Herbs from your own garden are a wonderful way to add 'secret' ingredients to your cuisine. They are also very forgiving growers and rarely affected by diseases and pests, making them excellent plants for new gardeners. This article lists twelve popular culinary herbs and tells you how to seed, plant, grow and harvest them.
Growing herbs at a glance
Culinary herbs are either annuals, biennials or perennials.
Annual herbs complete their entire life cycle from seed in one season and then die.
Biennial herbs flower in their second year after seeding and then die.
Perennial herbs will live for several years.
Herbs like full sun and well-drained soil with a moderate amount of fertiliser, and a pH around 6.5 (see soil for more information about pH). Perennial herbs die down in the winter and emerge again in the spring.
Hardiness: Some herbs can withstand winters with sub-zero temperatures, others cannot. Even hardy herbs benefit from mulching in the winter to protect them from winter damage, especially when there is no snow cover and the plant is exposed to wind. Non-hardy herbs can be grown in containers and moved to a cool but bright indoor place for overwintering.
Plants or seeds? Many herbs have minuscule seeds, and the emerging seedlings are difficult to identify in the garden and tricky to thin out. With a few exceptions, it is therefore recommended to start herbs in seed pots instead of sowing them directly.
Also, some herbs are erratic in their germination and take several weeks to germinate, so starting them indoors in seed pots gives you a head start on the growing season. Indoor seed starting also allows you to make sure your basil is ready when your tomatoes ripen.
If you only occasionally need a few leaves or sprigs of an herb, it is easier and more economical to purchase a plant. However, if you want large amounts, for example basil to make pesto, it is better to start your own plants from a seed package.
Growing in containers: Unless otherwise noted, all of the herbs listed below can be grown in containers.