Growing herbs is not only easy but also fun, because they are versatile and can be planted pretty much anywhere and in anything. Herbs are particularly great for growing in small spaces. Not only are they forgiving; they smell beautiful, they’re pretty to look at, and they’re delicious. As long as they have plenty of sunlight, good soil, good drainage and consistent water, they will flourish.
Choosing which herbs to grow is as easy as deciding what you like to eat. The most popular choices grown in New Zealand are basil, mint, coriander, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme. Herbs are easy plants to grow, taste delicious and a great way to add bursts of flavour to your meals.
Growing herbs in your garden is an easy way to get access to large quantities of fresh herbs that would otherwise be expensive or hard to find, and a great resource if you want to get creative in the kitchen. If they are portable, you can easily find their preferred shade and sun locations. Also, you can conveniently keep them in the kitchen for cooking.
Here are some herbs you can grow at home to give a range of different dishes fresh flavour:
Mix leaves into salads, soups, stews, casseroles, and omelets. Serve fresh as garnish with meat, fish, and onion dishes.
Parsley is used in large quantities. So it needs plenty of feeding and regular watering to produce lush green leaves. If it gets too dry it’ll go to seed. You can raise parsley from seed. But germination takes a long time – sometimes more than a month – and can be patchy. If you’re buying seedlings look for small plants in individual cells. This will mean the roots are disturbed as little as possible when you plant them out.
Tip: Remove the outside leaves to encourage growth from the center.
Coriander is a staple in Asian and Mexican dishes, and the leaves make a great pesto. Grind dry seeds to powder and dust over veal, pork, or ham before cooking. The roots, which can be frozen, are used to flavor soup; serve chopped with avocados. But it’s tricky to grow. When the weather is dry or very hot, it rapidly goes to seed – sometimes before enough leaves are produced to flavour even one meal. On the plus side, the seeds can be used to season dishes. And if you let the seed-headed plant die off in your garden you’ll find new coriander seedlings popping up everywhere.
Don’t buy seedlings. Coriander doesn’t like being moved, so sow seeds where you want them to grow. Keep the seeds covered until shoots appear in 10 to 14 days.
Tip: For a lush crop, sow the seeds thickly in a container and help them along with fortnightly doses of high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer – or simply add a handful of sheep pellets to the potting mix. If you make sure the plants have enough water and harvest the leaves regularly, you’ll have plenty of coriander for weeks.
Brew leaves into tea, or use to garnish cold drinks. Spearmint is generally used to make mint sauce or jelly. Sprinkle dried or fresh leaves over lamb before cooking.
Mint grows best in moist rich soil in partial shade. Its underground runners can spread throughout the garden – so keep it contained in a plastic pot (30cm diameter) sunk into the ground. Cut the bottom off the pot first. Over time, the stems will head for the edges and leave the centre bare. So dig up the pot every 2-3 years and replant young rooted sections of stem.
Tip: Mint is susceptible to rust (brown spots on the leaves). Trim it to 3cm above the soil to promote new rust-free growth. If this doesn’t work, get rid of the plant (not on your compost heap) and start again in another area of the garden.
Mint grows vigorously, which is great. But sadly it can easily get out of hand. Plant in a pot or in an area of the garden where it won’t get in the way. Additionally, mint will occasionally suffer from rust. Once well-established you can just cut it back hard and it will generally come away again. Though in summer, watering will certainly help ensure strong regrowth.
One of the few herbs that tastes better when dried, oregano is familiar to most people as a mainstay of Italian cooking. Pairing nicely with basil, parsley, or paprika (the latter in Turkish cuisine), oregano is a prolific producer of deep green leaves ideal for drying.
Oregano, like rosemary and thyme (below), needs full sun and a soil that’s not too fertile to develop the essential oils that give the leaves their pungent flavour. It’s a spreading plant – so allow it a space about 30cm in diameter and trim it regularly to keep it bushy and encourage new growth.
The plants will grow for several years. But they need rejuvenation every 3-5 years to keep them compact and productive. Dig up the plant in spring, divide it and replant a shoot that has good rootlets.
Tip: There are several varieties of oregano – true Greek oregano has the best flavour.
There are many varieties of thyme, some very attractive but with little flavour. It’s a small, vibrant green plant with a rich distinctive fragrance. Soups, stews, meat, and fish dishes can all benefit from thyme’s earthy seasoning. Rub chopped leaves (fresh or dried) into beef, lamb, veal, or pork before roasting. Sprinkle over eggs, cheese dishes, vegetables, fish, or poultry. Add to soups, stews, stuffings, and rice. Brew into tea with a little rosemary and mint.
The best varieties for cooking are common thyme, lemon thyme, caraway thyme and pizza thyme.
Tip: In winter trim the bush back by about two-thirds.
Rosemary’s fresh aroma is an excellent addition to meat, stews, stuffings, and roast vegetables. Rosemary is a drought-tolerant, perennial herb used in cooking and landscaping. The needle-like leaves resemble a coniferous shrub, and in milder climates, will stay on the plant year round.
Rosemary is a good choice for pots or tubs – don’t let it dry out, though. Picking out the tips will keep young plants bushy. Cut older bushes back to half that year’s growth at the end of summer.
