There is a certain mystique that separates herb gardens from common gardens. This mystique may be a holdover from the Middle Ages, when farmers grew vegetables but so-called witches grew herbs. Today, some gardeners still separate their vegetables from their herbs by creating a distinct herb garden. This garden may be placed just off the kitchen so that herbs can be harvested fresh for culinary purposes.
Look for a garden location that has conditions favorable to growing herbs. Most herbs come from the Mediterranean area of the world. Because of this, they favor full sun and well-drained soil.
Remove 1 quart of soil from up to 10 locations in your garden with a shovel and place them in a bucket. Pick out debris and allow the soil to dry. Mix the soil and collect 1 cup of it in a plastic bag. Contact your local county extension service for a list of U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved soil-testing facilities. Then take the soil samples for analysis. A soil analysis indicates the soil’s structure and pH as well as any soil amendments that you can add to improve the soil for growing herbs.
Break up your soil with a rototiller to a depth of 12 inches to prepare the soil for planting herbs. Spread a 4-inch layer of soil amendments over the soil and mix them into the planting bed with the rototiller. Good soil amendments for your planting bed include peat moss to improve the drainage of heavy clay soil or hold water and nutrients in sandy soil as well as compost to boost the nutrients in the soil. Additionally, you can add lime to raise the pH of soil or sulfur to lower it. Most herbs prefer a soil pH range from 6.5 to 7.0.
Start herbs from seed indoors before the last yearly frost, or purchase transplants from a garden center and place them directly into your garden. To start seeds indoors, fill a planting tray with peat moss. Place the herbs into the peat moss and water well. Cover the tray with plastic and put it into a sunny windowsill. Remove the plastic once the herbs sprout.
Mulch around plants in the garden with straw to choke out weeds that would compete with your herbs for sunlight, water and nutrients from the soil. Check the garden daily and water as needed to keep the soil as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
Harvest your herbs weekly to keep them cut back and continuing to grow. Herb growth slows once plants begin to flower and produce seeds. The process of flowering and going to seed will also change the flavor of herbs.