5 Herb Gardening Secrets Only the Pros Know

Plus, a surprising tip for choosing the right soil.

Herbs are a great entry to gardening; they're easy to grow, need little attention once established, and a add burst of flavor to your dishes. They are also significant pollinator plants when in bloom and offer plenty of color and interest in a landscape.

However, many people are intimidated to grow them and are not sure what to do with them when it's time to harvest. But don't worry, we have you covered. Whether you're cooking or crafting, here are our favorite tips for getting the most out of your herb garden.

01 of 05

Buy Starter Plants

If you are just starting out, starter plants are the way to go. While growing herbs (or any plants) from seed is inexpensive and you get a greater selection of varieties, it can prove challenging.

Seeds require a specific environment for germinating and hardening off before you plant them. For the same price (and often less) as a packet of seeds, you can purchase starter plants for basic culinary herbs like basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, and English lavender.

When you have a season or two under your belt, then branch out to other specialty varieties. There are dozens of different varieties of basil, sage, and other herbs, and they all have subtle differences in taste and appearance. Getting starter plants for less common varieties will cost more, but after a season or two, you'll know what it takes to grow them, so your chances of success will increase.

02 of 05

Stick With What You Will Use

Mint Growing in Herb Garden
Debbie Wolfe

There are over 600 varieties of mint. But how many of those varieties do you need in your garden? Think about what you like to cook or craft with and buy according to your tastes and needs.

Also, make sure you are choosing the right varieties. Although an herb may be in the same family, there are differences in flavor. If you want to make homemade pesto, don't buy Thai basil, which has a strong anise flavor. Spend some time thinking about what you want to do with the herbs before you purchase them. This will help you narrow down your choices and pick the right herbs for your needs.

03 of 05

Don't Use Rich Soil

Parsley in Red Clay Soil
Debbie Wolfe

Most herbs aren't picky about their soil. However, the only requirement is that the soil is well-drained. Herbs do not like rich soil, so don't bother spending a ton of money on it.

However, if your soil is heavy (like clay soil, for example), you should amend it to drain better by mixing in some compost or other organic material.

04 of 05

Prune, Prune, Prune

Flowering Basil Plant in Herb Garden
Debbie Wolfe

One of the hardest things for a gardener to do is trim off healthy growth, especially when you are not going to cook with it—however, trimming herbs encourages growth. As an herb grows, it will eventually set flowers. Once it goes to flower, you will not get new foliage growth from that stem. Pruning herbs encourages new foliage growth, making them full and bushy.

If you feel badly tossing pruned cuttings into the compost, then create with them! Dry them for off-season use or use them in a floral arrangement as greenery filler. Pruning herbs is a "must" to maintain a healthy plant. However, it's OK to let some plants go to flower. Herb blooms are perfect for pollinators and add some color to your herb garden.

05 of 05

Propagate Stem Cuttings

Although we do not encourage seed starting for new gardeners, we do recommend stem propagation. Halfway through the season, you may wish you had purchased more basil or extra oregano plants. Don't head to the nursery to spend more money on starter plants. Most herbs propagate quickly via stem cuttings.

The easiest method is to take a cutting right from a stem not in flower, making sure it's at least 4 inches. Remove the leaves off the bottom 2 inches. Put the cutting in a glass of water and place it on a sunny windowsill. You should see roots in two to four weeks. Once you see enough roots, pot the stem or plant it in the garden.

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