The weather is finally warming up here in the Chicago suburbs, and with it, outdoor living ideas are blooming. Have you considered planting your very own herb garden? Herbs are great for creating fresh and tasty recipes, home remedies, and much more. They also add a beautiful touch to your outdoor living space, whether they’re planted in a garden or pots around your patio or deck. So how do you get started?
1. Just do it! Growing your own herbs is cheaper than purchasing fresh herbs from the grocery store. The convenience of having fresh herbs on hand for your meals and the gratification of spending some time outdoors in the sun growing your garden is invaluable.
2. Pick a sunny spot with good drainage. You will find most basic herbs love the sun and don’t like being too wet. Only a few ( like cilantro, lemon balm, and mint) like partial shade. If you want to plant in a container, you can plant each herb separately or put them all together in one big bowl. You can also plant them in pots according to the recipes you like to use them for, a Tai pot, an Italian pot, a chicken dinner pot. Use a soil-less potting mix that will drain well.
3. Speaking of mint… Mint will take over all the other herbs and take over your whole yard if you let it. Plant it alone in its own pot.
4. Start with a few plants for instant gratification. Plants such as rosemary, thyme, and oregano are especially good to buy as starters. Be sure to water them before you transplant. Grassy herbs (like chives and parsley) grow quickly from seeds. Start these and other seedlings right in the pot or the outside spot where they’ll be living permanently
5. Pick a spot near the kitchen. This allows you to step right outside and snip off a sprig without having to trek through your yard.
6. Plant some perennials. Try sage, thyme, lemon thyme, chives, oregano, fennel, marjoram, and mint.
7. Try a few annuals. Big-leafed sweet basil or Genovese basil are great all-purpose basils that make for easy growing. Plant them when it’s hot outside when you plant your tomatoes. Dill or lemon balm are some other good annuals to try.
8. Don’t over water or over fertilize. Water every few days when the top few centimeters of soil is dry. Over fertilizing will cause the plants to produce too much foliage and they won’t have the intense flavor that a good herb should have. Once a month is usually enough.
9. Harvest often. Harvesting promotes growth and keeps plants in their growing. Stop by your garden before dinner each night and snip away. You can harvest up to a third of the foliage. If you see a flower, clip or pinch it off. Once a herb flowers it is trying to finish its life cycle.
10. Eat and enjoy! If your recipe calls for dried herbs, double or triple the amount instructed with fresh herbs. They are not as concentrated as dried herbs. Freeze any that you can’t use right away. They’ll make delicious soups when the weather turns chilly again.