How to plant herbs: expert tips for planting herbs

How to plant herbs: expert tips for planting herbs

Herbs are essential for every home cooked meal. Find out here how to successfully plant herbs on the windowsill, on the balcony and in the garden bed.

Cultivation of herbs has become a real trend. This is no surprise at all, because herbs have a lot to offer. They add spice to life and should not be missing in any garden. Herbs can be easily grown in a pot or on a windowsill, even if you don’t have that much space available. In the following, you can find out which herbs should be grown in the bed and which are suited for pots. In addition, we provide all the information on how to plant herbs.

Planting herbs: step-by-step instructions

Most herbs can be cultivated both in the pot as well as in the garden bed. However, your approach to herb care should be a little different depending on where the plant grows. For example, potted herbs need to be watered more often because their root balls tend to be a lot smaller. Herbs planted out in the garden bed, on the other hand, need to be grown in the right location and overwintered well. Moreover, garden beds need to be weeded regularly, which takes up a significant amount of time. If your goal is to achieve a harvest as quickly as possible, it is better to buy young plants instead of growing the plants from seeds. Young plants that have been recently purchased should be replanted as soon as possible.

How to plant herbs: 

  1. Loosen the ground with a suitable substrate
  2. Dig a hole that is deep enough for planting (the base should be at ground level after watering)
  3. Remove the plant from the pot and place it in the hole
  4. Fill with fine soil
  5. Water the plant immediately

Selecting the herbs

Herbs can be roughly divided into annual and perennial plants. However, each herb has specific requirements regarding its location. Here is an overview of what needs to be considered when planting the individual herbs and which species go together particularly well.

Annual herbs

Botanically speaking, plants are considered annual if they reproduce only once in a growing season and die at the end of it. However, in some regions, plants are also considered annual for their lack of winter hardiness, because they were bred specifically for high yields (which in turn decreased their robustness). Dill (Anethum graveolens), chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), coriander (Coriandrum sativum), borage (Borago officinalis) and nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) are all considered annual herbs.

A basic rule to follow when planting herbs is that annual and perennial herbs should not be planted together. This actually makes perfect sense from a gardening perspective, as many short-lived species prefer an annual change of location. However, it is more important to reflect on whether a side by side cultivation is possible and also reasonable. Possible risks of increased susceptibility of the plant to diseases or growth-inhibiting intolerances need to be taken into consideration. The most amicable of the annual herbs is probably basil (Ocimum basilicum), which, due to its essential oils, can even protect its plant neighbours from pests and fungal diseases.

how to plant herbs
Basil is one of the best herbs to grow as a companion plant because it can help deter pests [ Frey]

Perennial herbs

Well-known examples of perennial herbs are thyme (Thymus vulgaris), oregano (Origanum vulgare), sage (Salvia officinalis), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), savoury (Satureja hortensis), tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). The latter is tolerated well by other herbs, though it should not be planted right next to basil, as these two herbs do not enjoy each other’s company at all. Savoury, oregano and sage, for example, are great perennial herbs that can be planted side by side.

Mediterranean herbs

Sunny locations are ideal for the cultivation of Mediterranean herbs. These include savoury, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), basil, lavender (Lavendula angustifolia), oregano, sage or thyme.

As many of these species originally come from the Mediterranean region, they prefer poorer soils that are not waterlogged. When choosing plants for the garden bed, do bear in mind that many Mediterranean herbs are not hardy.

Herbs that are not hardy:

  • Basil
  • Lemon verbena
  • Rosemary
  • Laurel

Herbs for semi-shady locations

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale), dill, parsley (Petroselinum crispum), fennel, tarragon, chives, lovage (Levisticum officinale), peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and chamomile do not depend on sunshine in order to grow. The east or west side of a house is ideal for the cultivation of these herbs. Furthermore, these plants usually prefer soils that are slightly moist and also rich in humus and nutrients.

Herbs for the windowsill

It makes sense to plant the most common kitchen herbs within easy reach. Because frankly, hardly anybody truly enjoys walking through half of the entire garden in rainy, cold weather just to get a handful of herbs. In cities, very few people have a whole garden or balcony to themselves anyway. Fortunately, most herbs can thrive wonderfully when grown in pots on windowsills. Especially in winter, having fresh and aromatic herbs right in the kitchen feels like a treat. Chives and parsley, for instance, can easily be potted in autumn and cultivated on the kitchen window. With their fresh green appearance and wonderful aroma, they can also help dispel gloomy moods during those dark months of the year. Mediterranean and non-hardy herbs should be planted into pots before the first frost anyway, so that they can be moved to their winter quarters.

