Start with finding a container
1. Find a fun container with good drainage, such as:
••••• Yogurt cartons that you cover with paper and decorate, have an adult punch holes in the bottom for drainage.
••••• Empty juice boxes – adults can cut the BOTTOM of the box off, making sure the straw hole is open; flip the box over and use this hole for drainage.
••••• Egg cartons with a hole punched in the bottom of each section.
••••• Sour cream containers – cover with paper and decorate, have an adult punch holes in the bottom for drainage.
••••• Small clay pots, which look great decorated with paint or stickers.
Once you've selected a container, remove contaminants by soaking your container in a mixture of 10% chlorine bleach and water (ask an adult for help). Allow the containers to dry.
Select the herbs you want to plant
2. You can either choose to work with herb seeds or seedlings from the nursery. A great way to make the decision is to figure out what you'd like to do with the herbs once they grow and are harvested. These include using them as:
••••• Cookie Herbs – lavender, rosemary, lemon balm, lemon thyme, mints
••••• Pizza herbs – basil, oregano, parsley, thyme Salsa herbs-cilantro, parsley, garlic, chives
••••• Chocolate Herbs – chocolate mint, chocolate mint scented geraniums
••••• Butterfly Herbs – marigolds, purple coneflower, butterfly weed, cosmos, lavender, sage, parsley
••••• Sister Herbs – rosemary, lavender, Melissa (lemon balm), lady's mantle, sweet Annie, violet
Time to get our hands dirty!
3. Fill your container to about one inch from the top with the soilless* growing medium of your choice. A soilless potting mix is usually cleaner than dirt and considered sterile, making them more popular with container gardeners. Sphagnum peat moss, Perlite, Vermiculite, and even sand are considered soilless potting mediums.
*What is a Soilless Mix? Gardening with soilless potting mix does not include the use of soil – instead, plants are grown in a variety of organic and inorganic materials. Using these materials rather than soil allows gardeners to grow healthier plants without the threat of soil-borne diseases. Plants grown in soilless mixes are also less likely to be bothered by pests.
••••• You can make your own soilless mix. A standard homemade soilless mix contains equal amounts of peat moss, perlite (and/or vermiculite), and sand. Bark can be used in lieu of sand, while coconut coir can replace peat moss. Small amounts of fertilizer and ground limestone should be added as well so the soilless mix will contain nutrients. There are numerous recipes for preparing soilless potting mixes online so you can easily find one to suit your individual needs.
••••• You can also make use of compost for seed starting. What is composting?
4. Wet down the soil in the container and let it sit for 20 to 30 minutes.
5. While you are waiting, take some popsicle sticks and write down the names of the plants you are planting. Good information to include would be the Latin or botanical name and common name of the plant, and the date you planted the seed.
••••• Seeds – Planting seeds at the right depth is extremely important for proper seed germination. In addition, seeds have different light requirements for germination.
••••• Depth** – The amount of growing medium you place on top of your seeds is partially determined by their size. For example, smaller seeds such as lemon balm will need a shallower covering than larger nasturtium seeds. A general rule for planting seeds is to cover them with enough soil for 1-3 times their size.
••••• Light** – The amount of growing medium is also determined by the light requirements for seed germination. Seeds may need to be covered with soil or left uncovered. For instance, the seeds of summer and winter savory need light for germination so no growing medium is placed on top of them while basil seeds will need to be covered with soil.
•••• **For best results, follow the directions on your seed packet or consult a reliable gardening book for seed depth and light requirements.
7. Do not let your newly planted seeds dry out! For best results, bottom water your seeds by placing their containers in a flat tray of water. Leave them on the tray only until the soil at the top is moist. Bottom watering prevents dieback and promotes deep roots.
8. Cover your containers with plastic wrap to help conserve moisture and create humidity. Make a tent or dome out of the plastic to allow for air circulation; bent coat hangers work well for this purpose. To avoid mildew uncover them every other day so they can get some fresh air. Remove the plastic wrap completely once the seedlings begin growing and have developed several more leaves.
9. Herb seeds need as much as 14–16 hours of light per day in order to develop properly. The addition of artificial lighting may be needed to insure healthy growth. Check your herbs to make sure that they do not dry out. Your goal is to keep your plants and seeds moist but to not over water them.
Once you have planted your seeds, proper care will result in seedlings that will need to be transplanted into new containers. Wait to transplant your seedlings until they have several sets of leaves and until their roots have developed. They should be about 2–3" tall. Transplant the seedlings by carefully taking off their lower leaves. Turn the pot upside down and let the seedling fall into your hand. Do not pull the plant out by the stem or the leaves. Place the seedlings in the soil to a spot just above where you pinched off the lower leaves. Pat the soil around the plant and water it in.
While you are waiting for your herbs to grow find out all about them by doing some research. You can learn about their history, folklore, uses, and care so you can enjoy them for many years to come! Read about the herbs you selected in our Quick Fact Sheets.
••••• Jim Arbury, Deni Bown, Martin Rickard, Sue Strickland, and Richard Bird. 2004. The complete book of plant propagation. Mitchell Beazley: London.
••••• DeBaggio, Thomas. 1994. Growing herbs from seed, cutting, and root: an adventure in small miracles. Interweave press: Loveland, Colorado. Jennings, Karen Park. 2006.
••••• Park's Success with seed. Geo. W. Park Seed Company: Greenwood, South Carolina.