How to Grow Herbs Easily

Updated on April 6, 2016

BASIC GUIDELINES FOR GROWING & HARVESTING HERBS

Lavender is easy to grow from cuttings in spring.
Lavender is easy to grow from cuttings in spring. | Source

Herbs require little maintenance, and unlike many other popular plants, they're rarely plagued by disease or pests. They do, however, have basic light, soil and cultivation needs. Meet these simple requirements, and your herb garden will be a success.

LIGHT

In general, herbs need approximately 6 hours of full sunlight daily, so if you intend to grow herbs outdoors, be sure to choose a sunny spot.

If growing herbs indoors, use a grow light for best results, allowing your herbs 14 to 16 hours under fluorescent lighting each day.

Prefer a windowsill garden? That will work, too. Just be sure the window faces south and receives at least 5 hours of strong light every day.

Chives are among the easiest herbs for beginners.
Chives are among the easiest herbs for beginners. | Source
In order to thrive, lavender requires excellent drainage.
In order to thrive, lavender requires excellent drainage. | Source

WATER

Although the watering needs of herbs vary from plant to plant, herbs grown outdoors ordinarily need about one inch of water per week.

Annual herbs often appreciate a bit more water, and perennial herbs can prove to be quite drought tolerant once they have become established plants in your garden.

Potted herbs should be watered when the soil is dry to the touch, but be careful not to over water. Although herbs are hardy plants, they do have one weakness: they are susceptible to root rot.

Thyme is another easy-to-grow herb, in pots as well as beds.
Thyme is another easy-to-grow herb, in pots as well as beds.

The Best Pots for Herbs

Unglazed clay pots are ideal for herbs. Because terra cotta is naturally porous, it discourages moisture from pooling & rotting roots. Terra cotta also ages well, developing stains & chips that add to its mellow beauty.

DRAINAGE

As noted above, herbs won't tolerate soggy soil and wet roots. They require soil that drains well.

If your garden's soil has poor drainage, work compost into it to increase porosity and improve texture. Another good way to assure adequate drainage? Plant herbs in raised beds.

If growing herbs in pots, either layer the bottom of the container with pebbles or provide drainage holes so that roots never have to sit in water.


3 Piece Strawberry Jar Planter Set
3 Piece Strawberry Jar Planter Set

Clay pots are best for herbs that like well-drained soil. With a strawberry planter, you can plant multiple herbs that have the same growing requirements in one pot!

 
I prefer clay pots for Mediterranean herbs. They drain better than plastic.
I prefer clay pots for Mediterranean herbs. They drain better than plastic. | Source

FERTILIZER

Most herbs need little, if any, fertilizer. In fact, most are more flavorful and aromatic when grown in poor, slightly acidic soil with a pH value between 6.5 and 7.0.*

If you do decide to fertilize, only do so when herbs are actively growing.

Fertilizing Herbs Grown Outdoors

Always use slow-release fertilizers on herbs. Slow-acting, organic fertilizers like desiccated horse manure encourage outdoor herbs to grow but don't adversely affect their concentration of essential oils.

Fertilizing Herbs Grown Indoors

At the beginning of the growing season, give potted herbs a top-dressing of slow-release fertilizer, or fertilize them twice a month (at most) with a slow-release liquid fertilizer like diluted fish emulsion.

Like other members of the Mentha family of herbs, chocolate mint is super easy to grow.
Like other members of the Mentha family of herbs, chocolate mint is super easy to grow. | Source

Water/Light Requirements for Common Herbs

Herb
Requirements
Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis)
full sun/dry soil
Bergamot (Monarda didyma)
full sun/moist soil
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
full sun/moist soil
Chamomile (Chamamemelum nobile & Matricaria recutita)
full sun to part shade/dry soil
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
full sun/moist soil
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
full sun/good drainage
Garlic (Allium sativum)
full sun/moist soil
Lemon Balm (Melissa oficinalis)
full sun/moist soil
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
full sun/moist soil
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)
full sun/moist soil
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
full sun/allow to dry out between waterings
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
full sun to part shade/good drainage
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
full sun to part shade/good drainage
Any type of mint is a snap to root in water. Remove all leaves from the stem parts that you submerge & place the cuttings out of direct light. They'll develop roots in about a week. Pictured: chocolate mint & catnip.
Any type of mint is a snap to root in water. Remove all leaves from the stem parts that you submerge & place the cuttings out of direct light. They'll develop roots in about a week. Pictured: chocolate mint & catnip. | Source
Rosemary has long been considered a sign of friendship. Grow it in your mailbox garden or add a sprig of rosemary to a homemade gift.
Rosemary has long been considered a sign of friendship. Grow it in your mailbox garden or add a sprig of rosemary to a homemade gift. | Source

