A Beginners Guide To Growing Great Herbs

Fresh herbs are simple to grow and are a great place to start for the first time gardener.

In this beginner’s guide to growing herbs, we’ll learn all about the benefits of growing herbs, where to grow herbs, great herb combos and how to care for herbs in planters.

The Benefits of Growing Herbs

Herbs could be called ‘a triple purpose plant’.  Herbs add beauty to any gardening space, they add fragrance to the garden, and they easily enhance flavour, zest, and sophistication to a culinary dish without much effort.  Herbs are also used in herbal medicines and in soap making.

  • Fresh Herbs make Food Taste Better – if you are ever looking for a quick and easy way to a life and enthusiasm to a dish, cooked or raw – add herbs. Fresh herbs have a way of transferring the joy of the garden into the kitchen.
  • Herbs Improve a Garden’s Beauty – Herbs are more than just leaves to cut up or crush for a dish or salad. All herbs have their own distinct blossom and leaf shape and colour.
    • Shake up the assortment of herb flowers with things like the purple spires of lavender, simple white blossoms of basil, or the unique shape of dill.
    • Add diversity to your garden with different herb leaf shapes and variegations. Dill has delicate threadlike leaves that add a touch of whimsy, cilantro leaves add an airy texture, parsley adds some curl, and lemon thyme or sage have multicoloured leaves.
  • Herbs Add Fragrance to the Garden – Almost all herbs are strongly scented. Just brushing past herbs makes walking through the garden a sensory and lovely experience.

This fragrant quality of herbs is what makes herbs so useful.  The list and uses for herbs in the kitchen are extensive.

Other uses for herbs include:

  • Some herbs repel bugs and insects by their smell. Mosquitoes don’t like the smell of basil or anything lemony like lemon balm, lemon grass, or lemon thyme.
  • Many herbs, like lavender and mint, make great teas, jellies, and soaps.
  • Other herbs like achillea and rosemary have anti-inflammatory properties.

Where to Grow Herbs

For some people, growing herbs their first entry step into gardening. Herbs are simple to grow and are also a great gardening solution if your space, time, and/or ability is limited.

Herbs need a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunshine, 8 or more hours is even more ideal.  This means that herbs can grow in an east, south, or westerly exposure as long as there are no trees, buildings, or fences blocking the sun.

Herbs can be grown in the ground, in raised beds or in containers like hanging baskets, upright containers and window boxes.

Herbs like to grow in a warm place and like to have their roots warm.  Containers and raised beds accomplish this very well.  The soil in planters and raised beds are above the ground and the warmth from the sun tends to keep the soil in these at a little higher temperature than the level ground.

Related: For more information on Raised Beds, check out our blogs called Why Raised Beds and Raised Beds for Vegetable Gardening

For herb containers, make a point to use a high-quality soil mix.  Soil quality cannot be understated, and plants respond proportionately to the quality of the soil.  If the soil is poor, herb growth and performance will be poor.  Our favourite potting mix, if you are growing in a container, is a composted bark mix.

Related: For more on soil, see our short video called Why Soil Matters, or our blog called Container Planting:  About Soil

Herbs need good soil drainage.  Herbs prefer evenly moist soil; they don’t like to have their feet (roots) in soggy soil or standing water.  Check that your area of choice has adequate drainage.

If you are planning to plant herbs in a container, be sure to check that it has drainage holes.  Forgetting to check for drainage holes is the most common mistake people make when container planting, other than using poor quality soil.

Herbs will grow well in anything that will hold soil.  So things like baskets, old pots, new pots, recycled pots, clay pots, plastic pots, and wooden boxes are all fair game.  Always wash out old or used pots with warm soapy water to minimize any disease transmission.

Great Herb Combinations

When planning a herb container or ground planting, size matters.  Be sure to check the projected dimensions of each herb plant when they are mature so you can allow the adequate amount of space as they expand in height and width.

There really is no rule for putting herbs together other than to grow Basil alone.  Basil doesn’t play well with others and is best grown by itself.  There’s a couple of reasons for this – basil does get quite big and needs a lot of space, and it is rather particular about its growing conditions.  Basil doesn’t like to be cold or wet.