Tips for herb cultivation on the windowsill:

  • Repot from time to time
  • Neither water the plant too much nor too little
  • Do not forget to fertilise
  • Harvest correctly in order to maintain a favourable growth habit

Tip: A layer of gravel or clay fragments under the substrate ensures that the water can drain off easily. This helps avoid waterlogging.

Herbs for the balcony

Larger pots can also be placed on the balcony. Depending on where the balcony is facing, the location requirements of the individual herbs need to be taken into consideration. A balcony facing south offers the best levels of sunlight. However, soil in pots usually dries out faster and, for this reason, plants in pots should be watered more frequently. The exact opposite is the case on north-facing balconies. Due to less sunlight, the water in pots evaporates much more slowly. From this we can conclude that a balcony on the east or west side is ideal for growing herbs that prefer semi-shaded locations.

In addition to the optimal location and a suitable substrate, the size of the planters also plays a crucial role in the cultivation process. Some herbs, such as dill and lovage, have roots that go quite deep and, therefore, they need a pot that is tall enough for them. However, deep-rooted plants or plants with a particularly profound root system, such as tarragon or wormwood, are not suitable to be grown on the balcony.

planting herbs
You do not have to have a garden to cultivate your own herbs – a balcony or even a windowsill will suffice [ Peter Rudolf]

Herbs for the garden

Of course, herbs can be cultivated in the garden too. Since usually only limited space is available, the selection of herbs should be based on the need and intended use of the gardener. The best way to plant herbs is in a way that you can easily reach them. 

Herbs for the herb bed

Specifically in monastery gardens, herbs gardens tend to have a very structured layout. Herbs grown there tend to be divided in groups and planted in symmetrically arranged beds. These beds are usually bordered by low hedges, fences or paths. Cleverly arranged paths between the beds allow easy access to plants and can be very helpful, especially in bad weather. On top of that, geometrically designed beds are quite easy to maintain, and a clear structure makes finding the individual herbs a lot easier.

The following must be considered when planting herbs:

  • The location requirements of individual herbs differ
  • Do not combine annual plants with perennial plants
  • Place taller-growing plants in the middle or in the back
  • Plant drought-tolerant herbs on the edge
  • Place vigorous plants in delimited areas

Herbs work great in mixed cultivation. They do very well with flowers, vegetables and fruit bushes. Green, colourful or beautifully flowering herbs, such as marigold, borage or purple marjoram, also blend in wonderfully with ornamental gardens. Some herbs even support the growth of other plants due to their active ingredients, which can certainly be made use of in the vegetable patch. Basil, when planted between tomatoes, cucumbers or cabbage, wards off mildew and whiteflies, for example. Herbs such as chives and parsley, which are easy to preserve, can also be grown in larger quantities as needed. With aromatic plants such as tarragon and wormwood, planting just a few plants is usually sufficient to deter pests.

Tip: Some herbs prefer to grow alone or should only be placed at a specific distance from other plants. Such plants are, for instance, lovage, lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) and wormwood (Artemisia absinthium).

Herbs for the raised bed herb garden

Just like the usual garden bed, a raised garden bed can also be filled with all kinds of herbs. Most herbs do not have very deep roots. Therefore, a height of about 50 centimetres is usually sufficient for a raised herb garden. When planting Mediterranean herbs in the raised bed, it is important to make sure, already when filling the bed, that the lower layers allow the water to drain. The ideal location of the raised bed depends on the herbs that are planted in it. Some species need a sunny spot, while others are quite comfortable in partial shade.

Tip: Here are some detailed instructions for planting a raised bed herb garden.

Herbs for the herb spiral/herbal snail

The herb spiral, also known as herbal snail, is a modern and effective version of the usual herb garden. A mound of soil is arranged in the shape of a spiral (or a snail shell) and surrounded by a wall made of small stones, for example. The size of the spiral can vary depending on the amount of space available. The hill-like shape creates different habitats for the plants. Moisture-loving herbs such as mint, parsley or chives are planted at the foot of the spiral. Thyme and Thymus pulegioides, on the other hand, feel very comfortable at the top, since they prefer a sunny and dry location. Mint, cress, sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and chives can be placed on the shady north side. And Mediterranean herbs like sage, rosemary and lavender thrive very well on the sunny south side.

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