herb garden with Thai basil in the foreground with parsley and thyme in the background
Beginner Gardening

A Basic Guide for How to Start an Herb Garden

Learn what an herb garden is, how to start an herb garden, why you should start one, how to incorporate the herbs from your garden every day, what kinds of herbs to grow, when to start planting them, and a bonus FAQ.

herb garden with Thai basil in the foreground with parsley and thyme in the background
A close up of Thai basil

What is an Herb Garden?

Herbs have been grown for millennia. There are records dating to Egyptian times of herb gardens being grown. They have been used for their medicinal properties, in cooking, and even decorating.This year we have a new addition to our ever growing garden. We’re going to have a whole area dedicated to herbs. What is an herb garden?

An herb garden is an area where only herbs are grown.

I plan to have a bigger stash of dried herbs. Actually, I have bought herbs from the store for quite some time.You don’t need a whole section of your garden or a dedicated garden to have herbs. Herbs grow easily in all kinds of spaces like on a windowsill, in a pot, or in a window box. The options are endless!

This post is all about how to start an herb garden.

Why grow your own herbs 

It’s always easier to grab herbs you need from the store. There are a few sacrifices made buying from a store. By growing your own herbs, you control the quality. You have a say in whether or not chemicals are sprayed on your herbs, where they are grown, and you can get them in their freshest state. There’s nothing better than getting herbs from your own garden!

When you buy from a store you may not know where they were grown. The exception is buying from a local farmer. You probably won’t know what conditions they were grown in. Quality is sacrificed to produce large quantities and to survive long travels to the store. If you don’t have the space to have a garden, consider being active with a community garden. You can find a community garden in your area by visiting: American Community Gardening Association . It gives you the option to buy local from farmers in your area that produce good food. 

Great money savers

As you already know, I love growing my own food. The quality is just unbeatable and it’s freshest from the garden. Buying them at the store is expensive! Where I live, herbs can be anywhere from $2 to $4 for a couple of sprigs. A packet of seeds can cost anywhere from $1 to $4, depending on the type of herb. That may seem expensive, but think about the amount of seeds in the packets. How many plants you can grow with those seeds? Depending on the herb and your gardening zone, they can grow back the next growing season. You can even grow enough to dry and save it for later in the year.

Attract Pollinators

Not only are they a great way to save money, they attract pollinators. We share parsley with black swallowtail butterflies. Black swallowtail butterflies love parsley and lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch the caterpillars eat the plant. Once the caterpillars become butterflies the parsley grows back!

Natural Pest Deterrent

In our last post, we discuss marigold flowers as a natural deterrent of pests. Herbs have pest deterring properties that can help you in the garden. Here are a few examples of herbs and what they deter: 

HerbDeters
MintMosquitoes, flea beetles, cabbage moths, ants
BasilMosquitoes and flies
LavenderMosquitoes, flies, moths, fleas
ChivesAphids, certain types of beetles and flies
RosemaryFlies and mosquitoes
CilantroAphids, spider mites, Colorado potato beetle
DillAphids, spider mites, squash bugs
GarlicAphids, spider mites, Japanese beetles, fleas
Wormwoodcabbage worms, slugs, carrot rust flies, black flea beetles, and white cabbage butterflies

How to use herbs from your garden

Herbs can be used for all sorts of purposes and are very versatile. There isn’t just one way to use them. Here are some ways you can use herbs from your garden:

  • Freeze them by putting them in an ice tray with some olive oil
  • Dry them – we use a Cuisinart dehydrator that works perfectly for us for now. It has 5 different trays that we can use to dry our herbs.
  • Chop them up and use them in sauces and in all sorts of dishes. Try out my sweet potato carrot lentil soup, which I used homegrown herbs to flavor. The dish calls for dried thyme and basil.
  • Put them in your beverages, like mint in your water.
  • Make a scrub
  • Create your own custom herb-infused cooking oils
  • Make an herb flavored butter
  • Puree them and use them right away or freeze them
  • Make bouquets to make cute centerpieces or hang them to decorate
  • Creating you own DIY cologne or perfume
  • Using epsom salts and herbs for a bath soak
  • Mix up an herbal vinegar
  • Have a nice, relaxing herbal steam facial
  • Brew your own herbal tea
  • Medicinal needs

[RELATED POST: Herbal Remedies: 6 Easy Herbal Recipes to Make at Home ]

How to start an herb garden

Many of the tips discussed in my posts ‘Garden Tips for Beginners: How to Start a Garden’ and How to Plan Your Vegetable Garden: The Top 5 Important Things to Know apply to starting an herb garden. Hop over to those blog posts for more information if you haven’t read them yet.

