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How to Grow a Culinary Herb Garden

The Wonderful World of Herbs

I have to admit that herbs were not on the top of my must-grow list when I first began gardening a decade ago. Sure, I grew some basil or rosemary here and there, but otherwise my interest with growing culinary herbs was fairly limited. Insert palm-slap to forehead here.

Thankfully, and much to my delight, I became awakened to the wonderful wide world of growing herbs in the years that followed. Now, I couldn’t imagine a garden without them. I didn’t realize what I was missing until I tried fresh homegrown herbs. Much of gardening is intimately tied to cooking, and nothing is more rewarding than that moment when you’re whipping up a meal and think, “Hey, some fresh thyme would be delicious in this” – and outside you go.

Or to be able to reach into the cabinet and pull out a jar of homegrown dried herbs that you preserved. We use fresh and dried herbs daily in our kitchen. Almost like salt, cooking with culinary herbs is an easy way to enhance flavor in your food or elevate a simple meal to a whole new level. Combining fresh herbs with homegrown veggies is like the cherry on top of the sundae – but healthier.

The Benefits of Growing Herbs

Speaking of health, that is another excellent reason to start a kitchen herb garden. In addition to flavor, the vast majority of culinary herbs pack a powerful punch of health benefits as well. Take oregano for example – oregano is antibacterial, anti-viral, and full of cancer-fighting antioxidants. Studies show that rosemary can reduce inflammation, balance your gut, and boost your mood. Peppermint and lemon balm can be enjoyed fresh or dried into homegrown tea to soothe both your nerves and belly. And those are just a few examples.

Beyond us humans, growing herbs also provides health benefits to your local wildlife and ecosystem. Herbs make wonderful companion plants in the garden, attracting beneficial insects like pollinators while also repelling pests. For example, bees are all over oregano, thyme, basil, and rosemary when it is in bloom. Dill, parsley, and fennel are host plants for swallowtail butterflies, meaning they are essential food sources for swallowtail butterfly caterpillars to eat and continue their life cycle on to butterflies. Yes, that does mean swallowtail caterpillars may eat your dill and parsley, so please plant extra to share. Ladybugs, hover flies, and other beneficial insects also seem to love herbs. On the other hand, the sharp, pungent smells of many culinary herbs help to deter pest insects such as mosquitos, aphids, and whitefly. When planted amongst your vegetable garden, herbs can help keep your other plants healthier too.

Getting Started with Culinary Herbs

Every culinary herb may have a few unique quirks or preferences, so I encourage you to do a little additional research on the ones you choose to grow. The seed package or seedling tag should provide you with a lot of information. I will continue to add detailed articles about growing individual herbs too. Nevertheless, most herbs share similar preferences for sun, soil, water, fertilizer, and general care.

You can start growing herbs from seed or pick up some seedlings at your local nursery. Either is a fine choice, and we do a combination of both. Most culinary herbs prefer to grow in ample sun – around 7 to 8 hours of sun is ideal. Tender herbs like basil, parsley, and cilantro may benefit from filtered sun or protection from the hottest afternoon sun during the summer.

Herbs grow best in well-draining soil. In a container, use basic potting soil amended with a little aged compost or worm castings. Amend native soil with compost and horticultural sand to improve drainage if needed. Herbs are not heavy feeders and can generally grow well in average to mildly rich soil. The one exception is basil, who does appreciate a good amount of rich organic matter like aged compost worked into the planting area.

Some culinary herbs are more drought-tolerant and therefore are okay if the soil dries out slightly between watering, such as thyme, sage, and rosemary. Others prefer to be kept damp at all times, like basil and mint. Aim for moderately damp to semi-dry soil, and water thoroughly but less often rather than frequent little sips.

