Herb Garden Plans for Beginners

Starting an herb garden can be an exciting and rewarding experience for any gardener. Herbs are relatively easy to grow, provide a bounty of foliage and flavors, and look beautiful in any outdoor space. With some planning and preparation, even beginner gardeners can create a thriving herb garden. This comprehensive guide will walk through all the steps needed to design, plant, and maintain a successful herb garden.

Choosing a Location

When first starting out, focus on finding a spot outdoors that gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. Herbs flourish in sunny conditions. If planting indoors or in a low light area, choose shade-tolerant varieties like mint or parsley. Here are some ideal locations to situate an herb garden:

  • A raised garden bed or container near the kitchen door for easy access when cooking. Place this bed on a paved area to prevent weeds from invading.
  • An unused section of the vegetable garden that receives full sun exposure. Interplant herbs like basil, dill and cilantro next to crops like tomatoes, lettuce and cabbage.
  • A mixed flower border, as many herbs feature flowers and attractive foliage. Just be sure not to overwhelm smaller flowers.
  • Along a fence or path. Trailing herbs like thyme work well in between pavers or along the edges of a walkway. Upright herbs make excellent screens when planted along a fence line.

Choosing the Herbs

It’s tempting to want to grow every herb under the sun, but it’s best to start small when first starting out. Focus on 3-5 hardy herbs that suit your growing conditions and culinary tastes. Here are some top choices for beginner herb gardens:

Basil – A must for any herb garden. Many varieties available including sweet, Thai and lemon. Requires warm conditions.

Chives – Extremely hardy and easy to grow. Prefers cool weather and tolerates some shade. Provides pretty purple flowers.

Cilantro – Quick to bolt in hot weather. Grow successively for continual harvests. Good for containers.

Dill – A favorite for pickling. Direct sow regularly for steady supply. Excellent companion for cabbage family crops.

Mint – Very hardy, but can take over garden quickly. Grow in container to control spread or sink pot in ground to restrict roots.

Oregano – Carefree plant. Requires little maintenance and thrives in poor soil. Used frequently in Italian dishes.

Parsley – Biennial that lives two years. Curly leaf is good for garnish while Italian flat leaf offers robust flavor.

Rosemary – Shrubby plant grows slowly but makes striking addition to herb beds. Can be difficult to overwinter indoors.

Sage – Wonderful addition next to rosemary. Tolerates some shade and requires little watering or care.

Thyme – Many varieties from lemon to woolly. Withstands heat and needs a sunny, well-drained spot. Goes well with vegetables.

Preparing the Soil

Herbs thrive in loose, well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. Here are some tips for preparing your herb garden bed:

  • Loosen the existing soil with a spade or garden fork to a depth of 8-12 inches. Break up any large clumps.
  • Work 2-3 inches of compost into the top 6 inches of soil to increase nutrients and drainage. Avoid synthetic fertilizers.
  • For raised beds, fill with a blend of quality potting soil, compost and a natural fertilizer like blood meal.
  • For containers, use a commercial potting mix blended with compost. Add slow-release organic granular fertilizer.
  • Test soil pH to ensure it’s between 6.0-7.0. Most herbs prefer neutral to slightly alkaline conditions.

Planting Your Herbs

Once your herb garden bed is prepped, it’s time for planting! Follow these tips when installing your herbs:

Seeds – Sow smaller seeds (like dill and cilantro) directly in prepared garden soil in early spring after the last frost. Cover lightly with soil. Start larger seeds (such as basil and parsley) indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost date. Harden off before transplanting.

Seedlings – Purchase healthy herb plants from nurseries after the danger of frost has passed. Look for those without yellowing leaves or root crowding. Transplant on a calm, cloudy day and water thoroughly.

Potted – Choose herbs sold in pots over bare root whenever possible. Transplant potted herbs into beds or larger containers using care not to disturb roots. Water well and let them establish for 1-2 weeks.

Containers – Select containers at least 12 inches wide and deep with drainage holes. Use quality potting mix, place herbs close together for full growth and leave 1-2 inches between soil and container rim.

Plant Markers – Identify herbs with markers listing the variety and any care tips needed. This helps prevent confusing similar looking plants like thyme varieties.

Caring for Your Herb Garden

While most herbs are relatively carefree once established, they do require some basic maintenance to keep them looking their best. Follow these tips for a healthy, productive herb garden:

Watering

  • Check soil moisture frequently. Water when top few inches become dry.
  • Avoid overhead watering which can lead to mildew. Irrigate at soil level using soaker hoses or drip lines.
  • Container plants need more frequent watering, even daily in hot weather. Allow pots to slightly dry out between waterings.

