Herbs are some of the most beloved plants worldwide and for good reason. They are healthy, they make foods taste amazing, and they are also relatively easy to take care of. However, one must learn the ins and outs of the process of taking care of them in order to reap the full benefits of these plants. Not caring for them well enough can result in them being more unhealthy, having a worse flavor and nutritional content, and also ultimately, dying.
Since nobody wants this to happen with their beautiful herbs, I have come up with this short but effective guide to help you take care of your herbs. I will go through the herbs which this guide refers to, the soil type they require, the amount of light, water, and the type of nutrition they need. If you want to amp up your cooking game a bit, or just take care of these beautiful and fragrant herbs as a hobby, this article is for you! Read on if you are interested!
What Are Herbs?
So, first and foremost, let’s clarify what herbs are. Herbs are all plants that have seeds, flowers, or other parts that are used for either food, medicine, or perfume making. This creates a large spectrum to be looking at, since there are many herbs that are only used for perfume making or for medicine, that a majority of people don’t even know about since they aren’t used in cooking, for example.
In this step-by-step guide, I will be talking about some of the most common herbs people tend to want to plant and take care of either outdoors or indoors. By this, I mean plants like rosemary, thyme, mint, basil, oregano, bay laurel, cilantro, dill, lemongrass, marjoram, etc.
Many of these herbs require different amounts of light, different soil, or different amounts of water, but most of them can grow in similar conditions since they aren’t all that picky. If there will be something specific you need to watch out for, I will mention it so you don’t accidentally kill off one or two of your herbs.
Now that we got the basics cleared, it is time to dive right into the step-by-step guide to growing and taking care of the most amazing herbs!
Step 1: The Soil
The foundation, the habitat, and the home of almost all plants. We have to start with this one first since it is arguably the most important part of planting anything since if you don’t get this part right, there is nothing that can save your herbs.
Herbs are generally happy and healthy in regular garden soil. This means the standard soil that you can buy in any store, which is usually called “Universal Garden Soil.” This is one of the things that make herbs easier to grow since they don’t have any requirements for specific types of soil. They are quite resistant to changes in soil acidity, however, you should try to keep the pH a consistent 6-7. This, slightly acidic soil is the sweet spot for your herbs to thrive.
The herbs that need some special attention here are Mediterranean ones, like rosemary, lavender, oregano, or bay. These are used to the somewhat drier and tougher Mediterranean soils, which have lower water contents and are usually a bit less nutritionally dense.
The key for these plants is not necessarily to buy Mediterranean soil, though that is the best option, at least to create an environment in which the soil in which these plants are growing can drain more sharply and intensely than with the other herbs you own. This means more holes on the bottom of your pot, warmer, dryer temperatures, somewhat less water, etc. Do not over-water these plants; that is one of the most common reasons why these plants die at the hands of inexperienced plant growers.
Deciding Between Indoor or Outdoor Planting
This is an important part of the process, perhaps one of the most important. Before planting your herbs in pots or any definitive place, decide where you want your herbs to grow. If you have a garden that receives a lot of sunlight, a large majority of herbs will feel a lot better in your garden than they would in your kitchen window. The natural surroundings, direct sunlight, constantly fresh air all make for an optimal herb-habitat.
However, you might have a garden that doesn’t receive much sunlight, or perhaps you don’t have a garden at all. If you belong in the latter category, the answer to this is obvious, and you can skip this paragraph. However, if you have a garden, but one that doesn’t receive as much sunlight, you can still plant some herbs outside.
Though most Mediterranean herbs require a lot of direct sunlight (more than 6 hours daily), there are a couple of great herbs that aren’t as fond of sunbathing. Some of these are tarragon, chives, parsley, or mint. You can grow half of your herbs indoors and half of the herbs outdoors, depending on the amount of light and the temperature in your area or your home.
Step 2: Watering Your Herbs
So the next step in taking care of your herbs has to be the process of watering them. Water is one of the most important substances that all living beings need to survive and thrive, including these herbs. In this section, I will go through the type of water you should be using, the frequency with which you should water them, and also how to do that properly.
The Type of Water
So, first of all, the type of water. As with almost all plants, the best type of water to use if you want your plants to grow faster and stronger and also live happier and healthier, is distilled water. Distilled water is pure H2O, and is made by evaporating water by boiling it, and then cooling down the condensed particles. This way, all the minerals, particles, and possible microorganisms that can be found in water are filtered out. Distilled water is used in most planting and caretaking processes with plants since it allows for the complete customization of the plant’s diet and mineral intake.
The reason why this is good is that you can never know what is exactly inside your tap water. Though it might be clean and filtered (which it probably is in most places, since tap water is one of the most closely regulated commodities in the world), there are a lot of minerals in it which are not filtered out, and depending on the area in which you live, the ratio of these minerals can vary quite a lot. The problem with this is that you cannot know whether there is a mineral in your tap water that might be toxic or unhealthy for your plant, nor can you know how much of it is in the water.
Since you probably can’t test your water for all the minerals in it, it is better to just buy pure H2O (distilled water) and purchase the nutrients and minerals your plants need separately. This way you can avoid the dangerous buildup of minerals in your herbs’ system, and avoid potentially killing them with this.
When Should You Water Your Herbs?
Though most herbs need nearly the same amount of water, there are some differences between them which stem from the place of origin of the specific plants. As mentioned before, many herbs are of Mediterranean origin and are used to dryer soils and less water than something like mint, for example. I would advise you to do some herb-specific research on each of the ones you plan on planting before you get them so you know just how much water they need.
