How to Plant a Thriving Herb Garden

Are you sick of watching bundles of leftover herbs languishing in your crisper? Fret not — there's an easy solution: plant an herb garden. Resilient and low-maintenance, most herbs can grow indoors or outside — a backyard, deck, or balcony is ideal, but a sunny countertop will suffice — leaving little reason not to break out the potting soil, a trowel, and some seeds or herb starts. You'll not only waste less, but also be inspired to add fresh herbs to dishes more often, a boon for both your conscience and your palate. Before you rush off to the nursery, keep these steps and tips in mind.

  • Assess the situation to determine what sort of setup is ideal. Do you have a backyard? How long do you plan to live in your current home? If you can dedicate a corner of your backyard to the venture and aren't planning on uprooting anytime soon, then consider a raised bed, either store-bought or DIY, which will provide enough space for a vast variety of herbs. If you're looking for a smaller-scale solution, terracotta or ceramic pots are a great alternative.
  • Consider what herbs you cook with most often. It can be easy to get carried away when browsing seed catalogs or the herb-start section of your nursery. Plant only what you'll realistically use in order to avoid waste; you can always add more to the mix later. Herbs like basil, parsley, mint, thyme, rosemary, and cilantro are most practical, but consider chives, dill, tarragon, oregano, or more-exotic varieties like Thai basil, marjoram, or savory if you think they'll be a worthwhile addition.
  • Gather the necessary equipment: Even if you're going the raised-bed route, consider separate terracotta planters to restrict the growth of plants like mint that tend to grow rabidly, lest they overrun your other plants. You'll also need potting soil, a sturdy trowel, seeds or herb starts, a hose with a sprinkler attachment or a watering can, and a pair of gardening gloves. If your herb garden will live by a sunny window, make sure to buy planters with a saucer to collect excess water and avoid messy cleanup; alternatively, try one of these clever indoor setups.
  • Read the plant's "recipe": Think of the planting instructions on your packet of seeds or herb start as their recipe for proper care. Thoroughly read this recipe of sorts before you get to work so that you'll know how deep to plant as well as how often to water each plant. Be sure to give ample space both vertically and horizontally to house the plant's roots and aboveground parts as it grows so it can thrive.
  • Get digging: Once the plan is laid out, fill the containers with potting soil, making certain not to compress soil, and with a trowel, dig out an area slightly larger than you think you'll need for each plant. Nestle the plant or seeds in place, add soil to fill any gaps, and make it flush with the surrounding soil. Water the newly transplanted plants or seeds at least twice, allowing 15 minutes between waterings to fully saturate the soil. It's crucial to adequately water now, as freshly transplanted plants are more prone to dehydration.
  • Admire your handiwork: Arguably the most important step is to admire your hard work and commit yourself to the maintenance. This means watering the plants every few days (less during the rainy season, more during the height of Summer heat), checking for pests, and weeding along the way. Don't deplete a plant of all its growth at one time; snip a bit here and there to allow for regrowth and a healthy plant. Other than that, enjoy — and get cooking.