Starting an herb garden is simple. Follow these step-by-step directions to get you started.

  1. Choose a location that has an ample amount of sun, preferably full sun. The area should get at least 8 hours of sun.
    1. As a caveat, there are herbs that can grow in shade, but we’ll focus on full sun herbs for now.
    2. Decide whether you’ll start your herbs in a designated area, in raised beds with companion planting, intermingled in an in-ground garden, in containers, or even in hanging planters.
  2. The location should have good soil that drains well. Before planting, soil can be amended with organic materials. Great choices for amending soil are mulch, compost, manure, or worm castings.
  3. Decide whether you’ll plant seedlings or start from seeds. Growing herbs from seeds is very easy and not as complicated as you might think. Last year I started my herbs from seeds by just plopping them in a container with soil.
  4. Pick what herbs you want to grow. Think about what herbs you commonly use. What herbs do you usually use when you’re cooking?
  5. Learn the plant families of  each of the herbs. It will help to learn how they grow, what their needs are, who their companions are, and more.

Italian basil with tomato plant in the background
Italian basil with tomato plant

What Herbs to Plant

Start to brainstorm about all the herbs you commonly use. What herbs do you use in your cooking? You may not realize all the herbs you frequently use that you can easily yank from the garden. It may help to consider why you are growing your herb garden. Are you growing them for culinary reasons or medicinal reasons? To get an idea of what to plant, I’ve included a list of all the herbs I’ll be planting in my garden. To help you brainstorm, listed below are all herbs that I frequently use. I also included herbs that I’ll be planting in the future and marked them as ‘new’.

My Herb Garden

  • Parsley – we grow parsley every year and it helps with the butterfly population.
  • Oregano (new herb)
  • Rosemary – we’ve had our plant for almost 4 years. It has survived freezing temperatures and snow storms while out in our garden.
  • English Thyme
  • Thai Basil
  • Italian Basil
  • Sage (new)
  • Dill (new)
  • Cilantro/coriander (new)
  • Chives
  • Garlic

Other herbs you may be interested in:

  • Tarragon
  • Chamomile
  • Fennel
  • Mint
  • Lemon balm
  • Lavender

What Else to Consider When Planning and Planting an Herb Garden

When you are planning and planting an herb garden, you may want to consider what types of plants they are. Herbs can be annuals, perennials, biennials, herbaceous perennials, or deciduous perennials. These terms explain whether or not a plant comes back and how it comes back. Below is the breakdown of what that all means!

Type of HerbWhat It MeansExample
AnnualLives for only 1 (one) year. The plant completes its life cycle from seed to death within a year.Basil, German Chamomile
PerennialCan live for 2 or more years, and spreads as it grows. Check winter hardiness as well.Oregano, Chives, Tarragon, Rosemary, Thyme
BiennialPlants that have a life cycle of 2 years.Parsley
Herbaceous PerennialThe plant dies back during the winter.Mint, spearmint
Deciduous PerennialA plant that sheds its leaves in the fall/Autumn but does not die underground.

When to Plant an Herb Garden

Just like vegetables, it’s important to know the temperatures that herbs can tolerate before planting them. If you plan to start from seeds, you can get a head start on your herb garden by starting them indoors. Seedlings started indoors have to be hardened off before transplanting into the garden. If you plan on purchasing seedlings and direct sowing, wait until the threat of frost has passed and the ground is workable. Wait for the right weather and ground conditions if you’re transplanting your seedlings from indoors.

Rosemary plant in garden
rosemary plant

FAQ About Starting and Planting an Herb Garden

Companion Planting

  • What herbs can be planted together?

 Plants that grow well together are known as companion plants. Companion planting means you can plant one or two plants together and they benefit each other. There are lots of benefits to companion planting such as: deterring pests, attracting beneficial insects, helping with shade, providing a natural support structure, helping its neighbor plant’s health, improving soil fertility, and weed suppression. I’ve created a chart in hopes of helping to show you which herbs are best suited to be planted together. This will ensure that your herbs are happy and will help with production. These are just examples (herbs previously listed above) and not a full list of their companion plants. 

