Each spring I start my kitchen garden by planting some culinary herbs. It’s enjoyable work, out on the back deck with the warm spring sun on my back.
I pull the remnants of last season’s dead plants from the pots, add some organic fertilizer and mix it around with a hand trowel. Then I pull the tender new plants from their plastic pots, transfer them to their new homes and anticipate the ways I’ll use them in my cooking.
If you haven’t gardened before, fearing a “black thumb” or lack of time, start with a small, culinary herb garden. It is so worthwhile.
Why Plant Culinary Herbs?
During the winter months, if I choose to cook with a fresh herb instead of the dried herbs in my pantry, I absolutely cringe at the cost. A small package of chives usually costs around $2. For that price, you can buy a plant and harvest fresh herbs all summer long, saving you quite a bit of cash.
I prefer to grocery shop once a week. If I buy a package of basil on a Friday, I can guarantee you it will have brown spots by the time I need it for a recipe on Wednesday. When you grow your own herbs, you can harvest and use your herbs within 24 hours, when the herb is at peak freshness and flavor.
When I am cooking dinner, there is something so satisfying about going out on my deck to clip some fresh rosemary or thyme sprigs. It’s tactile.
Most herbs are drought tolerant, easy to grow and disease resistant. Once they’re in the pot, herbs are no fuss convenience.
How to Plant Herbs
Although I am home most days, our summers here on the Front Range in Colorado are relatively hot and dry. By keeping my self-watering pot reservoirs full, I ensure my plants get adequate moisture throughout the day. I can also move a pot of parsley to a shady spot when the summer sun gets too intense. Oregano, thyme, rosemary and basil generally like to dry out between waterings, and can be planted in regular pots. But because of our very hot, dry summers, I have used self-watering pots with good success.
No-Soil Potting Mix
For self-watering pots, use a light and airy soil-less potting mix with vermiculite that is suitable for vegetables. The potting mix will absorb just the right amount of water. Most herbs cannot tolerate being water-logged.
Don’t ruin your culinary herbs with artificial, chemical fertilizers. They will cause your plants to grow too lush, and ruin the flavor. Use a small amount of organic granular fertilizer mixed into the potting mix at the beginning of the season. After a few months of growing, you may need to “side-dress” your plants with more fertilizer by adding a narrow strip to the edges of the pot and working it in with a fork. Or use an organic, liquid fertilizer. But generally, herbs require far less fertilizer than vegetables.
What to Plant
For a small culinary herb garden, I recommend planting the herbs that you cook with the most. Here is my list:
Genovese Basil – If you like making pesto, you may want to buy several plants.
Purple Basil – This basil is a beautiful garnish and very attractive in the garden.
Rosemary – Buy a good sized plant to start with, as they are slow growers.
Thyme – I plant Culinary (Common) Thyme or German Thyme, plus a creeping thyme because it’s attractive, draping over the edge of the pot. Common thyme is perennial.
Mint – Chocolate Mint, Orange Mint, Kentucky Mint, there are so many. Go crazy! Just keep them in a pot. I usually crowd three varieties in a large pot.
Parsley and Cilantro – I use these herbs every week, so they are a must. Parsley is biennial. Plant it one year and it will come back the next year.
Chives – This plant is perennial, returning year after year. Cut 2-inches above the ground, and pick the flowers as they open.
Oregano –This plant is a perennial. Pick the leaves any time. I plant Greek and Mexican oregano.
Feeling inspired? Get started with a couple of pots and a few of your favorite herbs. Place your pots in a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun. Harvest your herbs often to encourage good growth. And enjoy cooking with fresh herbs!