wikiHow to Plant a Culinary Herb Garden

Three Parts:Planning a Culinary Herb GardenPlanting a Culinary Herb GardenHarvesting Herbs

Herbs are plants that are used for medicinal or culinary uses. Unlike many plants in a garden, they can be continuously harvested. If you like to cook, then having fresh basil, rosemary, parsley or cilantro can be both rewarding and money-saving. A culinary herb garden can be located inside on a windowsill or outside in a sunny portion of your yard.

Part 1
Planning a Culinary Herb Garden

  1. Image titled Plant a Culinary Herb Garden Step 1
    Decide what herbs to plant in your garden. The most practical way to do this is to make a list of herbs you routinely use while cooking. This could be anything from garlic to basil to chives. Only choose herbs that you feel you would use, or that you could dry for later use. Culinary herbs fall into the following three categories:
    • Annual herbs, like dill, cilantro and basil, die after they flower and usually need to be replanted each year.
    • Herbaceous herbs, like mint, chives, oregano, tarragon and sweet fennel can be cut regularly and they usually grow back the next year.
    • Evergreen herbs, such as rosemary, sage and thyme should be pruned at least once per year, and they are also perennial.
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    Research what varieties thrive in your area. Most of these herbs do well in a variety of climates as long as they are cared for properly. If you want to plant a particular herb that needs special care, you can always plant it in a pot and keep it indoors to control the surrounding temperature.
    • Certain perennials, such as rosemary, do best in climates with mild winters and long, dry summers. You can still plant rosemary if you live in a place with cold winters, but you may have to treat it as an annual and replant again the following year.
    • Consider using pots for herbaceous plants that may be invasive in your area. Mint, lemon balm and comfrey plants. These plants can be invasive, multiplying easily, taking up space and competing with other plants for nutrients. Place the pots on the corners of your herb garden, so that you can water them together.
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    Decide how many herb plants to grow. Choose the number of herbs you will plant according to how often you use the herb. For example, if you love cooking with rosemary, you might want more than one plant so you can use it as often as you'd like. If you cook Italian food a lot, you would want to plant more basil and parsley plants.
    • Different herb varieties produce different-sized plants. For example, some rosemary varieties grow into large bushes, while others remain quite small. Take this information into account when you're planning your garden.
    • If you like making pesto, plant at least two or three basil plants. Pesto requires a large amount of basil leaves, and picking too many from one plant can cause it to die.
    • If there's an herb you use as an occasional garnish, one plant should suffice. For example, if you like to sprinkle chives over your potatoes or omelets, one or two plants will be sufficient.
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    Buy herb plants, seedlings or seeds. The easiest way to quickly jumpstart your garden is to buy full-grown plants you can transplant into the ground. The roots will immediately begin to grow, and you'll have the herbs you need for cooking right away. If it's too early to plant full-grown plants, consider seedlings or seeds.
    • If you plant from seeds, start the seeds about two weeks before the outdoor temperature is warm with no chance of another frost. Moisten the seeds for 2 to 4 hours, as indicated on the package. Plant herb seeds in a seed tray and keep them on a warm windowsill. Keep the soil moist, and you should see seedlings within 7 to 14 days.Place a sheet of plastic wrap over them to create a "greenhouse effect" if the room is chilly.

