Gardening 411: Planning an Herb Garden

Get your green thumb to work and plant these favorite herbs in the garden.

Ready to have your own herb garden? I’m here to help you figure out where to start, and how to maximize your garden’s output this summer, so follow along closely. If this is your first time at the herb garden rodeo, keep in mind that while sometimes it’s good to go with the most favored, indispensable herbs, usually you just have to ask yourself “What do I want to be eating this summer?” Because cravings for fresh, summer produce and herbs are real. Eat what you love, baby. Eat it all summer long.

Choosing plants for your herb garden.

Choosing plants for your herb garden.

Learn best practices for choosing herb plants for your garden.

Photo by: Emily Fazio ©2016

Emily Fazio, 2016

Choose your plants

If you have a hankering for Caprese salads, basil is the gift that will keep on giving. And the same can be said for parsley, which like basil can be used as a flavorful addition to a number of dishes, but can also reign supreme in a big batch of pesto. (Pesto is my #1 reason for planting lots of basil and parsley – it freezes well and I like having it on hand all year round.)

If you’re a pickling fanatic, don’t skimp on the dill. You’ll always wish you had planted more.

And if you love a fresh, oniony flavor on your veggies or in your breakfast omelets, plant yourself a nice supply of chives (blend it with butter for a great steak rub). Our chives come back more vigorously each year, so keep that in mind.

Choosing plants for your herb garden.

Choosing plants for your herb garden.

Learn best practices for choosing herb plants for your garden.

Photo by: Emily Fazio ©2016

Emily Fazio, 2016

Mint can be aggressive when it grows back the following season. It’s great for drinks and some desserts, but I found myself clearing 50 sq. ft. of it from a neglected garden bed when I bought my house! And it kept coming back.

If salsas and guacamole are your specialty, plant some cilantro and be prepared for any friend and family get-togethers. 

Both thyme and rosemary are powerful in scent and flavor, making them perfect additions to many recipes including meat and poultry, fish, in soups and on vegetables. Rosemary thrives easily year-round, but if you live in a colder zone, consider keeping it in a container that can move indoors during the winter.

Lavender is fun to grow yourself if you’re into making homemade aromatics, or experimenting with it as a palate-cleansing flavor.

Lemongrass! For Southeast Asian dishes, and for those delicious green smoothies.

Start from seed? Or transplant established greens?

You can get a great jump start on the growing season by starting seeds indoors in the perfect growing environment: a humid little indoor greenhouse sitting in the sunshine on your windowsill. You can begin to see growth in 5-14 days, and once the plants are more established, transplant them outdoors in a sunny spot. It’s definitely easy to grow them yourself, and comparatively less expensive than buying individual plants ($2 for seeds vs. $10 for plants).

Choosing plants for your herb garden.

Choosing plants for your herb garden.

Learn best practices for choosing herb plants for your garden.

Photo by: Emily Fazio ©2016

Emily Fazio, 2016

That said, there’s nothing wrong with going to the store and hand-picking your baby plants. You can tell which plants are healthy and have a better chance of surviving the transplant, and you can also use the opportunity to explore your options and take in the fresh herbal scents. One of my favorite things to do is to compare all of the mint plants at the Rochester Public Market – there’s a specialty vendor who brings 20+ varieties of mints, each yielding a different scent and flavor, such as banana mint, chocolate mint, strawberry mint, etc.

Consider the appeal of companion gardening

Companion gardening is a way to keep the peace in your garden, as plants are typically mutually beneficial of one another. Whether you’re gardening herbs or a wider variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers, companion gardening as a general practice is important for a number of reasons:

  • When plants are located in close proximity, the nutrients in the soil are shared. Companion plants share the nutrients without inhibiting either plant’s growth, whereas when plants demand the same type of nutrients, neither may reach their full potential. 
  • Some plants create scents that ward off garden pests from attacking not only them, but the plants in their vicinity. Natural defense!
  • It’s easy to plan your garden without considering how large the plants are going to be at full-size; if you’re not cautious, some plants will completely sprawl and extinguish the sunlight from their shorter neighbors. Companion plants are less likely to overshadow one another, and even if one plant stands much taller, its counterpart might thrive well in its shade.

A few companion gardening examples to get you started:

  • Tomatoes live in harmony with basil, parsley and mint.
  • Chives are friendly to carrots, lettuce, peas and celery.
  • Oregano is a pest deterrent for squash and cucumbers.
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