Herbs are a great addition to any garden – they add flavour to foods and are also good for health. Herbs are easy to grow and once you know how to care for them you’ll be able to enjoy your own fresh herbs.
Herbs need to be cultivated outdoors in sunny, sheltered spots with good soil that drains well. They can also be grown in pots or planters to extend their growing season.
Whether you are growing herbs in a garden bed, in containers or on a sunny windowsill, sunlight is essential for healthy herb growth. The sun’s energy is needed for photosynthesis, which enables plants to use water and nutrients to produce food.
Herbs are most able to do this when they receive six to eight hours of direct sunlight every day. Alternatively, some herbs can be grown under low light conditions – such as in the shadows of trees and shrubs.
Herbs also require a balance between high humidity and adequate air circulation. They may grow well in very dry environments but may suffer if the humidity is too low. If this occurs, misting them with a water-mist can help increase the humidity.
Most herbs prefer moist, well-draining soil that is moderately fertile. Soil pH is important for plant health and can be adjusted by adding oyster shell lime (raises the pH) or elemental sulfur (lowers it).
Most herb plants grow best in full sun, but some may do well in partial shade. Flowering herbs such as chamomile and dill can thrive in part shade, while thyme and mint will still grow nicely in a spot that receives only 4 hours of sunlight a day.
When preparing garden soil, add peat moss or compost to improve drainage and retain moisture. The best soil for herbs is slightly acidic to neutral (pH between 6.0 and 7.0).
If you’re growing herbs outdoors, you’ll need to pay attention to water. Some Mediterranean types, such as rosemary and sage, can tolerate fairly dry soil between waterings, but other plants need consistent moisture to grow strong roots.
Herbs that can be grown in a container often need less water than those growing in the ground. Use a well-drained soil and give them regular waterings during the summer.
You can also make cuttings of fresh or dried herbs for propagation. Simply remove a 3 to 5 inch stem just below the node on which it originated. Most herb cuttings root within two weeks.
Fertilization provides the plant with the nutrients it needs to grow strong. The exact fertilizing requirements vary depending on the type of herb and growing conditions, but most herbs can benefit from a blend of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
A soil test will help you determine the nutrient needs of your garden. Soil pH affects how well your plants can absorb these nutrients.
Potted herbs can be fertilized when they’re in their containers – as soon as true leaves sprout, or 4-6 weeks after planting. Apply granular fertilizers evenly over the potting mix and water them in well.
Choose fertilizer with a relatively even N-P-K ratio and follow the label’s feeding schedule. Whether you use liquid or granular products depends on your preferences, but both should be applied about once a month.
Pruning is an important part of growing herbs outdoors. It helps control size, spread and shape as well as promote fresh shoots instead of woody stems.
Most herbaceous plants require no special equipment for pruning other than a pair of scissors or your fingers. Mature herbs, such as rosemary, need a hand pruner or bypass pruner.
Leafy herbs, like basil, can die quickly after blossoming if they are not trimmed. When pruning, cut the leaves where they meet the stem.
For perennial herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and sage, it is best to prune in early spring. Remove spent flowers and cut back up to two-thirds of the plant to encourage new growth.