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Tips for Growing Delicious Herbs at Home

The Wonderful World of Kitchen Herb Gardens

A kitchen herb garden is simply a fancy term for your average home herb garden. In the most literal sense, it is an herb garden focused around growing culinary herbs to use in the kitchen. You know, cilantro, basil, rosemary, and the like.

There are hundreds of types of herbs, yet not all of them are common culinary herbs. Take flowering agastache or calendula for example – both are technically edible herbs, though they’re most often grown for medicinal use or simply to enjoy their beauty in the garden.

Most kitchen herb gardens are located, you guessed it, close to the kitchen. For instance, growing herbs right outside your back or front door makes it very convenient to pop outside and quickly harvest just what you need. The goal is to enable you to routinely use fresh herbs while cooking, after all.

Herbs: The Underappreciated Superstars

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

Thankfully, and much to our delight, we 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. Sometimes you’re even forced into the kitchen by the bounty a garden provides. 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.

Today’s Gardens is the perfect place to start your kitchen herb garden journey. Their experts can guide you through every step, from selecting the right herbs to caring for them, ensuring your herbs thrive all season long.

The Health Benefits of Homegrown Herbs

Aside from flavor, the vast majority of culinary herbs pack a powerful punch of health benefits as well. Take oregano for example – it’s 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 they’re 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. 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. See the Homestead and Chill garden companion chart for more specific ideas and companion planting combinations.

Choosing the Right Herbs for Your Kitchen Garden

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.

Herbs That Love the Sun

Most culinary herbs prefer to grow in ample sun. That isn’t to say they need to be blasted by full sun all day though. Many herbs can happily grow as long as they’re provided 4 to 5 hours of sunlight at minimum. 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.

Well-Draining Soil is Key

Herbs grow best in well-draining soil. No one likes soggy roots. 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, like if you have clay soil. If you’re planting herbs in a raised garden bed and are already successfully growing veggies there, most established raised beds are likely good to go with little-to-no modifications needed for herbs.

Minimal Fertilizer Required

Herbs are not heavy feeders and can generally grow well in average to mildly rich soil. We rarely, if ever, fertilize our established perennial herbs like sage, rosemary, oregano, and thyme, and they keep chugging along just fine. Yet if you’re growing perennial herbs in a container, they’ll appreciate some food on occasion. Shorter-lived annual herbs won’t need much in the way of fertilizer, especially if they’re planted in good soil. The one exception is basil, who does appreciate a good amount of rich organic matter like aged compost worked into the planting area.

Water Preferences Vary

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. Again, none of them want to be constantly soggy though. Aim for moderately damp to semi-dry soil. Before watering, assess the moisture level by sticking your finger a good inch or two deep in the soil, particularly in containers. Water once the soil begins to feel more dry than wet. I personally err on the lighter side unless I see them wilting from lack of water. Overwatering is more likely to kill herbs than under-watering. It’s better to water thoroughly but less often rather than frequent little sips.

The Top 14 Most Popular Culinary Herbs

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 Description
Sage Native to the Mediterranean, sage is a drought-tolerant evergreen perennial shrub with an earthy, piney, and slightly astringent flavor.
Rosemary Also from the Mediterranean, rosemary is a drought-tolerant evergreen perennial with a fragrance reminiscent of pine, lemon, and pepper.
Parsley A common garnish and tender, compact leafy annual plant with a slight bitterness that brightens the flavor of a dish.
Mint Sweet and refreshing, mint is commonly used in beverages, tea, summer salads, or even in yogurt or desserts.
Thyme Earthy, sweet, and mildly peppery, thyme is extremely versatile and can be used in sauces, marinades, soup, eggs, baked goods, and more.
Dill With its sweet and sharp, lemony flavor, dill is an extremely popular choice for pickles, sauces, fish dishes, cheese spreads, and egg dishes.
Cilantro A delightful mix of bright, sharp parsley-like and citrus flavors, cilantro is a tender annual used in Mexican cuisine, bean dips, rice dishes, guacamole, and salsa.
Oregano Also known as the “pizza herb,” oregano is pungent, savory, and slightly bitter, making it a popular addition to sauces, soup, dough, cooked beans or lentils, and more.
Sweet Marjoram Savory, earthy, and mildly sweet with a slight bitterness, marjoram is quite similar to oregano and can be used in sauces, soups, stews, and with roasted vegetables or meat.
Lemon Balm A delectable mix of lemon and mint flavor, lemon balm can be used in tea, baked goods, cold summer salads, desserts, and cocktails.
Basil A classic Italian herb and quintessential annual herb for summer gardens, basil is essential for caprese salads, homemade pesto, pasta sauce, and pizza.
French Tarragon With a bittersweet, licorice or anise-like flavor, tarragon is most popular in French cuisine and is commonly used in marinades, egg dishes, tomato dishes, and various sauces.
Bay Laurel Fresh bay leaves simply can’t be beat, with their earthy, slightly peppery, and floral-sweet flavor that infuses cooking liquids.
Chives Chives have an awesome green onion-like flavor, but less intense, making them a welcome addition as a garnish on top of soups, salads, chili, baked potatoes, and more.

