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How to Grow Herbs in the Desert

By M.H. Dyer ; Updated September 21, 2017
Most herbs are well-suited to the hot, dry desert climate.
Ball in the herbs image by fotosilver from Fotolia.com

Herbs are among the most versatile plants in the garden, appreciated by gardeners not only for their culinary or medicinal uses, but for the color and texture of the foliage. Although growing herbs in the desert can present challenges, the desert climate provides sunlight and dry air that will enable most herbs to thrive. Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, lavender, chervil, lemon grass and chives are especially suited to desert herb gardens.

Plant your herb garden where the plants will be exposed to sunlight during the early part of the day, and where the plants will be protected from punishing desert winds. Although most herbs thrive in hot weather, shade during the hottest part of the afternoon will be beneficial. Herbs need at least six hours of sunlight every day. Be careful about planting close to hot walls where heat will be reflected onto the herbs.

Spade the soil to a depth of 15 to 18 inches. Desert soil is often nutrient-poor and doesn't drain well. To improve soil drainage and add nutrients, work 4 to 6 inches of compost or decomposed manure into the top 12 inches of soil. If you use manure, be sure the manure is completely decomposed.

Purchase small herb plants at a local garden store. Make sure the plants are grown locally, as locally grown plants will be suitable for your desert climate. Plants that aren't native to the desert will require more water. Choose compact herbs with even color. Keep the plants damp until you're ready to plant them.

Dig a small hole for each herb plant with a trowel. The hole should be only as large as the herb's root ball, as herbs planted too deeply will often rot. Remove the plant carefully from the nursery container and place the plant in the hole. Firm the soil around the roots.

Feed the plant at planting time with an all-purpose liquid fertilizer diluted to half of the recommended strength. After that time, no fertilizer is needed. However, perennial herbs will benefit from a fresh layer of compost every spring.

Spread 1 to 2 inches of mulch around the plants. A mulch such as shredded pine bark will look attractive, but more importantly, will retain water and help to keep the roots cool during hot desert weather.

Water the herbs on a regular basis. Allow the top of the soil to dry out, then water deeply, saturating the soil to a depth of 8 inches. Don't water again until the soil is slightly dry.


Things You Will Need

  • Spade
  • Compost or decomposed manure
  • Small herb plants
  • Trowel
  • Liquid fertilizer
  • Trowel

About the Author


M.H. Dyer began her writing career as a staff writer at a community newspaper and is now a full-time commercial writer. She writes about a variety of topics, with a focus on sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free gardening. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and Master Naturalist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing.