Herb Gardening Basics
"Herbs are defined as plants (trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, biennials or annuals) valued historically, presently, or potentially for their flavor, fragrance, medicinal qualities, insecticidal qualities, economic or industrial use, or in the case of dyes, for the coloring material they provide."
How do you want to use them?
The first step in herb gardening is to decide what type of herbs you want to grow. Herbs are useful plants so considering how you would like to use them is a great way to begin the decision making process. Knowing what you would like to grow will help you evaluate your growing conditions and determine specific plant types and varieties.
The perfect place to grow
Many herbs are quite adaptable to a variety of growing conditions. Look to their native habitats for clues as to how diverse of a growing range they will tolerate. For example, elderberry which is valued for its flavorful flowers and berries as well as medicinal uses will do happily in part-shade to full sun and prefers moist conditions. A lot of the most popular culinary herbs such as basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon dill and parsley thrive in full sun (defined as 6 hours of direct sun). Mint, chives, parsley and even cilantro will tolerate some shade.
The United States is divided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) into various climatic zones. A state may be entirely in one zone or in several zones. These zones indicate the average minimum temperatures in each region and thus relate to the winter hardiness of plants. The length of the growing season is defined by the last frost in the spring and the first one in the fall. It is important to recognize the characteristics of your zone and select herb plants accordingly. Zones should be used as a guideline, but should not be regarded as absolute.
The right soil will make a huge difference in the success of your herb garden. Many culinary herbs are native to Mediterranean regions and require well drained soil. Many herbs that are perennials will also require this to survive the winter months as well.
Evaluate your gardening space and then use our herb fact sheets to help you determine which plants to grow. There is such diversity amongst types of herbs that you will find herbs in virtually every climate and growing condition that supports plant life.
Garden design ideas
Selecting a theme is a fun way to design a garden. For culinary gardens it could be based on type of food (salad, beverage, soup, pizza, etc.), a flavor like lemon, or even origin like the Mediterranean or South America. It could be a craft or medicinal garden from which to make home remedies or a dye garden dedicated to plants that yield fantastic colors for fibers.
Gardens may be in the ground, raised beds or select from a wide array of containers. The primary requirement is good soil and drainage. Keep in mind with containers, the smaller the container, the more quickly it will dry out.
Of course, it is just as acceptable to incorporate herbs into existing vegetable gardens or landscapes as it is to have a dedicated herb garden. Likewise, herbs don’t necessarily need to be grouped by intended purpose. It is wise however, to separate poisonous plants from those that are edible!