And those are the most popular culinary herbs to grow! It should be noted that each of these herbs have many different varieties within them as well. We’ve just scratched the surface. The sage family is huge, with purple sage, pineapple sage, variegated sage, classic green culinary sage, and more. Did you know you can grow cinnamon basil or chocolate mint? Plus, there are many types of rosemary, dill, and thyme – each variety will have its own unique flavor, growing habits, cold hardiness, or appearance.

Growing Herbs in Containers

You can absolutely grow herbs in containers – all sorts of containers. It’s 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.

The key is to ensure your container has drainage holes. The size of your container and/or how closely you pack your plants inside will influence the size of your herbs. Using small pots or grouping many plants closely together will limit root space and lead to smaller plants overall. This isn’t always a bad thing though. Some herbs are best grown in containers because they otherwise aggressively spread, like mint.

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 become soggy. Meaning you’ll need to keep a closer eye on the soil moisture level and adjust your watering schedule as needed.

To help maintain the right moisture balance, fill your chosen container with well-draining potting soil – meaning use a soil specifically made for container gardening that has plenty of perlite, pumice, rice hulls, or other aerating material. Feel free to toss in a handful of aged compost or worm castings, but most quality bagged soil should have sufficient nutrients for herbs.

Herbs grown in containers will also use up the available nutrients in soil more quickly than they would in a larger garden space. Therefore, they’ll need to be fed more often. The good news is culinary herbs don’t need much fertilizer in general. If you are growing a short-lived annual herb like cilantro, you probably won’t need to fertilize it at all. When growing perennial herbs in containers, plan to provide mild organic fertilizer once or twice per year, like compost tea, dilute seaweed extract, or slow-release granular fertilizers.

Bringing the Herb Garden Indoors

You can grow many culinary herbs indoors much like houseplants. Clearly, they’ll be inside a container, so follow the potted herb tips as described above. 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. Plan your indoor kitchen herb garden near a sunny window. 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. Take clippings from them as needed, and they should continue to grow and provide for you. Woodier, drought-tolerant perennial herbs like thyme, oregano, sage, bay, and rosemary may also be able to live indoors under ideal conditions, but they probably won’t be living their best life as they would outdoors with ample sun and warm, open soil space.

Harvesting and Preserving Your Herbs

Harvesting culinary herbs is quite simple. Just be sure to never cut them completely down unless you’re done with the plant for good. Otherwise, herbs benefit from a routine trim. Harvesting and lightly pruning herbs encourages them to branch and/or develop new growth. Basil, chives, parsley, oregano, and mint grow back especially fast.

When harvesting, I don’t usually get hasty and cut down a plant by half or more. More often, I use a more gentle cut-and-come-again method of pinching or trimming off the top few inches of one or two stems at a time, just what I need for that meal or recipe. That is, unless I’m doing a major pruning with the intention of drying herbs to preserve them.

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 simply lay clean herbs out at room temperature in a location with good air flow, allowing them to passively dry. Or use a food dehydrator to fully dry them for long-term storage.

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. I can’t say enough good things about our Excalibur dehydrator – we use it several times a month to dry and preserve all sorts of food from the garden, almost year-round.

Closing Thoughts

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 for me. 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 ask 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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