How to make a herb garden: tips & instructions for growing herbs at home
You can have your own fresh herbs easily all year round. Here we discuss what to keep in mind when growing herbs in an herb garden.
Many herbs can be cultivated well not just in pots but also in garden beds. To ensure that the herbs thrive, there are a few things to bear in mind when planning an herb garden. Moreover, some herb species hibernate in winter, which must be taken into account too. In the following, we explain what needs to be considered when selecting, arranging, growing and taking care of herbs in a garden bed. Hopefully, with the following tips you will be able to easily grow your own herbs.
First of all, choose which herbs to grow. Each herb has different requirements regarding soil and light conditions, all of which should be considered when planning the layout of an herb garden.
Location and position for the perfect herb bed
Mediterranean herbs, such as rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) or thyme (Thymus vulgaris), usually prefer a sunny and rather dry location. On the other hand, many temperate climate herbs, including mint (Mentha) and chives (Allium schoenoprasum), prefer a shady or semi-shady place. These types of herbs can therefore be planted under a tree or in places that are not as suitable for the warmth-loving Mediterranean herbs. Even though many native herbs are adapted well to the cooler weather conditions in temperate climates, the herb bed should be sheltered from the wind. For example, a spot close to a house wall is very suitable. In areas with a lot of snowfall, though, the herb bed should be out of reach of roof avalanches to avoid damage to the plants caused by falling snow.
Preparing the soil for an herb bed
Once the right location is chosen, is it time to prepare the ground, in which the herbs will grow. It is recommended to dig up the bed in late autumn and remove any weeds from it. The soil can then rest during the winter months. During this time, frost will diminish the larger chunks of earth into small crumbs. In this way, the gardener is saved from one extra step of work. Most herbs prefer permeable and light soils. Because of that, loamy and highly compacted soils should be enriched with sand. On the other hand, if the soil is excessively sandy and too permeable, it can be improved with high-quality gardening soil. Alternatively, it is possible to buy special herb soils in gardening centres, which are specifically tailored to the needs of herbs, and are used for both pots and garden beds. The incorporation of organic materials, such as compost, can also improve the soil structure and promote healthy soil life.
Which herbs to grow?
Choosing herbs for an herb garden depends mainly on their use. There is of course a large variety of herbs that can be used for cooking and teas. Some plants are also decorative and have a delightful scent. To make the choice even harder, there is also an enormous variety of exciting exotic herbs. All in all, it is up to personal preference and needs of the gardener.
Which herbs are suitable for an herb bed?
There is a variety of herbs that can be grown in an herb garden. There are two groups of herbs that can be distinguished: annual and perennial herbs.
First, let’s discuss perennial herbs. Most of herbs grown in temperate climates are hardy perennials and can endure cold winters outside. Next spring they sprout again. Well-known representatives of perennial herbs are thyme, oregano (Origanum vulgare), sage (Salvia officinalis), chives, fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and savory (Satureja hortensis).
Second, annual herbs only flower for one summer and die after seed formation. Therefore, they have to be reseeded from year to year. However, some species are only short-lived due to their lack of winter hardiness in temperate climates. Annual herbs include dill (Anethum graveolens), chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), borage (Borago officinalis) and nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus). Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) are biennial, i.e. they flower only in the second year and then they wither and die.
Frost sensitivity can be another selection criterion. Some Mediterranean herbs are not hardy enough to withstand winters in the colder areas of the world. Basil, lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora), rosemary and laurel (Laurus nobilis) should be overwintered indoors and are therefore only partially suitable for an herb bed outside.
Companion planting: which herbs can be planted together?
To make work a bit easier, it can make sense to plant annual and perennial herbs separately. However, it is more important to pay attention to whether the potential plant neighbours will inhibit each other’s growth or increase susceptibility to diseases. The most tolerable species among annual herbs is probably basil. Among the perennial herbs, for example, savory, oregano and sage can be grown as companion plants.
Furthermore, it is essential to keep in mind the location requirements of the herbs when deciding which herbs to grow together. Due to their Mediterranean origin, savory, rosemary, basil, lavender (Lavendula angustifolia), oregano, sage or thyme, prefer sunny locations and light soils without stagnant moisture. Herbs such as watercress (Nasturtium officinale), dill, parsley, chives, lovage (Levisticum officinale), peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and chamomile do not depend on sunshine as much. Unlike the Mediterranean herbs, they also prefer humus-rich, nutrient-rich and slightly moist soils.
What to consider when buying herbs?
Many garden centres offer a large selection of different herbs, especially in spring. If you have no experience in growing herbs, you can also get very good advice there. If you want a quick harvest, you should buy young plants. Growing herbs from seeds is also possible but takes a little more time and work.
Be extra careful to buy only healthy and strong plants with as many branches as possible. In addition, the roots should be healthy and well developed. The leaves should have a fresh green colour and be free of fungal and pest infestation.
Growing herbs in a bed: instructions
After the subsoil has been loosened up with suitable substrate, you can start planting in the herb bed from mid-May. The young herbs should be well rooted already, so they should be planted as soon as possible after purchase. To do this, dig a hole with a hand shovel at a sufficient depth. The base of the plant should be at ground level after watering. Free the plant from the pot and, if necessary, loosen the root ball slightly with your fingers. The plant can then be placed in the hole and filled up with loose soil. Press the soil carefully and water the plant well.
