite handy in herb gardening as it helps to repel mosquitoes and other pests. It spreads quite vigorously like mint, so plant it by itself or with another variety of the same family. Leave 12-18 inches between seeds to allow for healthy growth.
When you think about summer herbs, the first thing that might pop into your head is mint. This classic aromatic herb has a distinct fresh smell that will go great with summer salads, cocktails, and iced tea.
Chewing a few mint leaves or brewing them in tea is a common folk remedy for an upset stomach. This beautiful herb comes in many different varieties, so it may be challenging to choose just one.
For a more familiar smell, stick to peppermint or spearmint. But if you love different aromatic herbs, keep an eye out for chocolate mint. Its unique fragrance will remind you of your favorite chocolate chip mint ice cream, and it’s great to brew some comforting, cozy tea in the wintertime.
Like lemon balm, plant your mint inside containers, giving the seeds 18-24 inches of distance between them.
Known to the ancient Greeks as “joy of the mountain,” oregano is another excellent herb to boost your confidence when trying to earn a green thumb. This fragrant herb is not only delicious, but it has also been studied for its antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Also called the “pizza herb,” it’s almost impossible not to think about this favorite Italian dish when you smell dried oregano. If you find this culinary herb too strong for your taste, try marjoram — a milder, less pungent, and sweeter tasting variety of oregano.
It’s a prolific grower, so keep the seeds 8-10 inches apart when sowing the seeds.
This leafy herb has a similar acidity to that of lemons. Try chopping some fresh parsley and add it to a salad to immediately experience the tanginess. For more flavor, never cook it as it will lose all its taste and crunchy texture.
Expert gardeners claim that planting parsley next to their rose bushes helps them grow healthier and enhances the flowers’ fragrance. Provide a good 8-10 inches between each seed to allow for healthy growth.
When harvesting, clip the stalks which are further from the plant’s center to encourage more growth. Don’t throw away the stems. Instead, chop them as they tend to hold more flavor than the actual leaves themselves.
This lesser-known herb — also known as French tarragon — is the perfect combination of sweet and bitter, a bit like licorice. If you love making sauces, vinaigrettes, and marinades, tarragon should be an essential addition to your herb garden.
When sowing the seeds of this perennial herb, make sure you leave a good 18-24 inches between each plant as they grow quite bushy.
Thyme is an earthy and sweet herb that goes well with anything roasted. Potatoes, chicken, pumpkin, you name it. It loves the sun, and it doesn’t need constant watering, so it’s perfect for any would-be gardener living in a warm climate. When sowing thyme seeds, make sure you leave 6-8 inches between them as this plant grows rather bushy.
This Mediterranean herb loves being trimmed, and the more you snip, the more it will grow. Thyme is quite prolific, so if you end up with more thyme than you know what to do with, try drying it. It tastes great dried and fresh. For a tangy variety, look for lemon thyme.
Start Your Gardening Journey By Growing Herbs
If you think a veggie garden feels like a daunting task for someone who has never planted anything, starting with herb gardening can give you the skills and know-how to get you started in the plant world.
Knowing how to grow herbs is not only easy but incredibly fun and rewarding. You don’t need a lot of resources or space. All you need is the knowledge found in this guide, perseverance, and lots of love.