A general rule of thumb is to water your herbs once a week, or twice a week in hot weather. Another way to do this is to water them any time the soil gets too dry, however, since it isn’t as specific, this method can easily lead to over-watering your plants or drying them out.
Water your herbs (and all plants, really) in the morning hours optimally, or perhaps in the later afternoon. There are two main reasons for this: one of them is that in the middle of the day, when it is already warm, watering your plants can shock them, which can lead to damage and decreased health.
The other reason is that in the morning or later in the afternoon, since both the air and the ground are cooler, less water evaporates from it and thus there is more for the plants to soak up. This way, you won’t be creating a humid environment with little water in the ground, but rather a nice, fresh atmosphere and optimal water levels in the soil.
Also, herbs that are of Mediterranean origin require their soils to turn almost completely dry before you water them again. You could achieve this by giving them either a little less water weekly, or by watering them in intervals a day or two longer than you would the other herbs.
How to Plant Herbs for Watering Efficiency
As discussed earlier, though you could get by with watering all your herbs once a week, some plants need a bit more water, some a bit less. Generally, herbs that originate from warmer climates (Mediterranean) require somewhat less water, and also, as also mentioned earlier, dryer soil. This is why, if you want to keep your plants as healthy and happy as possible, plant plants together that have similar requirements.
Plant your oreganos, basil, or lavender near each other or even in the same pot, and things like chives, tarragon, or cilantro in another. You can also place all herbs in different pots, but planting them next to one another is just more efficient in almost all aspects.
Step 3: Providing Enough Sunlight
One of the most straightforward steps when it comes to taking care of herbs is their requirement for sunlight. Almost all herbs do well with a lot of direct sunlight, so if you have a garden that has constant sunlight daily, you can plant potentially all of your herbs there. However, you should try to watch out for the distribution of these plants, both because of the soil and the amount of sunlight.
Though there isn’t a large difference in herbs’ sunlight needs, if you want to provide the happiest and healthiest life for these awesome plants, you should pay attention to the details. It doesn’t come as a surprise, for example, that you should plant your Mediterranean herbs in the area of your garden which receives the most sunlight. This will help in keeping the ground or soil relatively dry, and also in providing the proper amount of direct sunlight they need.
Other herbs like chives, tarragon, cilantro, mint, and parsley will do better with a significant amount of direct sunlight, but not as much as their Mediterranean friends. As a rule of thumb, place your Mediterraneans in a place where they can get a minimum of 5-6 hours of direct sunlight daily, while the other, more sensitive ones should be planted somewhere where they can receive between 3-5 hours of direct sunlight daily.
These same guidelines remain true for your herbs if you plan on keeping them indoors. Place the ones with the highest needs of sunlight right next to windows that face the Sun for the longest time, while you can place the more continental herbs in a less sunlit area that is still bright enough for their needs.
Generally, all herbs require sunlight, so do not ever place them somewhere where it is dark or cold. These plants live best in natural circumstances, where they have access to fresh, moving air and a significant amount of heat and light from the Sun.
Step 4: Fertilizing Regularly
Another important step in helping your herbs grow large and healthy is to fertilize them regularly. A mistake people often make is to not fertilize their herbs at all, thinking that sunlight and water will be enough for them to remain healthy and grow properly. While some plants might thrive like that, most won’t live up to their full potential without a proper fertilizing regime.
You should fertilize your herbs around once every week with light fertilizer. Do not use anything which might be toxic to ingest, since, as we all know, herbs are usually grown for cooking purposes. A light compost tea once a week can be a great option for them, but you should watch out to only fertilize the ground and not the leaves or even the stem of the plant to avoid potentially contaminating the plants with some substance that might be dangerous or unhealthy to consume.
Step 5: Pruning Your Herbs Regularly
One of the steps which are most commonly forgotten is the pruning of herbs. A happy, healthy, and also tasty herb is one with a lot of leaves compared to stem length (not too much, but balanced). Generally, the more leaves there are, the better your herbs are feeling. The way you can achieve a good leaf-to-stem-length ratio is by pruning your herbs often.
First, you do have to watch out for any bug invasions or illnesses your plant can have, and you must follow all the steps above to achieve the best herb growth, however, the best way to keep your herbs in their best shape is to prune them. This means cutting off new leaves every week or two, even if you aren’t using them. You can dry these leaves for dried herbs, or sell them fresh if you don’t need them, but this step is important since it keeps your herbs in the growing phase for much longer.
If you don’t prune and cut your herbs at all, and you don’t use them often for cooking, you will end up with a plant that has a long stem with few leaves on it. This is not as healthy for your herbs, since leaves are usually where the bulk of photosynthesis and a couple of other vital processes happen, and it is also bad for you since you won’t have as much product to harvest at the end of the day.
Though pruning and cutting back newer, small stems or leaves sometimes might seem like a cruel thing to do, it can actually benefit both you and your herb, so make sure you don’t forget this part of the process of taking care of your herbs.
The last step, which doesn’t require its own subtitle, is to enjoy! Enjoy the amazing taste and health benefits of your herbs, enjoy the feeling of satisfaction you get from knowing you have done your job properly and have helped your plants to live a healthy and happy life, and also enjoy the beauty of these amazing and beautiful plants, together with the phenomenal aromas they can give your garden or home!
The Most Common Mistakes in Herb Gardening (thespruce.com)
Herb Garden – Growing Herbs | Gardener’s Supply