MULCH

If growing herbs outdoors, you can mulch and fertilize at the same time. After planting your herb garden, apply a slow-release fertilizer and then mulch with one to two inches of compost. Avoid using shredded wood, composted sawdust or wood chips as mulch. They can cause herbs to wilt.

If growing Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, consider mulching with gravel or sand for additional drainage. Some herb gardeners favor white gravel for its light reflective qualities; others choose it for aesthetic reasons.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea), often grown as a cutting flower in home gardens, may also be cultivated for the medicinal properties of its roots.
Purple coneflower (Echinacea), often grown as a cutting flower in home gardens, may also be cultivated for the medicinal properties of its roots. | Source

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HARVESTING HERBS

Like watering, pruning herbs during the growing season should be part of your garden's regular maintenance plan. And when you snip off the leaves and/or flowers of culinary and medicinal herbs, you're not only pruning--you're also harvesting.

To keep herb plants healthy and get the most out of your harvest, follow these general guidelines when pruning:

  • Prune away no more than 3/4 of new, seasonal growth at a time.
  • Harvest in the morning, after the dew has dried.
  • When harvesting leaves, pinch them off at nodes to encourage lateral growth. This will give upright herbs a fuller, prettier shape.
  • Leaves on herb plants with unopened flower buds have the most intense flavor and aroma. Harvest leaves prior to flowering so as not to adversely affect new leaf production.
  • When harvesting flowers for craft projects, choose those that have not fully opened. They are more likely to keep their shape when dried.

When should you stop harvesting? Stop pruning outdoor perennial herbs about a month before the first frost. (Pruning encourages new growth, which winter weather will damage.) Indoor perennials may be harvested so long as they are producing new growth.

Annual herbs grown outdoors may be harvested until the first killing frost. Annuals that are grown indoors may be harvested up to the natural end of their lifespan.


Basil is an annual herb. This year I started basil from seed outside. It was slow to germinate, but now it's going strong!
Basil is an annual herb. This year I started basil from seed outside. It was slow to germinate, but now it's going strong! | Source
Bergamot (Monarda didyma), which prefers full sun and moist soil, is prone to mildew, a fungal infection that thrives in damp conditions.
Bergamot (Monarda didyma), which prefers full sun and moist soil, is prone to mildew, a fungal infection that thrives in damp conditions. | Source

Grow an Instant Herb Garden

Rather than sow herbs from seed, plant nursery pots of young herbs in outdoor plots or container gardens. If you treat them right, in no time you'll be harvesting fresh herbs for all sorts of practical & delicious uses.

PEST CONTROL

Although herbs attract bees and butterflies, most don't attract pests. In fact, they tend to drive pests away, which is why so many organic gardeners use herbs as companion plants.

Go Organic

Often, growing herbs under the right conditions (in the appropriate spot with adequate spacing between them) is enough to ensure that they're virtually free of insect damage and disease. If pest and disease damage becomes so severe that you must intervene, however, choose a control option other than traditional pesticides.

Pesticides are toxic to humans and therefore inappropriate for herbs that will be ingested in beverages and foodstuffs or used in medicinal preparations.

Keep Potted Herbs Pest-Free

If pests become problematic on potted herbs, take care of them using homemade horticultural soap. Mix a few drops of mild dish detergent into warm water. Then, sponge your herbs down with it. (You can even dip the entire plant into soapy water!) Afterwards, wipe or hose your potted herb with clean water. Residual soap could burn the leaves.

