Whether you live in a house with a big yard or an apartment with a tiny balcony, you can have a flourishing herb garden of your own. Our beginner’s guide will take you step by step through the gardening process, and our 5 delicious recipes show you how easy it is to use fresh herbs in creative – and sometimes unexpected – ways.
For many of us across North America, the last frost of the season has passed, which means that right now is the perfect time to jump on planting an herb garden to make the most ofthe growing season.
Now, we know what you’re thinking: You only have a tiny balcony, you don’t know the first thing about gardening or maybe you even forgot to water your last few houseplants.
But you don’t need to have an expert green thumb to have an herb garden. While there are definitely a few tricks of the trade, a container herb garden is actually fairly easy to set up and maintain.
Having your favorite fresh herbs close at hand is a great way to add oomph to your cooking, save money and, of course, reap the amazing health benefits that herbs have to offer such as diseasefighting antioxidants.
Plus, having an herb garden is simply convenient – imagine being able to run out to your balcony or yard to snip off a sprig of mint to make a cup of tea or harvest a bunch of basil to make your own pesto.
If you’re feeling inspired by the possibilities, read on. Our beginner’s guide to container herb gardening will have you set up and harvesting herbs in no time and with minimal effort.
Of course, planting and harvesting herbs is just the first step using those herbs in your cookingto add big flavor is the second. Our five recipes will motivate you to use your homegrown herbs in new and innovative ways to infuse your cooking with the fresh flavors from your garden.
Annual or perennial?
An annual plant is one that lives for one growing season, whereas a perennial will live for at least two years, regrowing every spring. Some annual herbs can actually seed themselves, so they may reappear next spring – though it may not be in exactly the same spot as the original plant.
Herb Gardening 101
Why use containers?
There’s certainly nothing wrong with planting herbs directly in the ground, but we love using containers because you can move them around your yard or balcony. One of your herbs wants more sun?
Simply drag the container over to the sunny spot. You can also place them right near the door for convenience. Plus, you can repurpose old containers or unexpected vessels to plant herbs (inside a tire, anyone? old toys?); they just need to have holes in the bottom for drainage. You’ll want to look for pots with at least 8 to 10 inches of space around each plant.
Different areas of your yard or balcony will have different sun exposures, so consider which plants need more sun and locate them accordingly. If you’re combining several plants in one pot, make sure they have the same needs for sun exposure (as well as moisture). Have a mostly shady space? Some herbs, such as cilantro, mint, chives and tarragon, can thrive in partial shade.
Selecting Your Plants
We like using seedlings (small plants) when starting out, but if you’re keen to start from seed, you can get started indoors before the weather is ripe, then transplant them afterwards.
When choosing plants, know that different plants have different yields – mint, oregano and chives will tend to yield more than dill, basil or cilantro – so if you’re a huge fan of dill, for example, you’ll want to plant more than one seedling.
Garden Friends and Foes
When considering which plants to put, or not put, near each other, keep in mind that some plants don’t make good friends with others.
Mint, fennel and horseradish are all invasive plant species, and if planted in a garden bed or a container with other herbs, they have a tendency to push other herbs around, sending out stems or roots through the soil that will eventually grow into new plants these herbs are best planted in their own containers.
Make sure to water seedlings about one to two hours before planting; this will make it easierto transplant them. Place a layer of bagged potting mix at the bottom of your container.
Remove seedlings from their containers (some containers are biodegradable and can be planted directly into the soil check the label).
Place the seedling on top of the soil layer and hold it in place while you fill the container with potting mix until it reaches the top of the root ball. Pat soil gently with your hands to eliminate air pockets.
Water it well and let drain, then add more potting mix and water again if needed so that potting mix is level with the top of the root ball. The soil surface should sit about ¾ inch below the rim of the container
Get the watering right
When it comes to watering, more isn’t necessarily better. With most herbs, light daily watering in the morning works best, and always water close to the roots of the plants. It’s also important to read the labels that come with each plant as different herbs have different moisture requirements. You know herbs are in need of more water if they are wilting or leaves are limp or dull looking.
Prune and harvest like a pro
Ahhh, the moment you’ve been waiting for! Whenever you cut a plant, you want to trim right above a node, the point where the leaves attach to the stem.
A lot of people get confused between pruning and harvesting pruning is when you trim to encourage plants to grow wider and bushier (as opposed to tall and skinny), whereas harvesting is when you trim for your use.
With herb gardening, there can be some crossover between the two. But don’t stress over the terminology – just know this: When the plants are about six inches tall, you can start trimming lightly to encourage growth.
When plants are a little bigger, you can start harvesting more herbs – but remember, never cut more than one-third of the branches off at a time, as any more than that could actually inhibit growth.
5 Delicious Recipes Show How To Use Fresh Herbs
- Pasta Primavera with SPRING HERBS
- Dill-Poached Salmon with Herbed Yogurt Sauce
- Pork Saltimbocca with Sage Mashed Potatoes
- Basil Lime Sorbet
- Summer Roll – Inspired Noodle Bowl