Organic Herb Garden Ideas: How To Start An Organic Herb Garden

Herbs are a fantastic addition to the garden. If you are truly limited in space, they may be the only element of your garden. From their easy maintenance to their usefulness and fragrance, however, they are completely worth it, not to mention that organic herb garden ideas are endless. Keep reading to learn how to start an organic herb garden.

How to Start an Organic Herb Garden

Apart from convenience, one of the best things about growing your own food is that you know exactly what goes into producing it. Growing organic herbs in your garden is as easy as using only organic certified materials and avoiding non-certified ones. Since you’re in control, there are no surprise chemicals and being in control of herbs is so easy.

Most of the popular herbs in Western cooking are native to the Mediterranean, so they thrive in similar conditions. This means well-drained neutral soil, preferably with some organic matter, like compost or manure.

Herbs can be grown from seed or propagated from cuttings, divisions, or layering. Tarragon, chives, and mint all grow well from division. Lavender, sage, lemon balm, and rosemary can all be grown from cuttings.

Layering, the process of starting roots from a branch that is still actively growing on the mother plant, works well for herbs with flexible stems, such as:

  • Thyme
  • Lemon balm
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Bay
  • Winter savory

All other herbs can be sown from seed. If your area experiences hard winters, start your seeds indoors in late winter and transplant them outside when the weather warms. Anise, cilantro, fennel, and dill should be sown directly in the ground in the spring.

Growing Organic Herbs in Pots

Growing organic herbs in pots is a great alternative to planting them outdoors. Even if you have space in your garden, you may want to consider growing your herbs in containers. You can bring them inside to overwinter, and you can keep them on hand in or near your kitchen for cooking.

Most herbs need at least six hours of direct sunlight, so make sure you have adequate space near a south-facing window for wintertime. If you don’t, invest in some grow lights to keep them happy.

Make sure not to over fertilize– herbs don’t really need fertilizer, and while it makes the leaves more plentiful, it makes the scented oils more diffuse. In containers, where fertilizer can build up, just skip it.

Need Help?

The following questions and answers will help you learn about herbs and their requirements for growing. Click the link below for our Herb encyclopedia which gives more specific information for each culinary herb.

1. How long is this plant going to live? What is the normal lifespan of this plant?

Most herbs are perennial except for some that are annual. Perennial means that they will either stay green all winter or go dormant over the winter season and come back again in the spring. Annual herbs will only live over one season and are expected to live from only 1-4 months, depending upon the plant before they will stop leaf production, make flowers, and go to seed. An exception to the rule is Parsley which is biennial and lives for about 1 year before going to seed. See the chart below for specific life spans.

2. How large is this plant going to be when fully mature? How big will it get?

Many herbs can get very large, some as big as 6 feet across! In order to know how and where to plant them it is a good idea to know the expected size of the plant 3 months after you plant or 3 years after. See the chart below for specific herb sizes.

3. How much water and sun does my herb plant need?

Most herbs need about 4 hours of sunlight per day and on average watering should be done when the soil feels dry to the touch. Some herbs can be kept more moist such as Basil, others need to have soil dry completely between watering such as Lavender. If you plant them together in a large container or planter, you can water when the soil feels dry and keep them in a half day of sun. Check the chart below for "dry" herbs and "moist" herbs and allow more sunshine for dry, and slightly less for moist.

4. How do I harvest this herb for cooking and what kind of pruning does it need?

Generally harvesting herbs is like giving them a hair cut. Cutting off the tips, down to a intersection of leaves, makes them branch out and regrow as a fuller plant. Cut them regularly so they do not grow leggy and never cut off more than a third of their growth at any one time. Perennial herbs should be pruned back every fall, about a third to keep them from getting too woody over the winter months and to encourage new growth in Spring.

