Pick a location in the yard where the sun shines six to eight hours per day. Make sure this area is well-drained and that no water lies in puddles in the area when it rains. A small herb garden will measure 4 feet by 4 feet and a large one can be 4 feet by 20 feet. It is best to start with a smaller garden, but place it in an area where it can be enlarged as more proficiency is gained through the years. Herb gardening is fun and interesting--most gardeners add more and more to their garden each year.
Remove any grass with a shovel and discard. Add a little compost and some peat moss to the area. Use a rototiller to cultivate the soil at least 6 to 8 inches down. Soil does not have to be rich for herbs. They also do not need much fertilizer. If the soil is especially substandard, add some organic garden fertilizer when cultivating the soil. If too much fertilizing is done, the plants will grow well but the flavor will not be as strong in culinary herbs. In subsequent years add a little fertilizer in the spring. There should not be any need for more.
Choose herbs to place in the garden. There are thousands, so only choose what will be used. Those who cook may want to plant culinary herbs like thyme, parsley, tarragon, sage, oregano, marjoram, savory, chives, mint, rosemary, fennel or dill. Medicinal herbs include some of the culinary herbs with some of the easier-to-grow herbs like echinacea, St. John's Wort, ginkgo and chamomile. Lavender is a great herb to grow that can be used in any application--plus it smells great, too. The local garden center should have a great variety of herbs from which to pick.
Choose plants rather than try to start seeds. Many herb seeds have special requirements and most have to be started six to eight weeks prior to planting outdoors. Some have to be soaked overnight, others have to have a certain temperature under the seed trays in order to germinate. Many herbs cannot be started by seed, so rather than try to figure out how to meet all the requirements, it is suggested that a plant be purchased to put in the garden. Remove the plant from the container it is in and loosen the roots. If some of the roots are really long, cut them off uniformly. Dig a hole with a trowel in the garden big enough to contain the roots and place the plant in it. Fill in with soil and push down to secure the soil around the base of the plant. Water after all plants are in the garden using a fine spray. Soak well. If the soil around the plants sinks, fill in with more soil.
Water only when it has not rained in awhile. Regular rain should be enough for herbs, as they are very drought tolerant. Supplement with a garden hose with a sprinkler head attached or with a watering can once or twice a week in dry periods. Wilting leaves are an indication that the plant needs water.
Snip back the flowers of any herb where the foliage is used. This would include basil, mint, sage, chives and others. Most of the time the flowers are edible and can be used in salads. Removing the flowers will prevent the herb from ceasing to grow and bush out. When flowers come out and die back the plant thinks its time is over and starts to go dormant.
Cut herbs back with garden shears or regular scissors. A harvest can be taken from herb transplants two weeks from the time they are planted. In a newly planted garden, a harvest can be taken the first part of August by cutting the plants back by about half. The harvested herbs need to be dried or frozen right away. The next year, a harvest can be taken at the beginning of June and then the third week in August. This will allow the plants to recover before winter sets in and will allow perennials to be healthy enough to come back the next year. Any annuals need to be removed before a frost.
Dry herbs by grouping several stems in a rubber band and hanging in a dry place out of the sun. Small herbs that might not gather well in a rubber band can be placed on screens that are exposed to air on all sides to dry. Those herbs that have seeds that can be used (like anise or dill) can be gathered in a rubber band with a brown paper lunch bag attached to catch the seeds as they hang drying. Some herbs can be microwaved little by little to dry as well. To freeze herbs, place them in a freezer bag and put in the freezer. Most will come out a little limp when defrosted, but they are still good to use in cooked dishes like soups and stews.