How to Grow a Herb Garden: The Insider’s Guide

Last update: 3 weeks ago

how to grow a herb garden

Growing herbs makes your garden look nice and gives you the advantage of spicing up your meals with fresh greens. Creating a herb garden requires only a small chunk of effort and, after investing a little bit of time as well, you will bear the fruits of your hard work soon enough. Even if growing herbs outdoors or indoors doesn’t require plenty of gardening knowledge on your side, you might still want to check our extensive guide on how to grow a herb garden.

Main herb types

Most of the common herbs for cooking can be cultivated without a hitch in garden containers, raised beds, or in conventional vegetable or herb gardens. These herbs include well-known types, such as:

  • Annuals – Annual herbs are also known as soft herbs. These plants will die at the end of the year and need to be replanted from seed every year. Many herbs in the Apiaceae family, such as dill and cilantro, are of this type. Basil is often grown as an annual due to the weather conditions.
  • Biennials– Biennials are plants which require two years to complete their whole life cycle, such as caraway, parsley, chervil;
  • Perennials– Herbs that grow back every year are called perennials. In moderate climates, they keep growing throughout the year. But in colder places, they die back and come up again from their roots once the weather warms up. Some examples include fennel, rosemary, marjoram, mint, chives, sage, borage, thyme, and tarragon.

Herbs are often grouped together based on their growing requirements. This makes it easy to care for them, as you can simply apply the same care to all plants in a group.

What herbs can be planted together?

There are a few things to consider when planting herbs together in a container, and the most important is water preferences and compatibility.

Mint is the only herb that should not be planted with others as it likes to spread out, and it sends runners under the soil that can disrupt the tender roots of other herbs.

Dill, cilantro, and parsley have the same watering and temperature needs to grow together. Basil can also grow with these herbs as it likes its soil to be more consistently moist.

On the other hand, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, lavender, sage, and thyme like their soil to stay dry and do well being grown together.

How to grow a herb garden outdoors

how to grow a herb garden outside
Shutterstock / Agatha Koroglu

A famous horticulturist once said: “God didn’t make pots, and he didn’t make houses, either!”. Although people do grow herbs in containers, the main advantage of growing them in the ground is that they can easily get pretty big as their rooting system will have all the space it needs to grow.

*Growing conditions are UK based.

Basil Well-drained
to dry
Moderate Full 40 45 FEB to APR MAY to OCT
Bay Well-drained Plenty Full or partial 750 750 APR to SEP JAN to DEC
Chervil Moist, rich, light Plenty Partial 25 45 MAR to AUG MAY to OCT
Chives Well-drained,
Low Full 30 40 MAR to MAY JUN to NOV
Coriander Well-drained Plenty Full or partial 25 40 MAR to SEP MAY to OCT
Dill Well-drained,
slightly acidic
Plenty Full 30 90 MAR to JUL JUN to SEP
Fennel Well-drained,
Low Full 30 60 MAR to MAY JUL to NOV
Marjoram Well-drained to dry,
slightly alcaline
Low Full 30 60 MAR to MAY JUL to NOV
Mint Moist, rich Moderate Full or partial 50 100 FEB to SEP
(w.o. JUL)
Oregano Well-drained Low Full 45 45 MAR to APR JUN to SEP
Parsley Well-drained, rich,
slightly alcaline
Plenty Full or partial 45 45 MAR to JUL MAY to NOV
Rosemary Well-drained,
Moderate Full 150 150 MAR to MAY JUL to OCT
Sage Well-drained to dry,
slightly alcaline
Low Full 90 60 MAR to MAY JUN to OCT
Thyme Well-drained,
slightly alcaline
Low Full 35 30 MAR to APR JUN to OCT

Choose the right spot for your herbs

The most important thing you have to keep in mind when growing herbs is choosing the proper location. Most herbs prefer to be fully exposed to sunlight, as long as summer temperatures do not go over 32 degrees. Of course, there are those exceptions that require partial shade during the day.

If your area is not stranger to hot summers, then you should make sure to plant at a spot that receives a lot of morning sunshine and afternoon shade, or at a place with partial shade, e.g. under a tree. Frequently check the area to see whether it’s lit for at least four hours a day.

Prepare the soil before you plant your herb garden

Prepping the soil for planting herbs is crucial for the plant’s proper development. Over the years, any type of soil will become quite dense, so your first job will be to dig it out a bit with a garden fork or any other comfortable garden tool in order to loosen it. Doing so will allow water to drain very easily and the plant’s roots will have no trouble making their way to the mineral stashes within the soil. If you decide to skip or overlook this, your plants’ future will be under serious threat.

Here, compost will be of big help. Properly made compost, layered about an inch over the soil and mixed together, will prevent any drainage issues and fertilise your planting area.