Tip: The trailing varieties are attractive but the upright types of rosemary are best for cooking.
The leaves have a warm, spicy flavor. Use sparingly in soups, sauces, salads, omelets and with meat, poultry and fish. Also a basis for pesto.
You can raise basil from seed but it’s easier and quicker to buy a punnet of seedlings. Basil needs warmth and regular watering. It can be tricky to grow in colder areas but will flourish in a pot in a sunny spot on your kitchen bench – you can raise 6 or more plants in a small pot. If you feed and water them regularly you’ll have enough for an occasional batch of pesto.
Basil in pots should be watered from the bottom – sit the container in a deep dish to create a shallow water bath.
You may find the plants become infested with whitefly or aphids. Check them regularly – if the infestation isn’t too advanced you may be able to wash off the pests. Some gardeners recommend spraying with a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water. If that doesn’t work just throw out the plants, wash the pot and buy another punnet.
Tip: To encourage bushy growth, keep pinching out the growing tips.
Now that you’ve picked some herbs to start your mini garden, you’re almost ready to start planting. Before you begin potting, watering and clipping, here are a few tips to help your herbs thrive:
Pick the perfect pot. Choosing the right home for your plant is important! Containers should have small holes in the bottom so excess water can properly drain (this helps them get the right amount of water and prevents fungus from growing). A pot sized a bit larger than your plant needs will give it room to grow, and you won’t need to repot it so soon.
Give your plants some room. Planting everything in one container can prevent growth, especially as roots begin to spread out. Put each herb in its own pot to give them the best chance to thrive. Not all herbs are friends, so don’t put them in the same container. “Each herb may have its own needs, which conflict with another herb that you are trying to grow in the same pot. For example, mint and parsley prefer moist soil, while rosemary, thyme, and sage want drier conditions. Putting them all together is a recipe for disaster since they don’t have the same watering needs. “Each herb should have its own container with a drainage hole in the bottom.
Feed them. Herbs get hungry, and the right soil can help. Use fresh potting soil, rather than stuff you can find outside. Give them fertilizer once every couple months, but be sure to pick a variety that promotes leaf growth (instead of ones that are for blooms). Some plants, like rosemary and thyme, like crushed up eggshells too!
Water your plants right. Your other household plants might love water, but herbs tend to do better with a bit less. Water them at the base and let the soil dry before watering again. Over time, you’ll start to learn each plant’s individual needs by paying attention to their leaves. If they start to turn yellow, the plant has been overwatered.
Inspect your herbs for pests: Check your herbs regularly for pests like spider mites, mealybugs, whiteflies, and aphids. If you see an infestation, first move the plant away from any other plants so the pests don’t multiply. Then, decide if it’s worth keeping that plant at all. It’s okay to get rid of an infested plant and just replace it. After all, you want to be very careful treating a plant with any type of insecticide if you’re planning to eat it.
Creative ways to utilize space
There are various ways you can utilize the space you have to grow your herbs regardless of space;
There are other ways to use pallets for small herb container gardens which has a clever pocket system that lets you grow a surprising amount of herbs in such a small space. Prior to planting herbs in a pallet, you must make sure that the wood is food-safe.
Plastic 18 gallon tubs are easy to obtain at the hardware store and can be transformed into self-watering containers. Use them to grow herbs by simply filling them up with soil and placing them around the patio or garden. They can grow a surprising amount of vegetables and herbs and actually save space in the long run.
Potted Herb Garden
You can use plastic flower pots, baskets, barrels, wooden boxes, and any container that is at least 15cm big. It is crucial for you to create holes in the container’s bottom for easy and proper drainage.
Clean the containers before filling them with nutrient-rich, organic, and fresh potting soil. If you are to use nursery plants that are root bound, loosen the roots at the bottom of the soil and set them slightly deeper than when they were in the nursery pots. Lastly, water them thoroughly.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How easy is it to start an herb garden?
It is incredibly easy to start an herb garden. You don’t even need a garden; a few pots will suffice grown either indoors in a sunny windowsill or outside. Many herbs are very hardy and come from areas with hot, dry climates. This means they really only need some good soil, sunshine, and minimal water. Herbs such as parsley, basil, thyme are the perfect starter plants for the novice gardener as they are quite forgiving.
2. Can you plant different herbs in the same pot?
You can plant different herbs together as long as you plant those with the same requirements together. All herbs love the sun, but some need more water than others. For example, thyme, rosemary and sage like it fairly dry, while basil and parsley require more consistent moisture. Mint shouldn’t be planted with any other herb. It tends to crowd out any other plants.
3. What herbs are invasive and will take over herb patch?
Mint is the most invasive of the herbs. It should be planted alone in a container or potted and then sunk into the ground. Other herbs may take over the herb garden if allowed to grow rampantly. To prevent invasive herbs from crowding out garden areas, deadhead flowers and prune the plants back regularly.
With these tips and a little luck, you could have herbs at your fingertips. Your cooking could be tastier and your shopping list a little shorter. Plus, you could enjoy fresh ingredients and homey scents all year round!