Perform this routine once a month, even during the winter. Because it's not toxic to humans, homemade horticultural soap can be used on all herbs, even culinary ones.

The soap treatment will work on some fungal infections, too, including mildews.

Maintain Healthy Herb Beds

If pests become a problem in herb beds, spray soap solution on them as well. If your herbs are troubled by caterpillars, beetles or other large pests, pick them off by hand.

*pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of any growing medium, such as soil. pH values under 7.0 indicate that the medium is acidic.

While herbs do best in slightly acidic soil, many plants that are frequently grown by home gardeners prefer acidic soil at a pH of 5.5 or below, including azaleas, hydrangea, blueberries, bleeding heart and astilbe.

Source

About the Author

The Dirt Farmer has been an active gardener for over 30 years.

She first began gardening as a child alongside her grandfather on her parents' farm.

Today, The Dirt Farmer gardens at home, volunteers at community gardens and continues to learn about gardening through the MD Master Gardener program.

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Jill Spencer

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      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        2 years ago from United States

        Thanks, Chantelle! All of the photos are mine. Since the source no longer shows, I rather wish I'd added an imprint to them all. Thanks for stopping by! Jill

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        2 years ago from United States

        Hi Rebecca, we have a big rosemary plant by our mailbox and it really is a pleasant sight, green even in winter and welcoming. The only downside is that when it snows, piles of snow often get dumped on it. I'd thought it had died from it a few years ago, but it finally greened back up in late spring. So glad you're going to root some mint! You should have no trouble getting it started. It grows like a weed. All the best, Jill

      • Chantelle Porter profile image

        Chantelle Porter 

        2 years ago from Chicago

        A really helpful article. The pictures were beautiful.

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        2 years ago from United States

        Hi Jasmeetk, I'm glad you liked the tips and appreciate that you took the time to comment.

      • rebeccamealey profile image

        Rebecca Mealey 

        2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

        Thanks for sharing your gardening expertise. I love the idea for rosemary at the mailbox, and I didn't know you could root mint in water. I am going to start that today!

      • Jasmeetk profile image

        Jasmeet Kaur 

        2 years ago from India

        very well written.. Liked all the tips..

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        6 years ago from United States

        Hello, the girls. Enjoyed your herb hub too! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. --Jill

      • the girls profile image

        Theresa Ventu 

        6 years ago from Los Angeles, California

        Informative hub! Great tips for potted herbs. I'll surely try the herbs with unopened flower buds to boost aroma to my recipe :-)

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        6 years ago from United States

        @ carol7777 -- Appreciate your comments, Carol. I hope you do start an herb garden. Herbs are so easy to take care of & they smell so good that growing them is very rewarding. Take care! Jill

      • carol7777 profile image

        carol stanley 

        6 years ago from Arizona

        I am definitely inspired to start an herb garden. I think this is a great hub as yours are. Thanks for sharing all this information.

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        6 years ago from United States

        @ Jeanne Grunert -- I admire your gardening hubs very much, so a comment from you is a real compliment. Thanks!

      • profile image

        Jeanne Grunert 

        6 years ago

        I really enjoyed your Hub. It was filled with useful information. Great job and I look forward to reading more.

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        6 years ago from United States

        @ How-to-crafts -- Glad you had success with the parsley! That's the easiest way to start it, definitely. Thanks for commenting--and for sharing & voting. Happy gardening! -The Dirt Farmer

      • How-to-crafts profile image

        How-to-crafts 

        6 years ago from Ireland

        A great article about growing herbs. I always have trouble growing parsley from seed too but I re potted a plant I bought in the supermarket after I used the leaves for the cooking that night. It is growing really big now

        Shared on Twitter and voted up

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        6 years ago from United States

        Hi Radcliff. Welcome to HubPages. Glad you liked the article. Thanks for commenting! --The Dirt Farmer

      • Radcliff profile image

        Liz Davis 

        6 years ago from Hudson, FL

        I love growing herbs. Thanks for sharing these great tips!

      • rebeccamealey profile image

        Rebecca Mealey 

        6 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

        Thanks for the homemade pesticide soap tip. I have basil, dill, and rosemary that is doing well. I couldn't get my oregano and parsley going!

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