Herbs, whether medicinal, culinary, aromatic or ornamental, have been in use since ancient times. Herbs, seed plants that flower and reproduce via seeds formed during the growth cycle, are classified as annual, biennial or perennial. According to "The Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbook on Herbs," there are at least 73 listed types of herbs. Adaptive to most any soil type, herbs grow well in gardens, flowerbeds, hanging baskets and containers, and can be used fresh or dried.
Planning Your Herb Garden
Choose herbs based on their intended use, whether it be culinary, medicinal or decorative. If you want to experiment, plant a few seeds of each herb that piques your interest.
Determine whether you wish to plant herbs in the garden, flower beds or indoors for easy access. Herbs can be started directly in the garden, once all chance of frost has passed for your location, while indoor herb plants can be started any time of year.
Plant one type of herb per container. This will allow you to watch development, study appearance and learn what each herb needs to grow successfully.
Choose a location for indoor herb plants that provides at least six hours of sunlight and temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees F. Most herbs, planted outdoors, can withstand partial shade.
Growing Herbs Indoors
Fill peat pots with slightly moistened potting mix.
Scatter seeds across the surface of each pot and cover with a thin layer of soil.
Label each pot, as you sow seeds, with date of planting and type of seed. Use plastic garden markers or recycle Popsicle sticks, written on with a permanent marker.
Place pots on a tray and set the tray in a warm, sunny location. Seeds need temperatures between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit to complete the germination process.
Cover the tray with plastic wrap, to help with moisture and heat retention. Once seedlings sprout, plastic wrap should be removed.
Keep seedlings moist, but not waterlogged, during the early stages of growth.
Transplant seedlings to larger clay pots once they develop three to four sets of true leaves. Seedlings, in peat pots, can be placed directly into a new container and filled with slightly moistened potting soil.
Apply fertilizer as needed, at least every two weeks. Gardening Guru recommends the use of an organic fertilizer diluted by 50 percent of the manufacturer's recommended strength.
Water herb plants when the top layer of soil is dry. Check containers daily and apply water as needed. Most herbs do not require excessive moisture; however, you should determine the specific water requirements for the types of herbs you grow.
Harvest leaves throughout the growth cycle, according to the type of herb. Herbs used for their leaves should be harvested before flowering occurs. Those used for the flowers should be harvested before blooms fully open, while herbs grown for their seeds should not be harvested until seed pods mature and change color. Root herbs are ready for harvest in late summer or early fall, once the root matures.
Growing Herbs Outdoors
Amend soil in chosen planting location with equal amounts of organic compost and coarse sand to improve drainage and add essential nutrients to the soil. Herbs grow best in well-draining soil. North Coast Gardening recommends an application of 3 to 6 inches, worked into the soil at a depth of 6 to 8 inches.
Rake planting site smooth with a garden rake, to break up any loose clumps of soil.
Plant different herbs in different sections, and use plastic or wood garden markers to label each herb. Follow specific planting recommendations for each herb, typically listed on seed packets, to determine how many seeds to plant.
Create a small trench, using your finger or a garden trowel, for each row of herbs.
Sow herb seeds, according to packet instructions for recommended spacing. For smaller seeds, mix with a teaspoon of sand to aid in even distribution.
Cover herb seeds with a thin layer of soil and water gently to moisten and set the seeds.
Thin seedlings down to the healthiest specimens, once sprouting occurs and plants have at least 2 sets of true leaves.
Water herb plants once per week, with at least 1 inch of water.