Herbs have a wide variety of uses, from ornamental plants such as lamb's ear to culinary plants such as oregano, basil and chives to plants with medicinal applications that include lavender and foxglove. Herbs prefer full sunlight and well drained soil to grow well, whether in the ground or in containers. Because herbs are often used medicinally and in the kitchen, many gardeners prefer to grow herbs organically rather than introduce pesticides to the plants.
Test your soil before planting an herb garden by digging 1 quart of soil from up to 10 locations throughout your garden plot. Place this soil in a bucket and mix it thoroughly. Pick out any roots or debris and spread the soil over a newspaper in a well-ventilated area to dry. Place 1 cup of soil in a sandwich bag and take it to your local county cooperative extension service, which will send the sample to the nearest agricultural college soil laboratory for testing to determine your soil structure, soil pH and nutrients that you should add to your soil. A nominal fee applies for soil testing and most labs will return soil results to you within three weeks.
Break up your soil to a depth of 12 inches with a rototiller. Spread 4 inches of organic soil amendments over the soil to improve it, based on the test results from step 1. Common organic soil amendments include peat moss and compost to improve drainage in clay soil, well rotted manure to improve the nutrient structure and sulfur to lower the pH of soil or lime to raise the pH. Mix these amendments into the soil with the rototiller. If you are growing herbs in a container, use a high-grade commercial potting soil.
Plant seeds in the soil by opening a trench or drill hole twice as deep as the seed's diameter at the widest point. Place the seed in the trench or drill hole and cover with soil. Pat the soil down firmly.
For transplants, open a planting pocket for the root ball. Place the transplant into the planting pocket and cover with soil, patting it down firmly.
Plant herbs in complementary plantings so that each herb can take advantage of the insect and pest repelling advantages of its neighbor. For example, basil will help repel insects above the soil, while marigolds will help to drive off nematodes at the root level.
Check the soil daily and water as needed. Most herbs thrive when the soil remains only as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
Mulch around herbs to provide weed control and choke out grass that can steal water and nutrient from the soil. A mulch such as hay made from grain rye will release natural chemicals into the soil that will also prevent weed seeds from germinating.