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The Ultimate Guide to Growing Herbs

Fresh rosemary, basil, thyme, and parsley – right at your fingertips! Growing herbs is an excellent way to start your gardening journey, add freshness to your meals all year round, and fill your space with greenery. This is your ultimate guide to growing herbs both indoors and outdoors this year! 

Which herbs to grow? 

The first question is always – what herbs can I grow? The answer is simple – consider the types of herbs you enjoy and like to grow, the kind of space you have (indoors, outdoors, in containers, or in-ground), and the amount of sunlight (full sun, partial sun). The table below is a general guideline for growing herbs in various conditions, be sure to check the label on your specific variety for detailed information.

Growing Herbs Indoors

Growing herbs indoors is the perfect way to ensure you have fresh herbs throughout the year and add greenery to your indoor space. Most importantly, most herbs do very well indoors! 

The first step to planting your indoor herb garden is to decide whether you’ll be starting with seeds or starter plants. Starter plants are easier to begin with and will provide usable herbs more quickly than starting from seed! However, starter plants are not always available or available in a wide range of varieties. If you start with seeds, use a seed starting tray with pre-moistened potting soil. Be sure to follow the instructions on your seed packet, do not pack the soil too tightly, use a few seeds in each cell, and consider covering with a clear dome or cover. It’s also important to label your cells! For watering, be sure to spray lightly using a spray bottle so as not to overwater or disrupt your newly planted seeds. If you’re starting with plants, be sure to use quality potting soil, place the root ball in the center (it’s also important to loosen the roots), fill in the pot with soil, and then water it in. 

Most herbs thrive in the sunlight! So it’s best to keep your herbs in the sunniest place in your home. If your herbs are getting plenty of daytime sunlight (ideally, south-facing), grow lights may not be required. However, if you’re growing herbs during the winter months or in an area of your home that receives less sunlight, consider using a grow light for about 12 to 16 hours per day. No grow lights and low sunlight? You can move your containers around your home for optimal sunlight. If your herbs are not receiving enough light, they could start producing fewer leaves, look stretched, or start turning yellow. As for temperature and airflow, room temperature is suitable for herbs, but make sure they have enough air circulation for optimal success!

Basil, sage, and lavender in an indoor container.

Growing Herbs in Containers Outdoors

When growing herbs outdoors, it’s best to start with seedlings started indoors or starter plants. Before planting, consider the size and conditions required for each herb plant, as some herbs need ample space to grow. This is especially important if you plan to mix herbs in containers. Mint, as an example, could easily take up its full container. Also, choose a lightweight container if you plan to transfer your herb garden indoors for the colder months (after hardening off your plants, of course). When planting, select a full sun location, be sure to use potting soil, loosen the roots to break up the root memory, and fill in any gaps with potting soil. It’s important to make sure you leave a lip when filling the container with soil, so when watering, the water does not pour over the sides. 

There are some wonderful benefits of growing herbs in containers, including the ability to transfer herbs indoors during the winter months easily and keeping any potential problems (pests) contained and manageable. 

Lavender growing in a container near raised beds.

Growing Herbs In-Ground or Raised Beds

Last but not least, herbs can, of course, be grown in-ground and in raised beds. Many herbs, including lavender, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, and tarragon, are perennials and will come back year after year. Others, including basil, chives, and cilantro, are annuals and require a new plant each year. Helpful tips for growing herbs in-ground and raised beds is to ensure the soil is prepared (loosened and compost added) for proper drainage, as herbs like well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. When considering the layout, plant taller herbs such as rosemary, basil, and dill in the center, and short and spreading herbs, like oregano, near the edges. It’s also important to leave space for growth and spreading. 

Rosemary, basil, and sage growing in a raised bed.

Tips on Growing Herbs

  1. Trim Your Herbs – By trimming your herbs, you’re not only harvesting herbs for eating, but you are also encouraging new growth and keeping your plant happy. Basil prefers to be pinched, while other herbs like to be cut. Chives, cilantro, dill, and parsley should be cut at the base. Try to pinch off any flowers that form. This will prevent the plant from putting its energy into the seeds rather than the tasty leaves. 
  2. Drainage, drainage, drainage – Drainage is important, especially if you grow your herbs indoors or in containers outdoors. Herbs generally thrive in lightly moist conditions – the soil should feel  like a wrung out sponge. 
  3. Separate outdoor herbs by watering and sun requirements – Separating your herbs based on their watering and sunlight requirements makes for easier maintenance. This can also be done with herbs growing in containers!
  4. Experiment with unique herbs – Chocolate mint, winter savory, and stevia are just a few of the unique herbs you can grow! Experiment with different varieties to expand your herb gardening knowledge. 
  5. Fresh, dry, and frozen – Are your herbs growing successfully? Be sure to use your fresh herbs in meals or dressings, or dry and freeze your herbs for later use. There are so many creative ways to use herbs in the kitchen!
In-ground herb garden.

Tips on Getting Kids Involved 

  1. Have Kids Select Varieties – Purchasing seeds or starter herb plants? Let the kids decide what herbs to grow! Herbs come in many different textures, colours, and flavours – so it’s the perfect way to try something new.
  2. Select Container Style & Paint Containers – Herbs do incredibly well in containers, so selecting and decorating containers is the perfect way to involve young gardeners. If you’re looking to upcycle plastic containers for your herb garden, be sure to check out Halton Environmental Network’s upcycled plant pot workshop!
  3. Create Garden Markers – Every herb garden needs its garden markers. There are many ways you can make garden markers, from using store-provided markers to wooden markers to more durable plastic and metal options. Get creative in upcycling with the materials you have around your home. If you’re looking to craft some wooden garden markers, check out our garden markers IGTV video!

Oregano growing in a raised bed.

There is always so much to learn about gardening and growing herbs. So, I encourage you to keep learning about growing and harvesting your favourite herbs! Nothing beats the smell of freshly picked herbs right from your garden!

What herbs will you be growing this year? Share in the comments below. We would love to hear from you.   

Questions? Please email us at grow@haltonfood.ca.    

Contributed by Alicja Jazwiec, Community Garden Education Assistant 

References: 

Boeckman, C. (2019, June 28). Herb Growing Guide: How to Grow Herbs. Retrieved from: https://www.almanac.com/content/growing-guide-herbs

Hartung, T. (2011). Homegrown Herbs. Storey Publishing, LLC. 

Toronto Botanical Garden. (n.d.). Make this Compact Herb Garden. Retrieved from: https://torontobotanicalgarden.ca/get-gardening/make-this-compact-herb-garden/

West Coast Seeds. (2021, January 21). Growing Food in Part Shade. Retrieved from: https://www.westcoastseeds.com/blogs/garden-wisdom/growing-food-in-part-shade?_pos=10&_sid=95df52a67&_ss=r

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