Fertilizing

  • Use organic fertilizers like compost tea, worm castings, fish emulsion or seaweed solutions. Follow label directions.
  • Fertilize actively growing plants in spring and summer. Avoid high nitrogen products which lead to excess foliage.
  • For containers, add slow release granular fertilizer at planting time and supplement with compost tea every 4-6 weeks during growing season.

Controlling Pests and Diseases

  • Monitor for common pests like aphids, spider mites and cabbage worms. Remove by hand or use organic insecticidal soap sprays as needed.
  • Prevent fungal issues by allowing good airflow between plants. Avoid wetting foliage and don’t crowd plants.
  • Remove damaged growth promptly and discard in trash. Don’t compost diseased plants or trimmings.

Pruning and Harvesting

  • Snip leaves regularly to encourage new growth. Cut just above a set of leaves and avoid taking more than 30% at one time.
  • Harvest by cutting entire stems near base of plant. Regrowth occurs quickly. Try to harvest in morning after dew dries.
  • Prune any dead, damaged or unsightly growth as needed to maintain shape. But avoid shearing plants into tight balls.
  • Cut back leggy plants by one third in spring to force new compact growth. Exceptions are basil, fennel and dill which dislike cutting back.

Overwintering Tender Herbs

  • Dig up herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, tarragon and lavender before first frost. Replant in containers and grow indoors over winter.
  • Take basil and mint cuttings in late summer. Root in water then pot up to maintain plants indoors. Discard original plants.
  • Allow parsley and cilantro to go to seed at end of season. Save seeds to replant next spring.
  • Mulch tender herbs in ground well with straw before winter. Cover beds with fabric row covers for added protection.

Design and Planting Tips

  • Group herbs together based on water and light needs. For example, plant sun-lovers like thyme and sage separately from shade-tolerators like mints and parsley.
  • Use trailing herbs like thyme and oregano as edging plants along paths or in stone walls. Upright growers like basil and sage make great backdrops.
  • Interplant quick growing herbs like dill and cilantro next to slower growers like parsley and chives to maximize space.
  • Plant taller herbs towards back and use smaller herbs up front for visibility. Place those that need frequent harvesting near walkways for easy access.
  • For containers, plant only one herb variety per pot (or three plants of the same type).Combine herbs requiring similar watering needs.
  • Add ornamental qualities to your garden by including flowered herbs like borage, chamomile, lavender, basil, chervil, dill and fennel.

Sample Herb Garden Plans

The following sample layouts provide inspiration for designing a herb garden:

Small Mixed Container Garden

  • 1 container with parsley, chives and thyme
  • 1 container with basil, oregano and sage
  • 1 container with cilantro and dill

Mini Backyard Herb Garden (4×4 feet)

  • Back row: Oregano, rosemary and sage
  • Middle row: Thyme, tarragon and basil
  • Front row: Chives, parsley and cilantro

4 Foot Wide Herb Border

  • Back: Basil, dill, tarragon
  • Middle: Chives, oregano, mint
  • Front: Thyme, sage, parsley

Large Backyard Herb Garden (8×4 feet)

  • Back row: Sage, lavender, rosemary
  • 2nd row: Oregano, thyme, basils
  • 3rd row: Chives, cilantro, dill, fennel
  • Front row: Parsley, mint, marjoram

Raised Bed Herb Square (4×4 feet)

  • Corner 1: Chives
  • Corner 2: Sage
  • Corner 3: Mint
  • Corner 4: Thyme
  • Center: Basil, parsley, cilantro

Enjoying the Herb Bounty

Once your herb garden is up and running, you’ll have a continuous supply of fresh herbs right at your fingertips. Here are some ideas for making use of your herbal harvest:

  • Make herb vinegars, oils and butter to flavor dishes and sauces. Great gifts too!
  • Dry excess herbs from your garden to preserve for future use in cooking.
  • Whip up homemade teas, cocktails, lemonades, pestos, herb butters, marinades, salsas, and seasoning rubs.
  • Use herb flowers like borage, chives, fennel and basil to add color and flavor to salads, cakes, and drinks.
  • Mix fresh herb pots to give as gifts alongside herb dipping oils and recipe cards.
  • Craft homemade soaps, bath bombs, linen sprays and sachets using the herbs and flowers.

Starting an indoor or outdoor herb garden is an easy, enjoyable project for gardeners of all levels. When thoughtfully planned and cared for, an herb garden will continue providing a bountiful harvest year after year. Follow this beginner’s guide and you’ll be harvesting flavorful herbs from your own garden plot in no time!