I love growing herbs. There’s nothing better than grabbing a pinch of fresh herbs from your garden for dinner. And herbs are the perfect plant to grow for gardeners of all experience levels–they’re super easy for beginners and the perfect addition to a vegetable patch for seasoned pros. Plus, most herbs grow very well in containers, making them perfect for urban gardeners or growing during winter in your kitchen. While you can easily visit your garden center in the spring to buy pots of herbs already growing, they’re some of the easiest edibles plants to grow from seed. If you’re new to gardening, this guide covers everything you need to know to grow fresh, delicious herbs from seed.
Select Your Seeds
Head to your local garden store, home improvement store, or even your grocery store and check out their seed display. These usually start appearing in February with the seeds for the upcoming growing season. If you’re overwhelmed by the options, you can order a herb seed variety pack with the most common culinary herbs.
Most herbs are incredibly easy to grow, so just pick out the ones you’re most interested in or use the most in your cooking. Tea lovers should grow mint or camomile. Tomato fans must grow basil! And don’t forget dill for all the fish you’ll be grilling this summer.
Decide Where to Grow Your Herbs
There are basically three options for growing herbs: in a traditional garden bed, in pots outdoors, or in pots indoors.
If you want to grow herbs indoors, you will need a very sunny window or to provide supplemental grow lights. If you’re tight on space, a hydroponic herb garden system might be a good choice. They’re especially good for apartment dwellers with limited space.
If you’re debating between growing herbs in garden beds versus pots outdoors, there are a few things to consider. First, there are some herbs that are better to grow in pots because they can easily spread and grow out of control in your garden. If you want to grow mint or dill consider putting them in a pot. Second, some perennial herbs like mint, rosemary, and thyme are great to grow in pots because you can bring them indoors in the fall to enjoy them throughout the winter.
If you have problems with rabbits in your garden, you may want to plant your herbs in pots. Basil, cilantro, parsley, and other herbs are equally delicious to bunnies as they are to us and can easily be gobbled up in your garden. If you plant them in a pot that can be placed out of reach of rabbits it will save your herbs. A dedicated raised garden planter (pictured above), is a convenient way to grow herbs away from hungry critters. Alternatively, you can plant them in a raised garden bed and protect your plants with a chicken wire fence.
Starting Herb Seeds
The seed packets will have specific planting instructions for each variety, including timing for direct sow in your garden. Generally, you want to plant herb seeds outdoors after the frost-free date for your gardening zone.
Starting Herb Seeds Indoors
If you want to get a head start on your gardening before spring, seeds can be started indoors in seed trays. I’ve also used recycled egg cartons (see video below) or even cleaned out take-out containers with clear plastic lids. (Whatever container you use, make sure to cut drain holes in the bottom). I recommend buying a seed starting potting mix rather than using regular potting soil, but I’ve definitely started seeds both ways with success.
Fill your containers with potting soil. Follow the planting depth guide on the seed packet. Poke a small hole with your finger or the eraser end of a pencil and drop 1 or 2 seeds inside. Cover lightly with soil.
To ensure germination of the seeds, they must stay moist. This means the soil should be moist but not overly wet or soggy. Many gardeners prefer to use a spray bottle to water seeds that haven’t germinated. Check your soil two to three times a day and add more water as needed.
If you don’t have a sunny window to start seeds in, a grow light may help. If you have radiators, that’s a great place to set your seed trays for extra warmth to aid germination. Heat mats are an affordable alternative to provide your seeds with extra heat when your house is cold.
Once your seedlings have started growing their true leaves (the second set of leaves), you can transplant them to your garden bed or their larger growing pots. I usually let them get a little more established since it will be a few weeks before they outgrow their starter pots.
Starting Herb Seeds Directly in the Garden
Once you’re past your frost-free date, you can easily plant herb seeds directly in your garden bed. This is great for companion planting or using up small spaces between larger vegetable plants.
Prepare your garden bed by removing weedings and tilling in fresh compost. Even out the soil and break up any clumps of dirt. Follow the planting guide on the packet for depth and spacing instructions. Often with herbs, the spacing instructions don’t matter quite as much, but I have had more success following proper spacing for basil.
Once you have the seeds in the ground, you will need to keep the top layer of soil moist until the seeds germinate. Use the misting mode on your hose sprayer to avoid blasting the seeds around. I generally check twice a day and water as needed.
Growing, Harvesting, and Pruning Herbs
Once your seeds have germinated, you will need to water your herb regularly. You can harvest at any time, but you should follow the rule of never harvesting more than 1/3 of the plant at a time. Try to cut or pinch the stem above a junction of leaves as this will encourage most herbs to grow bushier.
To extend your harvest, you should regularly prune your herbs to prevent them from flowering and going to seed. If you see seed heads forming, pinch them off.
If you want to collect seeds to prepare for the next gardening season, allow your plant to flower. It will eventually go to seed. Allow the seeds to dry out completely before storing them in labeled envelopes.