How to Plant a Thriving Backyard Herb Garden for Beginners
Growing an Outdoor Herb Garden
Cultivating a personal, outdoor herb garden is the ultimate goal of most foodies and home chefs. Fresh herbs can simply take any dish up a notch- gorgeous, fragrant and delicious. Home grown herbs can be a great addition to recipes, not only for the flavor factor but also because herbs provide valuable health benefits (most are rich in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties.) Not to mention the fact that gardening has tons of potential health benefits, for adults and children alike. All of this AND creating that backyard herb garden is simply not hard to do, even for beginners.
Convinced you should plant an outdoor herb garden yet?
Let’s get started!
3 Factors to Consider before Planting Your Herb Garden for Beginners:
- Location – Deciding where you will plant your herb garden is obviously super important. Ideally, it will be near your kitchen, so you will have easy access to your home grown herbs as you’re cooking. You will need to think about the particular sun exposure of the location you’re planning for in relation to the needs of the specific herbs you want to grow. Another factor is how close you are to a water source- do you have a hose connected nearby that will make watering your garden a breeze? You will want to think about this too. One final option to consider as far as location goes would be to plant your herbs in pots, so they are portable and could be moved indoors as the seasons change.
- Soil – You can certainly plant your herb garden in the dirt from your own backyard; however, unless you are willing to conduct some level of soil testing or risk a “gardening herbs for beginners” fail, you may want to consider purchasing premixed potting soil from a home improvement store or garden center. You are simply setting yourself up for more success in your backyard herb garden with these premixed varieties. They’re super easy to find and relatively inexpensive.
- Herbs – Which specific herbs will you grow? Think about which flavors you prefer in your food- plant basil and oregano if you love Italian dishes. Or consider cilantro if homemade salsa is your favorite weeknight appetizer. Just think about your family’s specific preferences before wasting time planting herbs that no one likes.
If you choose to plant your herbs in containers, then you are free to grow anything you want- the sky’s the limit; but, if you want to plant your herbs in a shared bed, you’ll need to research companion planting (which herbs can be planted together and which to keep separate.) Herbs can be very valuable companion plants in your vegetable garden as well, as some are fabulous at repelling pests (such as chives.)
You will also need to make the decision of whether to start growing your herbs from seeds or plants. If you decide to begin with seeds, consider starting them inside so you can closely monitor them at first; however, if you choose to start with semi-grown plants, feel free to move forward with planting them outdoors.
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Caring For and Maintaining Your Herb Garden
Herbs truly are easy to grow, as long as you care for them with the right amount of water and sunlight; however, there are a few basic care and maintenance tasks that you need to be willing to commit to before planting your backyard herb garden. If you choose to plant your new backyard herb garden as a family, get your kids involved in the daily and weekly tasks involved in caring for your garden.
Herb Garden Care and Maintenance Tips:
- Watering- Plan to water your herb garden regularly. This goes without saying, but it is important to research the needs of the particular herbs you plant, as some require different amounts of water. Typically, herbs grow best in moist soil. Watch the weather, as the amount of rain your herb garden sees is a huge factor in how much extra watering you will need to do. If you choose to grow your herbs in containers, they will likely need to be watered more often (even daily) as they tend to lose moisture faster than when planted in a garden.
- Weeding- If you’ve never gardened before, you may be unfamiliar with the wedding process- all gardens require weeding. Weeds can ruin any garden if left unchecked by causing disease, hogging the water supply and/or crowding out your plants, especially in an herb garden. Pull any weeds you see to protect your growing herbs.
- Mulching- Using mulch as a buffer around the base of your herbs can provide a ton of protection and defense against weeds. When adding mulch, be sure to add only a few inches around the base of the plants, always avoiding the crown. If done properly, this mulch will conserve the moisture and regulate the temperature of the soil. Some suggested mulch materials include, old compost, shredded leaves, or even grass clippings.
- Fertilizing– Typically, herbs don’t need to be fertilized if the soil they are planted in is healthy (organic is always best). Using compost can be a good way to fertilize if you feel this is necessary.
- Pruning- Different herbs require different care and maintenance, but pruning is relatively universal. Do your research on the front end so you know what kind of pruning and trimming each of your herbs need. This pruning really will keep your plants flourishing.
- Harvesting, Storing and Relocating- To harvest your herbs, trim and enjoy! You can enjoy your herbs freshly picked off of the plant, or you can prep them for storage. Two convenient ways to store herbs are:
- Drying– hang them upside down to dry and then store in a cool dry place)
- Freezing– place fresh chopped herbs in ice cube trays and add water. Freeze for later use, like simply dropping a cube into winter soups.