Part 2
Planting a Culinary Herb Garden

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    Pick a spot for your garden. Choose a place that's easy to get to from your kitchen, so you can pop out and harvest herbs whenever you need them. Most herbs need full sun to thrive, so look for a place that gets at least six hours of sun per day.[1]
    • If you don't see a suitable place in your yard, you can easily plant herbs in pots instead of in the ground. That way you can place them in the most convenient location possible.
    • Or you can have an indoor culinary herb garden if you can't find just the right spot outside. Choose a windowsill in a southern location, if possible, to optimize sunlight.
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    Determine your garden's layout. You'll want to place the herbs that need plenty of water on one side of your herb garden and plants that need less on the other side. For example, basil needs a lot of water, but rosemary likes to remain somewhat dry. Planting according to package instructions will help you care for them correctly.
    • Herbs that stay close to the ground, such as thyme and some varieties of rosemary, should be placed on the south side of the garden, so they aren't overshadowed by taller plants during the sunniest times of the day.
    • Place taller-growing herbs in the center or north side of the garden to give shorter plants plenty of sun access.
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    Prepare the soil. Culinary herbs have similar soil needs, making it easy to plant them all close to each other in the same garden. The soil should be well-drained, organic, and fertile, whether you are planting your herbs in the ground or in pots.[2]
    • If the soil doesn't drain well, add a layer of compost and till the soil and compost together. This will improve drainage as well as enriching the soil.
    • If you plant into pots, use a standard potting soil and place some gravel into your pot before adding soil. This will help to keep the roots moist, but not moldy.
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    Plant the herbs. Seedlings and plants can be planted as soon as there is no risk of frost. Plant each herb 12 to 18 inches (31 to 46 cm) away from the next herb, according to package directions. Dig holes deep enough to hold the root balls and place them in the ground. Place soil around them and pack it lightly.
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    Keep the garden bed moist. When the soil dries out, the herbs will suffer. Water the herb garden as often as necessary to keep the soil evenly moist; in the heat of the summer, this might be every day or every two days. There is no need to water after rainfall or when the soil is already moist.
    • Test to see if the soil is damp by inserting your finger near the stem of one of your herb plants. If your finger comes out dry and dusty, time to water.
    • Water near the base of the stems, rather than showering water from above. This keeps the leaves from getting damaged.
    • Water in the morning, so the sun has time to dry the area before nightfall. Leaving the herbs wet overnight could cause mold to grow.
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    Practice natural pest and weed control methods. Never use chemicals or pesticides on your herb garden. Since most herbs go directly into food, it can be harmful to your health. Instead, plant garlic, mint and onions nearby, which will discourage pests.
    • You can deal with aphids and other common pests by washing the leaves daily with soapy water. Mix a natural insecticide out of 1 to 2 tablespoons of plant-based soap, such as Castile Soap, and one quart of water. Spray it on your plants and it will kill soft-bodied insects.
    • Weed the garden regularly, pulling the weeds out from the roots so they won't grow back.

Part 3
Harvesting Herbs

  1. Image titled Plant a Culinary Herb Garden Step 11
    Begin harvesting when plant growth is strong. When your herb plants grow sturdy stems and begin producing plenty of leaves, you can start harvesting them several times a week. In the height of summer, you may be able to harvest certain plants every day.[3]
    • Harvest herbs in the morning. In the morning, the flavor of the herbs is strongest. Harvest your herbs just as the dew is drying.
    • Be sure to harvest your herbs regularly, before they have time to produce flowers. When flowers are produced, the plant's energy is directed away from healthy leaf growth.[4]
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    Harvest herbs with a sharp, clean knife. You may also use a sharp, clean pair of pruning shears. Be sure your equipment is clean to avoid contaminating the herb plants when you cut them.
    • Leafy annual herbs, such as basil, can be cut back severely, and they'll grow back within a week or so. Cut the new growth and leave about four to six inches of the stem intact so the plant keeps growing.
    • For perennials, such as thyme and oregano, remove only the leafy tips, or top growth, to keep the plant compact.
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    Wash the herbs lightly and use immediately. Herbs are best used soon after they are cut; storing them will cause them to lose flavor. If you need to store fresh herbs for a few days, place the stems upright in a glass of water. Place the glass in the refrigerator and cover it lightly with a plastic bag until use.
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    Prune your herbs regularly. Harvesting your herbs will provide natural pruning, but in between harvests you still need to prune your herbs to encourage healthy growth patterns. If you don't prune, your herbs will become leggy and tall or produce seeds, which impairs the production and flavor of the leaves.
    • At the end of the growing season, cut back herbaceous herbs to within a few inches of the ground. They'll return next year.[5]
    • Cut back evergreens by a third to keep them from becoming woody over the winter. Remove all dead and dying stems, and place mulch around the roots.
    • Pull out dead or dying annuals that won't return the following year.


  • Water your seedlings with a spray bottle. The gentle spray will help you avoid breaking or hurting delicate plants.

Things You'll Need

  • Potting soil
  • Compost
  • Mulch
  • Seeds, seedlings or plants
  • Sharp knife or pruning shears

Article Info

Categories: Growing Herbs and Spices