Top Culinary Herbs to Grow

Now that you’re more familiar with how to grow herbs, it’s time to decide what kinds of herbs you want to grow in your kitchen herb garden. Check out the list below to get some ideas:

Herb Flavor Profile Uses Hardiness Zones
Sage Earthy, piney, slightly astringent Soups, sauces, sourdough, roasted veggies 4-8
Rosemary Pine, lemon, pepper Homemade breads, roasted dishes, nuts, tomato sauce 5-9
Parsley Slight bitterness that brightens flavor Rice/pasta salads, pesto 5-9
Mint Sweet, refreshing Beverages, salads, yogurt, desserts 3-9
Thyme Earthy, sweet, mildly peppery Sauces, marinades, soup, eggs, baked goods, roasted veggies 4-9
Dill Sweet, sharp, lemony Pickles, sauces, fish dishes, egg dishes 2-11
Cilantro Bright, sharp, parsley-like, citrus Mexican cuisine, bean dips, rice dishes, salsa 2-11
Oregano Pungent, savory, slightly bitter Sauces, soups, dough, beans, lentils, roasted veggies 4-9
Basil Sweet, peppery Caprese salads, pesto, pizza, pasta sauce 2-11

Of course, grow herbs that you know you like to eat. But I also encourage you to be adventurous and try new things. After all, fresh homegrown herbs are exponentially more tasty than store-bought – as with anything, for that matter. You never know what will strike your tastebuds’ fancy. I am consistently blown away by the intensely fantastic sweet, earthy flavor of our fresh bay leaves. Dry bay from the store? Meh.

Herbs in Containers and Indoors

You can absolutely grow herbs in containers – all sorts of containers. It is really fun to grow many types of herbs together in a large container such as a half wine barrel, galvanized metal tub, or oversized pot. Or you can keep each one in a smaller individual pot, especially if you are growing herbs indoors in a windowsill. No matter what type of container you choose, ensure that it has drainage holes.

Caring for potted plants is slightly different than those planted directly in the ground or in large raised beds. Containers have the tendency to either dry out more quickly or to not drain properly and become soggy. Meaning you’ll need to keep a closer eye on the soil moisture level and adjust your watering schedule as needed. Fill your chosen container with well-draining potting soil, and feel free to toss in a handful of aged compost or worm castings. Herbs grown in containers will also use up the available nutrients in soil more quickly than they would in a larger garden space, so plan to provide mild organic fertilizer once or twice per year.

You can grow many culinary herbs indoors much like houseplants. The biggest challenge when it comes to growing herbs indoors is finding the right balance of light. Most culinary herbs need a minimum of 4 to 5 hours of sunlight per day, but will usually be happier with a bit more. If your home doesn’t have sufficient light via windows, you can always grow herbs indoors under small grow lights. The herbs that are best suited for an indoor kitchen herb garden are those that are tender, leafy, and fast-growing, like basil, parsley, and chives.

Preserving Your Herbs

The most common and popular way to preserve fresh herbs is to dry them. Aside from making freezer-friendly pesto, drying herbs is our go-to way to preserve them as well. You can use a food dehydrator to fully dry them, or simply lay clean herbs out at room temperature in a location with good air flow, allowing them to passively dry. We love our Excalibur dehydrator and use it several times a month to dry and preserve all sorts of food from the garden.

Homegrown dried herbs have incredible flavor compared to those you’ll find in the store. They should last well over a year if you don’t use them up by then. We also sometimes freeze whole herbs, including pre-portioning them inside ice cube trays. This allows us to easily pop out a cube of frozen herbs to add to dishes throughout the year.

Conclusion

Holy moly, can I tell you something? You know how I said I used to undervalue the utility and beauty of herbs? Well, despite growing herbs for many years now, I think I still have been under-appreciating them – until now. Sitting down to write all about herbs and re-visiting all the amazing ways we use our kitchen herb garden has been very eye-opening. I never really considered that 90% of the recipes I share on Today’s Gardens incorporate fresh herbs. I guess we really do love and use herbs a lot.

Now the thyme has come for you to go start a kitchen herb garden of your own. I hope you found this article to be helpful, interesting, and inspiring. If so, please spread the love for herbs by sharing or pinning this post. As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions. Who’s got the herb? We all do!

Today’s Garden is Garden and Landscape Company, provides all you need about Garden and Landscape Design to get better garden decorations.

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