The Keys to Cultivating an Herb Garden

Having an herb garden is a gift that keeps on giving, adding beauty to your yard or windowsill and flavor and fragrance to your kitchen all year long. The perfect project for someone who loves plants but may not exactly have a green thumb, herb pots and plots are simple to cultivate and maintain with just a few easy steps. Here to help aspiring herb gardeners get started, Mary Ernst McColgan, owner of Columbus, Ohio-based Rose Bredl, a floral design company and retail store that offers a wide selection of plants and containers—plus informal gardening consultations—shares her expert advice for starting a successful herb garden.

Deciding what to plant: Choosing herbs is personal to your needs and preferences, but if you are unsure of the ones you want to plant, consider growing a variety at first and seeing how much you use or enjoy them. Keep in mind that some herbs, like lavender, are perennials and should be bunched together, whereas others are annuals and can be located on their own. For indoor herbs, we particularly like basil, rosemary, and oregano. For outdoor gardens, consider planting perennial herbs (lavender, sage, thyme) on one side of the bed, and annual herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley) on the other side.

Finding the right location: Finding a spot with a consistent amount of light (we recommend 5 to 6 hours) and good drainage is key. For indoor plants, make sure your herbs aren’t near any vents, which can dry them out. It’s also important that you have enough space between each plant for them to grow; while some need little space (cilantro, parsley), others can take a couple of feet or a whole pot (rosemary, sage), so be sure to check the tags carefully.

Preparing your soil: If you’re planting outside, make sure the soil is loose and turned before planting. This will allow the roots to take hold and the soil to drain properly. If you mix in some compost with the soil before planting you can help give plants an immediate boost, as well as create better drainage. When planting in pots, we recommend using organic potting soil.

When to water: Right after planting, give your herbs a good drink. After that, overwatering (which can promote mold and invite bugs) can be just as problematic as under-watering. Herbs can dry out quickly depending on where they’re planted, but they don’t necessarily need water every day. For best results, touch the soil on top, and if it feels dry the herbs need water.

Enjoying your herbs: We recommend letting herbs root and grow a little before harvesting. When they’re ready, we suggest cutting off no more than a third of the branches so as not to take too much away from the plant at once. Any dead branches should be cut when noticed so as not to impede new growth. Keep in mind that herbs like parsley grow from the center outward, so you want to avoid cutting the new growth. Trim rosemary and sage after flowering to keep plants compact and encourage a flush of new leaves.

TSG Tip 207 from Mary Ernst McColgan of Rose Bredl in Columbus, Ohio. Rose Bredl is featured in The Scout Guide Columbus.