A fun idea is to plant themed herb pots – here are some ideas:

  • Pizza Pot: Plant oregano, parsley, and thyme together.  Basil is a big part of pizza but grow this one all alone.
  • Scarborough Fair Pot: Pair parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme in a pot.
  • Tea Pot: Mint, lavender, lemon grass, lemon thyme, rosemary all make great teas or in combination.
  • Bath Themed Pot: Lavender has anti-inflammatory properties, artemisia, mint, and rosemary – help with aching muscles, sage is energizing, and yarrow (achillea) helps to heal the skin.
  • Related: Try an Edible Flower Pot: nasturtiums, begonias, violas, pansies.  See our blog called Culinary Trends in the Garden & Edible Flowers

How to Care for Herb Containers

We like to use word C-A-R-E as an acronym when we discuss caring for planted containers.

  • C stands for Check Regularly
  • A is for ensuring Adequate Hydration
  • R represents Replenish Nutrients
  • E is for Encouraging Growth

Read on for more details.

1. Check Herb Containers Daily

This first step is about keeping a watchful eye on your herb container.

Do a general top to bottom check of your herb container daily.  This step shouldn’t take a long time – just do a quick inspection.  Make it a point to note leaf colour and turgor and the health of the flowers.  See if there is any unusual curling, wilting, spots, any yellowing, and any old or deformed flowers.

If you notice anything suspicious like yellowed or curled leaves, take a deeper look.  Turn the leaves over and check underneath for bugs. Also take a look at the top of the soil for unwanted creatures.

2. Ensure That Herb Containers Have Adequate Moisture

This step is all about watering.

Watering is a critical step to growing great herbs.  A good way to check herb planters for adequate hydration is to pick them up to see how heavy they are.  As you get more familiar with how heavy a fully watered container feels, you will be able to tell when it is time to water.  A light container needs water.

If your container is too large or heavy to lift it, stick your index finger into the soil to the depth of your second knuckle.  If it is dry at your finger tip, give your container a drink of water.

Water your herb container at the soil level, meaning don’t spray water all over the herb foliage when you water.  Place the tip of the hose or watering can into the planter so you avoid getting the leaves wet.  Keeping flowers and leaves dry prevents the development and spread of fungus and other plant infections.

During hot days, it may need to be watered daily, but bear in mind that herbs do not like to be overly wet.  As mentioned earlier, be sure to use a soil that drains well.

3. Replenish the Nutrients of Herb Containers (How to Fertilize Herb Planters)

This step is about how to fertilize your herb planter.

Keeping herb planters fertilized regularly is important to keep herbs growing and thriving.  With containers, some nutrients are lost when water drips out of the pot.

We recommend fertilizing herbs weekly.  Pick a day of the week that works for you and set an alarm to keep fertilizing regularly.

What fertilizer is good for herbs?

  • Our favourite fertilizer is called ‘Nature’s Source’. It is a natural fertilizer that is easy to use and gentle on plants.
  • Other fertilizers that have an even distribution like 20-20-20 or 10-10-10 work best for herbs.
  • More info: Interested in learning more about fertilizer?  Check out our blog called Unwinding Fertilizer Numbers.

4. How to Encourage Herb Growth in Containers

This is a maintenance step.

Encouraging herb growth is about keeping your plants trimmed back to keep them from getting gangly and out of control.  Taking off old flowers, removing dead leaves, and pinching back straggly, leggy plants all make herbs grow better by keeping them bushy and stout.

This really shouldn’t be a problem with herbs, especially if you are using your herbs in cooking or for other purposes.  Herbs can be dried and frozen after they are cut, so there’s never waste when they’re cut back.

The ultimate purpose of flowers is to produce seeds.  Deadheading old and spent herb flowers keeps them wanting to grow more.  To keep herbs flourishing through the summer, take off the flowers so they continue to grow unless you want flowers, like with lavender.

Final Thoughts For Beginners Excited To Grow Herbs

Herbs are a delightful thing to grow and they produce a high benefit to your gardening space.

We hope that this blog will get you started on growing a wonderful crop of herbs, be it on your porch, patio, front step, flower garden or vegetable garden.

If you encounter issues with your herbs, always feel free to send us an email or give us a quick call on the phone.

It’s important to us that this is a fun and successful endeavour for you!

– by Sharon Wallish Murphy


About The Author

Sharon Wallish Murphy
Sharon grew up in the Wallish Greenhouse at the heels of her father, Charlie, who mentored her. Sharon’s passion is to share the love for growing and to empower others to find joy in their gardening journey, just like her dad.

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