Many herbs need to be moved inside during cooler months, hence the reason container herb gardening is so convenient and effective; however, there are a few herbs that are hearty enough to survive the cold outdoors during fall and winter, such as chives, mint, oregano, sage, and thyme. It is important to know and understand the needs of your herbs as you plant your herb garden for beginners.
Necessary Supplies for Starting Your Own Herb Garden
Once you make the decision to plant your own backyard herb garden, you will need to procure all of the necessary supplies. Likely, you have lots of supplies already at home that you can re-purpose for your herb garden; however, you will almost definitely need to run to your local hardware or home and garden store to purchase the rest (or of course order it online from Amazon).
- Location – You need to make a decision on where and how you will be growing your herb garden. Again, a great recommendation is to grow them outdoors in containers so that they can be moved around when the weather gets colder. One helpful product is this portable mini outdoor greenhouse– it is from Amazon as well, with great reviews, eligible for Amazon Prime and free return shipping.
- Seeds – Seeds can be purchased from many places- stores like Walmart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, even grocery stores, as well as local garden centers will all have seeds available to purchase if you choose to grow your herb garden from seed. You can order them online as well, like this Herb Garden Seed Starter Kit or this 10 Organic Culinary Herbs Seed Packets Kit (both from Amazon, both eligible for Amazon Prime as well as free return shipping).
- Containers – You may already have some great potential pots at home that can be repurposed for your herb garden. If not, you can certainly head to the local home and garden store to purchase some. The most important factor to consider when choosing containers for your herbs is proper drainage. Be careful not to over water, regardless of which pots you choose. Here are a couple of recommendations from Amazon:
- Potting Soil – You can grab this from any home and garden store, or even online. You can do further research as far as which soil mix is best for the particular herbs you’re planting, but generally speaking, most premixed potting soil will work well for your new herb garden. Here are a few recommendations from Amazon:
- Fertilizer – This is not a requirement for herbs. If you feel the need to fertilize, just be sure to research which fertilizer is best for the specific types of herbs you have planted. Using an organic fertilizer is definitely recommended.
- Jobe’s Organics Herb Fertilizer Spikes (these fertilizer spikes are specifically designed for herbs)
- Water – Of course your new herb garden will need lots of water. Most likely, the water from your garden hose will be just fine; however, if you live in an area where water has a high level of limestone or is simply highly treated, you’ll want to consider a filter for your garden hose, like this:
- Light – Some herbs need little sunlight to grow, while others, such as basil, need full sun. Be sure to research what each herb you’ve planted needs in terms of light. Remember that if you’ve planted your herb garden in containers, they can be easily moved in order to give each plant the level of sunlight it needs. While this may seem strange, your new herbs need darkness as well for proper growth to complete a full day cycle. This shouldn’t be an issue outdoors, but be mindful that you are not directing floodlights at your garden at night.
Common Herb Growing Mistakes
You are now well-equipped with the knowledge you will need to start your own herb garden; however, before you go, I’d like to leave you with a few common herb growing mistakes to avoid to save you precious time and trouble.
- No Knowledge of Companion Planting – If you choose to plant your herbs in an outdoor garden together (as opposed to separate containers, be sure to research herb companion planting as some grow well together, while others don’t. Some herbs, like mint, are aggressive and can quickly take over the whole garden.
- Too Much Variety – It is always best to start small when planting a backyard herb garden for beginners. There are so many options, but if you will commit to starting small, you can take your time in learning each herb and its needs as you go, as well as simply avoiding the overwhelm of too many plants to manage.
- Using Bad Soil – If you use a potting mix like the ones listed above, you should not have any issues. Usually the soil in your backyard is lacking in some or all of the nutrients your herbs will need to grow. It is worth it to invest in one of these pre-made potting mixes.
- Too Little Watering – Herbs thrive with daily watering, although some varieties need more than others. Just be sure to water the soil mostly, as opposed to the delicate leaves.
- Not Pruning Early Enough – Learning to prune your herbs is an incredibly important step for fast and even growth. Don’t be tempted to skip this step. It requires extra time and careful attention, but your herbs will thrive if you prune them regularly. Always start cutting from the top and cut down to about one set of growing leaves.
- Bad Environment – Herbs need to be grown in the right environment with the right conditions- factors like the right amount of sunlight and ideal temperature are vital for your herb garden to thrive. Usually, herbs prefer a temperature anywhere between 65-70 degrees F and typically require about six hours of sunlight.
Don’t let the fear of making mistakes stop you from starting an herb garden for beginners- I feel confident that you will really enjoy the process of gardening and you will definitely enjoy the fruits of your labor. Culinary herbs tend to serve as the “pièce de résistance” to any home cooked meal!
You’ll love watching this video from Food Wishes, showing you how to plant small herbs into containers, as well as tips on care and maintenance:
Best of luck to you as you start your very own backyard herb garden!