Summary: how to plant herbs
- Dig out the planting hole
- Remove the plant from the pot and loosen the root ball
- Insert the plant and fill the hole with some soil
- Press the soil lightly around the plant
- Water thoroughly
Herb garden bed ideas: arrangement suggestions
There are many different approaches to layout of herb garden beds. Herb beds with a clear and geometric arrangement can be easier to maintain. Herbs can be placed in groups and the bed can be bordered with low growing hedges, such as lavender, or with wooden bed borders. If you arrange the herbs clearly and perhaps even insert signs with the names of the species, it can make it easier to find and take care of the plants. Good accessibility through cleverly designed paths is another practical solution that makes it less difficult to take care of the plants and harvest them.
When arranging the plants, however, please note that not every herb grows well in every location. Tall- growing plants (fennel, mugwort or wormwood) should be placed in the middle or in the background. Drought-loving herbs (thyme, rosemary or savory) can be planted along the edges of the bed. Plants that grow fast (mint or lemon balm) should be planted in separate areas or provided with a root barrier. Another option is to arrange your garden bed according to a common theme. For example, you can have a fragrant garden bed with aromatic herbs, a culinary kitchen herb bed or a colourful tea herb garden.
Maintaining an herb garden bed
Most herbs are relatively easy to care for. Just like in vegetable garden beds, herb gardens should be regularly weeded. If the heat is persistent, regular irrigation is necessary. A mulch layer of lawn cuttings can reduce evaporation of moisture. In addition, the soil should be loosened from time to time. For heat-loving plants, such as lavender, thyme or savory, a layer of gravel or chippings (about 2 cm tall) can help retain the warmth in the bed.
To ensure that your herbs are adequately supplied with nutrients, you can work some compost into the soil in spring. Regular cutting of the herbs will also ensure that they grow densely and produce young, tender leaves. Fortunately, herbs are rarely affected by diseases and attract relatively few insect pests. Infested shoots are best removed with gardening shears. Be careful not to use chemical pesticides if you intend to use the plant for consumption! Another reason to avoid using pesticides is environment protection. Beneficial animals, that are actually helpful in the garden, can be negatively impacted by harsh pesticides. Therefore, when fertilising, use organic slow-release fertilisers.
Herb garden beds in winter
Perennial herbs require special measures to ensure that they survive the winter without damage and can sprout again in spring. While overwintering of winter hardy herbs is usually unproblematic, Mediterranean herbs have somewhat higher requirements.
Before the first snowfall you should loosen the soil well and, if necessary, some compost can be added. In addition, herbs should be cut back and covered with green pine needles. Herbs that are sensitive to cold, such as lemon verbena, can be covered with straw or garden fleece. Herbs that grow in pots should be brought indoors. They can be stored in a bright place at about 5°C on a windowsill or similar. However, if you place your herbs in darker, cooler rooms for the winter, the plants will shed their leaves, which reduces the risk of rotting. Don’t forget to water the potted plants a little from time to time to prevent the herbs from drying out.
Summary: how to create an herb garden
- First, select the herbs and plan the layout of the bed according to the plants’ location requirements
- Depending on the time available, buy young plants or seeds
- Dig up the bed in autumn and improve it with sand and fresh gardening soil
- Care for the bed after planting with regular weeding, mulching and watering
- Cut back herbs before winter and cover them with some pine needles; non-hardy species should overwinter indoors
Alternatives to the herb garden bed
Besides the classic herb bed in the garden, there are also various other possibilities for growing herbs. We will introduce some of them to you in more detail below.
Raised herb bed, herb spiral or herb snail
Those who prefer raised beds can also grow a wide variety of herbs in them. The optimal location of the raised bed depends on the requirements of the herbs that are planted in it. Mediterranean herbs need a sunny spot, whereas other herbs also feel quite comfortable in partial shade. Since most species do not have very deep roots, a height of about 50 cm is usually sufficient for a raised herb bed. Here we explain how to plant an herb raised bed correctly.
An herb spiral, or and herb snail, is a modern and space-saving way to grow herbs. To cultivate herbs in this way, a larger mound of soil should be formed in the shape of a spiral or a snail shell. The hill-like form offers different habitats for the plants. At the very bottom, moisture-loving herbs such as mint, parsley or chives can be grown. At the top of the spiral, thyme or lemon thyme (Thymus pulegioides) grow best. On the shady northern side, you can plant mint, watercress and chives and, on the sunny southern side, Mediterranean herbs like sage, rosemary and lavender can thrive very well.
Herb cultivation in a pot for balcony, terrace and windowsill
Those who do not like to do without fresh, aromatic herbs in the kitchen in winter can also plant herbs in pots. Chives and parsley, for example, are ideal for cultivation on windowsills. A layer of gravel or clay fragments under the substrate ensures that the water in the pot can drain off easily, which reduces the risk of stagnant moisture.
If you have enough space, you can also cultivate herbs in flower containers or tubs. It should be determined beforehand whether the orientation of the balcony or terrace meets the location requirements of the plants. Just as important for the success of the cultivation is the use of a suitable substrate and the size of the planters. Dill and lovage, for example, have very deep roots and need a correspondingly tall pot. Other deep-rooting plants or plants with a pronounced root system, such as tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) or wormwood, are not suitable for cultivation on the balcony or terrace.