HerbCompanion/Friend
ParsleyBasil, cilantro, tarragon
OreganoRosemary, sage, thyme, lavender, basil, chives
RosemaryLavender, sage, oregano, thyme
ThymeSage, lavender, rosemary, oregano
BasilParsley, cilantro, tarragon, fennel, lavender
SageThyme, rosemary lavender, oregano
DillChives, fennel, lavender
Cilantro/CorianderParsley, basil, tarragon
ChivesDill, parsley, tarrago
TerragonCilantro, parsley, basil
ChamomileBasil, mint
FennelChives, lavender, basil
MintOther plants from the mint family – spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm
Lemon BalmMint, spearmint
LavenderParsley, cilantro, tarragon, fennel

Plant Environment

  • Do herb gardens like sun or shade?

 Most herbs require full sun or partial shade. However, there are some herbs that can grow in the shade. Let’s use parsley as an example. Parsley is commonly associated with summer heat. Parsley is actually cold tolerant and can survive down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Mint is another example of an herb that can tolerate the shade.  Becoming familiar with a plant’s environmental tolerances will go a long way when planting your herb garden. 

Person holding a parsley bunch
Holding a bunch of parsley

  • Can you grow an herb garden indoors?

 Yes, an herb garden can be grown indoors if the plants are provided the right conditions. Light will be especially important if the herbs are grown indoors. Keep an eye on their growth progress as long, string-like stems (also known as ‘leggy’) are an indication that the plant is not receiving enough light. 

  • Can an herb garden survive the winter?

The answer will depend on what zone you’re planting in as well as which types of herbs you’re planting. For example as previously mentioned, parsley can survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. In my opinion, parsley actually tastes better when it has been exposed to cold temperatures. Rosemary is cold tolerant, but it cannot survive temperatures lower than 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. You may want to consider bringing it indoors or providing protection. Providing it with protection will not guarantee that it’ll survive. We’ve kept our rosemary in our garden for the past 3 winters. The past two winters have been a lot colder. Our rosemary came back after last winter, so we’ll see how well it is able to tolerate this winter. Basil is an example of an herb that does not tolerate cold temperatures at all. Basil does well with temperatures over 50 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Considerations for Planting

  • Do herbs have deep or shallow roots?

 How deep or shallow the roots are depends on the type of herb. If you are growing in a pot, the size of the pot needs to have the depths of the roots taken into consideration. For example, chives have very shallow roots, which can grow to 3 inches long. Parsley and basil both have deep roots of about 18 inches long. When herbs are grown in a pot, they may need to be transferred to a larger pot as they mature. 

Invasive Herbs

  • Which herbs take over the garden?

 There are quite a few herbs that can take over your garden. Becoming familiar with these herbs allows you to be prepared ones that are invasive and plan for them. Herbs like mint, spearmint, and thyme are very invasive herbs and self-propagate very easily. Herbs in the mint family are all invasive plants and will quickly spread. These types of herbs spread by the types of roots that they have, which are known as underground ‘runners’, or rhizomes. Rhizomes are a protective mechanism for the plant, which allows it to propagate quickly.

Rhizomes grow vertically, either above or below the ground. They are easy to distinguish from the ‘true root’ of the plant for this reason. Other examples of plants with rhizomes are potatoes, strawberries, ginger, dill, and oregano. To keep these herbs under control, consider putting them in a pot if you don’t want them to run amok.  At my parents’ house, I planted spearmint 10 years ago or so. It has come back every year and is relentless. We’ve managed to contain it to one area of the garden, but it spread through the flowers that are next to it. 

Buying Seeds

  • Where can you buy herb plants or seeds?

For herb plants, your best option is to buy from a local nursery/garden center. However, if that is not possible try to look for organic seedlings at a box store like Home Depot or Lowe’s.Since I now primarily grow from seed there are a couple of seed companies that I use:

 There are a lot of misconceptions about buying seeds. One of the misconceptions is about buying GMO seeds. In the United States, it’s illegal to sell GMO seeds to consumers. They can only be sold to commercial farms. 

Pests in the Garden

  • Will animals eat your herb garden?

Depending on the herb, animals may eat them. There are some herbs that deter deer, but they love basil and parsley. If you’re planning on putting herbs in your front yard, you may want to consider protecting them.

This post is all about how to start an herb garden.

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