If you love to garden but have a hard time finding the energy, time and space to keep a full-grown vegetable garden, consider growing herbs. Keeping an herb garden is typically easier and less time-consuming than keeping a vegetable garden, and it takes a lot less room too.
Before you plant those fledgling herb transplants, however, it’s best to take a little time to plan your garden first. A planned garden typically performs better—which usually means a more productive garden (and a happier gardener!).
Tips for Planning an Herb Garden
Pick a Good Site
Other than picking the right herbs to grow, picking a good site may be the most important thing that you can do to have a happy herb garden. Be sure to choose a site that has:
- Good soil. How can you tell what kind of soil you have? If you’re lucky, you’ll have soil that’s fertile, loamy and drains well. If you don’t, consider amending it until it’s fit for habitation.
- Access to lots of sunlight. Although some herbs grow in shade, most prefer a good deal of sunlight. The one exception to this might be if you’re planning on growing herbs in containers. Growing herbs and vegetables in containers typically takes more water than growing them in a garden bed. (Should you choose to go the container route, however, be sure to picking the right kinds of containers for your plants can help reduce unnecessary moisture loss.)
- Access to water. Whether you plan on carrying water in or using an irrigation system, your herb garden will need access to plenty of clean water, so make sure you have some way to get it there.
Pick the Right Herbs
You’ve got a great site, so now it’s time to consider what herbs you should grow. Before you plant anything, consider:
- Why are you growing an herb garden? Because you want something pretty? Because you want to grow your own herbs for cooking? Because you want to support wild bee populations? Or because you want to grow medicinal herbs? Believe it or not, any of these gardening goals can be be accomplished with herbs—it’s just a matter of picking the right herbs for what you want to accomplish.
- If you want to grow herbs for a kitchen garden, think about what herbs you like and what type of cooking you do most. Sure, parsley is extremely easy to grow, but how likely are you to use it on a regular basis?
- What herbs are best for your growing conditions? Do you need herbs that can grow in shade or herbs that can survive in full sun? Both are available, so it’s matter of finding herbs that fit your site.
Don’t Overplant Your Garden
Herbs can grow surprisingly large if given the right growing conditions. If you want your herbs to thrive, you’ll need to give them enough room to grow. Be sure to:
- Follow any growing guidelines or instructions provided by your seed supplier. Most seed packages have planting guidelines printed on the inside or outside of the package.
- Have a containment plan for any perennial herbs you plan on growing. Both bed edging and appropriately sized containers can work well.
- Keep an eye on aggressive herbs (like mint and chives) so that they don’t crowd out slower growing herbs.
- Leave room to maneuver. If you’ll need to enter your garden to weed or harvest, leave enough room for a foot path (so that you don’t compact bed soil by stepping on it).
Pick Good Companion Herbs
Companion plants don’t just come in fruits and vegetables, there are plenty of companion herbs that you can choose too. The most popular companion herbs include:
- Herbs that repel insects (like citronella, catnip and dill)
- Herbs that attract beneficial insects (basil, cilantro and garlic chives)
- Herbs that heal (like chamomile, rosemary and sage)
Obviously, the best way to plan your garden is to think about your goals, growing conditions and lifestyle. Plan it properly and you’re sure to love and successfully maintain your garden for years.
For more information on herb gardening, check out these articles on Keeping a Self-sowing Herb Garden and Ideal pH Ranges for Herbs. Or, for in-depth specifications for growing popular herbs, visit my Gardening Guides page.