Water your herbs the right way

Growing fresh and abundant herbs requires proper water levels in their soil. Usually, herbs demand water when the soil feels dry to the touch a couple of inches deep. There are various ever-shifting climate conditions that influence the water contents in the soil, such as air humidity or temperature, so make sure to check on the soil frequently.

Important: Avoid overwatering! It’s a big no-no to flush heavy amounts of water on your plants as it creates unwelcoming growing conditions, which reduce the herbs’ strength and lead to various plant diseases.

How to plant out herbs

Plant out herbs after they harden off. That is, after indoor or greenhouse plants get accustomed to lower humidity, temperature levels, and air breeze. Follow these steps to ensure a smooth process:

  • Moisten the soil if it is too dry.
  • Rake the soil and remove any stones or break up big chunks of dirt.
  • Slowly extract the plant from its pot by pushing it up from the base, together with all the dirt.
  • Avoid touching their stems as they are too gentle and can break when pressed.
  • Place the top of the root under the soil surface.
  • Sweep the soil and press it.
  • Use a watering can with a rose to water the plant.

How to harvest herbs

In general, a herb is ready for harvest once it reaches 6-8” height. When that happens, cut off ⅓ of its branches. Cut smart – closer to leaf intersections – and you will have new scented leaves in no time. If the herb’s leaves grow from the centre, remove the older branches entirely.

Tip: Leave a mixture of old and new leaves whenever possible. Never cut off the lungs of your herbs entirely or you won’t be able to fully use the plant’s potential.

How to grow a herb garden in pots

how to grow herbs in containers

Even though herbs grow best in a traditional garden, there are a couple of advantages to container gardening. Firstly, herbs will be at a handy place so you don’t need to rush to the garden every time you want to dice a handful of leaves into the stew.

Secondly, some herb plants are best to be grown in containers due to their invasive nature, such as mints. Thirdly, container gardening is not complicated – all you need is plenty of sunlight and a large enough container. You will also avoid the hurdles of having to dig out and prep the soil of your garden lot.

Still, you have to be aware that not all herbs grow well in containers. Oregano, lovage, chervil, and dill, amongst others, have deep rooting systems that spread out widely. What’s more, container gardening demands strict watering and feeding, but it definitely brings a fresh look on your porch, window sills, or front garden.

You need:

  • Large clay or plastic pots. As large as 8” to 18” in diameter;
  • Potting soil mixture;
  • Plant fertiliser – use organic one;
  • Watering can with a rose.
Tip: You can start with a smaller pot, but remember that you may want to transfer the herbs to larger containers as some can reach at least two and a half feet high.


  • Fill your pot with potting soil and fertiliser according to the herb’s package instructions.
  • Water the soil until fully dampened.
  • Place the pot on a plate to protect your patio or floor from leaking water.
  • Dig holes for each plant.
  • Take the plants out of their original pots by gently tapping the bottom and pulling their stems from the base where the roots are.
  • Put the plant in the hole, cover the area around the stem with soil, and press lightly
  • Water the plant after planting.

How to prune herbs

fresh herbs

Pruning is a sure way of reaping copious amounts of herbs from your garden. When you prune herbs, you cut off some of their leaves and stems, which will stimulate them to grow more. Pruning provides control over how your garden looks like, both in terms of size and appearance.

Here are some hands-on tips on how to prune herbs:

  • Prune early, and do it often. As early as in the infant stage;
  • Spend more time with your plants and you will be able to detect plant disease or garden pests lurking in between the leaves;
  • Don’t prune more than a third of the plant or nothing will grow;
  • Use your fingers to cut off leaves and stems for delicate plants;
  • Leave an 8-week period between the last pruning and the first winter cold, in order for the biennial and perennial plants to have time to harden.

Herb garden pests and diseases

herb garden pests

Even though herbs themselves are often used as insect and garden pest repellents, they can sometimes also fall victim to pesky bugs. And even though you may grow herbs that repel any crawling creepers, various plant diseases, such as bolt, mould, and mint rust are not to be joked with. So, how do you deal with herb garden pests and diseases?

  • Cilantro: powdery mildew is the gravest enemy – get organic fungicides once you see it appearing;
  • Basil: slugs and aphids are often attracted to basil. Plant basil in a spot that can easily drain water and the soil doesn’t remain moist on top for too long;
  • Chives: aphids are a common problem – use water spray to knock them out;
  • Marjoram: the usual suspects are spider mites, aphids, and several plant diseases, mainly fungal ones. To avoid the latter, make sure there’s enough air circulation between the separate plants;
  • Dill: it doesn’t pair well with tomatoes as it is usually attacked by tomato hornworms;
  • Mint: a lot of garden pests feed on mint, such as flea beetles, spider mites, aphids, and cabbage loopers. Various plant diseases are also often found on mint leaves – pick the infected ones as soon as you spot them. Organic fungicides and pesticides are the saviours of the rather tormented herb.

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