Freshly grown herbs collected from your own backyard garden generally have a better quality smell and flavor than herbs bought in the store, according to the University of Illinois. You have dozens of choices for backyard herb species, from taller-growing varieties like lavender and basil, to ground-hugging plants like mint. Whatever species you choose to fill your herb garden, several general herb-growing guidelines and strategies can help ensure a healthy garden and a flavorful herb harvest.
Choose a site for your herb garden. Most types of herbs thrive best in full sun, according to Purdue University, with an ideal minimum of six hours of sunlight daily. Herbs can handle some shade, but shade-grown herb plants will have a thinner appearance and a less powerful flavor and smell.
Test your soil pH levels with a soil testing kit, available at most garden stores. A soil pH of 6.5 to 7.0 will grow the highest-quality herbs, according to the University of Missouri. The pH can be reduced with urea, aluminium sulphate or ammonium nitrate, and can be raised with slaked lime or agricultural lime. Consult your regional cooperative extension office to find what pH amendments are commonly used in your region.
Prepare the soil. Herbs thrive in well-drained soil and will respond positively to soil amended with a couple inches of aged compost. Actual fertilization is advised against by the University of Illinois, which says that herbs grow best in soil with low fertility. Fertile soil encourages the herb to grow more leaves with decreased flavor.
Plant the herb seeds in the prepared garden site. Bury and space each seed according to the guidelines listed on its label, as space requirements vary widely according to the herb species.
Water the herbs. Most herbs require approximately 1 inch of water weekly, according to the University of Illinois. The university suggests spreading 3 inches of mulch around your herbs to conserve soil moisture. Recommended mulching material includes grass clippings and shredded bark.
Harvest the herbs. Harvesting times and signs of maturity vary widely by plant. For the best quality harvest, herbal foliage should typically be collected in the morning as soon as the dew has dissipated. Flavor and smell is strongest during this time. If you're collecting herbal flowers, snip them off the plant before they've opened for the day.