Nothing tops off your cooking better than a sprinkle of garden fresh herbs. Why not turn your humble courtyard or balcony into a thriving herb garden?
Dig into these five tips and you will never be fighting for supermarket leftover scraps again.
Once winter has passed, head to your local gardening store for your herb garden basics. You’ll need a few essentials: pots, soil, fertilizer, trowel, watering can and, of course, plants.
Use fresh potting soil to give your herbs a healthy start. Avoid anything labelled as ‘garden soil’. Boost the soil throughout the season with fertilizer. Use water-soluble chemical fertilizers every other week, or experiment with organic alternatives like seaweed, coffee grounds or ‘liquid fish’.
Most farmers markets, nurseries and hardware stores carry a good selection of herb seeds and seedlings. If you’re new to gardening, start with seedlings to get things moving.
Before choosing your herbs, assess how much direct sunlight your outdoor space receives. With the exception of a few shade lovers – like mint and parsley – most herbs and vegetables thrive in full sunlight. Sun-loving herbs – like basil and oregano – will flourish with six hours of sunlight each day.
Over-fertilized herbs grown in a rich, shaded soil will grow gangly and have less scent and flavor. If your herbs get plenty of sun and slightly lean soil, their fragrance and taste will intensify.
Remember: There’s no one-size-fits-all rule for herbs. Before choosing a spot for each plant, check the instructions on the little tab to make sure you can give it the sunlight it needs.
Basil and Mint Basics
Basil is a great starter herb for inexperienced gardeners – it’s a keen grower that smells and tastes great. Basil droops and wilts to let you know when it’s thirsty, but it perks up instantly after a good drink.
Don’t snip your basil’s lower leaves – the plant needs those to absorb sunshine. Always trim the top of the plant before any flowers bloom. Don’t take off more than a third of its height, and cut right above any spot where little baby leaves are sprouting from the stem. Those will form two new sprigs where there was only one stem, which means a bushier, healthier plant.
Mint is another popular option that needs minimal attention. Don’t plant mint with other herbs – it will take over. Give your mint its own pot and trim it regularly to keep it compact and bushy.
A thriving garden attracts many different kinds of insects.
Before your bug problem gets out of hand, you should identify which pesky visitors have landed in your herb patch and figure out a strategy for minimizing the damage that they will do to your edible garden.
Aphids, ants, caterpillars, snails and slugs tend to be the most common offenders. Luckily, there are plenty of gentle, organic sprays and products that will help you get rid of unwanted guests from the garden party.
Of course bees and butterflies will pollinate your flowers and increase fruit production, so they are welcome guests. If you’re lucky, you might be visited by a few ladybugs and praying mantises – they feed on pest insects, so they can stay too.
Let it rain. Let it drain.
Most herbs are delicate so they need adequate water and drainage. Good drainage allows oxygen to pass through the soil and give the roots important nutrients.
Water your herb patch every second day. As a rule of thumb, it’s time to water when the dirt is dry an inch below the surface. To prevent the soil from drying out too quickly, spread a light sprinkle of mulch over the topsoil.
Don’t drench your herbs. Waterlogged soil can cause root rot so don’t overdo it – it’s better to give your herbs less water, more often.
Room To Grow
Seedlings need room to grow. Avoid the temptation to cram too many seedlings into each pot to make the most of your limited space. Healthy roots with room to grow will lead to healthy plants with plenty of leaves down the line.
When you transfer your seedlings to bigger pots, ‘tickle’ the roots to free up any tangles that may have formed in the punnet. Gently loosen them so that, when you plant, the roots can spread out into the surrounding soil.
Leave several inches between plants and don’t put more than a few into one pot. Pots with at least a 20 cm diameter should allow for the root system to develop and absorb the nutrients that the plant needs to thrive.
Also if you’re combining multiple types of herbs in one pot, ensure that they all have similar sun and water requirements.
Katie is a blogger, digital marketing specialist and community manager for Airtasker, a community based marketplace. People post and receive offers for handyman services from Airtasker in Australia. Katie is a great cook and also enjoys interior design, especially DIY. Living next to the beach, she’s always there (on weekends) swimming, catching up with friends or volunteering as a lifesaver.