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Beginner gardening: How to grow your own indoor or outdoor herb garden

Ferry-Morse Home Gardening Blog | October 2021

Close-up of an assortment of various herbs growing in containers.

A close-up of an assortment of popularly grown herbs in containers with labels.

Have you ever strolled past a rosemary bush after the rain? It’s a simple aromatic pleasure everyone should experience.

Rosemary and other herbs help us create masterpieces in the kitchen, but they’re capable of much more than that. Pollinators love their flowers, they’re beautiful in a landscape, and the secret is that deer, rabbits, and other garden-chomping pests detest herbs’ strong aroma and taste!

Simply put, herbs are distinctive plants with culinary, medicinal, and fragrant applications, which is why we treasure them.

While there are herbs for every season, with the help of a grow light, you can grow annual herbs like basil all year long in small containers in your home, giving you a steady supply of your favorite fresh seasonings and spices.

Are you ready to learn how to grow your own fresh herbs? Keep reading because this article will teach you everything you need to know. Let’s awaken our senses!

What do I need to consider before I start to grow herbs outdoors or indoors?

Herb growing is easier than vegetable and flower gardening, and here's why: A few plants produce enough for the average home, and herbs are naturally pest-resistant, requiring less care in general.

 Does a garden with fewer low-maintenance plants sound good to you? It might be just the gardening experience you’re looking for. Let's learn a little more.

Location

Herbs do well in almost any location, except full shade and soggy soil.

It’s important to know that some herbs tend to spread or self-seed to the point that they take over an area, like fennel, borage, and all mints.

Consider planting root-aggressive herbs like mints in containers to let them grow happily within the boundaries of pots. Collecting fennel seeds helps control seed drop, and the best part is they’re edible!

Herbs growing in windowsill containers next to a large window.

A gardener carries some herbs growing in a windowsill container to a sunny indoor location.

Sun

Consider each plant’s height concerning the sun’s trajectory so that all plants receive enough sunlight throughout the day. Most herbs need full sun, but some thrive in partial shade, like parsley and sage.

Cultural practices

Care for an herb garden as you would a flower or vegetable garden. Basic cultural practices are the same, including pruning, dividing, and controlling pests. Here’s an herb chart to help.

Growing herbs outdoors

An outdoor herb garden need not be in one place. Give thought to using each variety's life cycle and growth habits to enhance:

  • Flower beds
  • Raised beds
  • Retaining walls
  • Rock arrangements
  • Slopes
  • Vegetable gardens

Tip: Perennial herbs' extensive root systems and space requirements are more suited to outdoor gardens than indoor.

Thyme growing in an outdoor herb garden.

A close-up of some thyme growing in an outdoor garden.

Soil

Soil requirements vary as some herbs like lavender prefer light and sandy soil while mints need moist soil to thrive. All herbs, however, require soils with good drainage

Growing herbs indoors

An indoor herb garden provides a low-stress gardening experience as herbs grow pretty well in this environment. Annual and biennial herbs are particularly suited to an indoor setting.

Biennial and annual herbs add graceful greenery and texture to a sunny south window, creating an attractive windowsill herb garden. Imagine having fresh herbs available for pinch-harvesting while cooking, regardless if it's winter or summer outdoors. Wouldn’t that be nice?

If sunlight is a challenge, set up a grow light to extend the growing season indoors, essential for seed starting and ensuring a continuous fresh supply.

Herbs like basil, chives, mint, and parsley are the best choices for growing herbs indoors. Care for them as you would houseplants, and that’s it!

Harvesting herbs

Harvest herbs as follows:

  • For chervil, chives, and parsley, harvest only a few leaves at a time because the plant will keep producing them as long as it lives
  • When rosemary and thyme are blooming, harvest the soft leaf tips and even the edible flowers!
  • Some herbs taste best just before they bloom, such as basil, mint, oregano, sage, and tarragon

When not consumed fresh, herbs are usually dried. Therefore, it’s worth your time to review this additional information on harvesting, drying, and storing herbs.

What do I want to grow?

Now that the basics are out of the way, think about what herb plants you'd like to grow in your garden or indoors.

There are so many choices! Imagine what it would be like to:

  • Have a lovely border of garlic chives around a flower bed, with cascading green leaves topped by happy white flowering pom poms in the fall.
  • Cover a bothersome slope with oregano, an excellent plant for erosion control
  • Have a beautiful, gray-green rosemary bush growing near your home’s entrance to greet you with its comforting aroma each day

Reflect on what you’d like to taste, smell, and see, and even consider trying something new, like catgrass! Let’s keep going.

Read seed packets

Seed packets are small but indispensable. The front shows a picture of the fully-grown plant, with instructions to grow it on the back. Handy, right?

Compare seed packet instructions to your hardiness zone, and you're all set to grow herbs in any season. Let's look at tarragon as an example.

According to its seed packet, tarragon is a warm-weather perennial herb. We know this because the map on the back shows us that it grows best during the spring and summer months.

Furthermore, under Suggestions, it tells us to harvest the entire plant and even instructs how to store the leaves along with culinary uses. That's everything we need to get started growing this herb, plain and simple.

Seek local guidance

It helps to visit your local extension service’s website to find region-specific information, like this herb planting guide published by the Clemson Cooperative Extension. So, check out your county's resources because there's good stuff there!

Popular herbs that are good for you and pollinators

Pollinators love all flowering herbs. So, keep your herb garden pollinator-friendly by planting different combinations based on flower shape, fragrance, size, or bloom time.

Bloom time is crucial to ensure at least one of your herbs is in its flowering stage throughout your region’s growing season.

For example, you can arrange plants outdoors in pots to bloom in succession from spring to late summer like dill, thyme, and basil, or sage, lavender, and oregano. Learn more about bloom times.

Furthermore, many herbs have medicinal qualities, such as basil, echinacea, and lavender.

You may also want to try an aromatherapy garden consisting of basil, cilantro, lavender, mint, rosemary, sage, and thyme. These herb seeds are available in one kit, making it easy for you to grow an aromatic sanctuary at home.  

A close-up of a busy bee collecting pollen from a lavender bloom.

A close-up of a busy bee collecting pollen from a lavender bloom.

What are the best herbs to grow indoors from seed?

If you’re ready to give growing an herb garden a go, we suggest starting with the seeds in the following table. They’re easy to grow, flavorful, aromatic, and container-friendly!

HerbLife cycleDays to maturityHeightLight
Basil, GenoveseAnnual8520–24" Full sun
Dill, BouquetAnnual65–70 26–36" Full sun
Dill, MammothAnnual65–70 30–42" Full sun
Parsley, Flat ItalianBiennial75–77 12–16" Sun/Partial Shade
Parsley, ItalianBiennial75–77 12–16" Sun/Partial Shade
PeppermintPerennial85–90 18–20" Full sun

Now it’s your turn!

Step into the green and serene world of growing herbs, and you may never look back. It’s a fulfilling low-stress activity for indoor and outdoor gardeners alike. So take the next step and start growing your herb garden today!

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