For more growing and cooking information on herbs, view our: Growing Encyclopedia for Herbs

Planting Herbs in Containers

Mexican Cinnamon Basil Growing
in a Window Box with Lettuces
©Steve Masley
Click IMAGE to Enlarge

Growing herbs at home is easy, even if you don’t have a plot of land. Many herbs—like oregano, thyme, rosemary, and sage--are tough, resilient plants that can thrive in pockets of soil on rocky cliffs. They can survive occasional lapses in the gardener’s attention.

This makes them great plants for cooks, beginning gardeners, and growing in containers. If they wilt from lack of water, just give them a good soaking, and they’ll usually bounce right back.

Mammoth Salad Leaf (Napolitano) Basil
Growing in a 4-gallon Pot
©Steve Masley
Click IMAGE to Enlarge

Growing herbs in containers is easy, and remarkably productive. Even if you have a garden, planting herbs in containers means you always have fresh parsley, basil, dill and chives growing right outside your kitchen. Any time you need a few leaves to spice up a dish, you can go out and snip them right off the plant.

Growing Herbs In An Indoor Herb Garden

An inventive use of milk cartons! Image: Grillo Designs

The indoor herb garden is the epitome of good design. The plants are close to where they will be used, the climate is more controllable than outside, indoor plants tend to get looked after a lot more than outdoor ones. AND, you avoid running out into the garden in the pouring rain when you need a sprig of rosemary for the Sunday roast.

Selecting a sunny windowsill is perfect, but be mindful that some plants love the hot dry climate, others like it moist. Give a little consideration to your Meadowsweet or Water Mint when you place it in a scorchingly how window in the middle of summer.

Find The Best Spot – As mentioned, herbs need a lot of natural light to grow well. 4-5 hours of sun each day is plenty. If you live in the Northern hemisphere, a North-facing window is not going to give your newly planted herbs the light they need. south or South-West facing windows are a good bet.

Drainage, Drainage, Drainage – Drainage is always something that needs to be considered with indoor hanging planters. Leaving a herb plant with their roots in water is a surefire way of causing the roots to rot, and your much-loved herb to die. Herb pots with drainage holes should have some stones of broken crock placed in the bottom, and the pot place on a tray or saucer.

When practicing container herb gardening in containers without drainage holes, it’s essential to add some large stones or coarse gravel to the bottom. And don’t overwater!

Clay pots look awesome and are good for drainage, but if placed in a hot position, they can cause the potting mix to dry out quickly. If you have this issue, a plastic pot might work better, even if it doesn’t look so good.

A Kitchen Herb Garden

Herbs right in the kitchen, what could be better? Having practiced permaculture for many years (a garden design and planning system for sustainable food production), bringing frequently used plants as close as possible to the kitchen ensures that you actually use them. A herb garden, even 30 steps from the back door will often become forlorn and untended.No such chance with this indoor herb garden.

An inspired kitchen herb garden. I want one! Image: Observaydecora

A kitchen herb garden brings the culinary herb garden right to your fingertips. The one above, image thanks to Observaydecora is truly beautiful. Amazon does something not quite as attractive, but neat and functional nonetheless. Check it out here.

A Window Herb Garden

A beautiful and ingenious use of tin cans for planting herbs. Image: The Gracious Housewife.

You can plant herbs in just about anything. Many herbs grow perfectly well in mugs, jars, pots, old water cans, or even tin cans as The Gracious Wife demonstrates in the above image. Looking for ways to create something unique, save some money, and recycle wherever possible is an exciting idea for the homesteader.

Whether you want to be creative or just pick something up at the store, with the tiniest bit of motivation you can have your indoor herb garden up and growing in the next few hours. Sounds exciting? Go for it! I wrote an article on growing herbs in pots for beginners if you want more inspiration.

If the idea of soil bothers you (not sure why it should, growing herbs and vegetables WITHOUT soil is extremely popular. It’s called hydroponics and has been used in the commercial sector for years. But with just a few items from the hardware store, you could be growing in your hydroponic herb garden in days.

Hydroponic Herb Gardening

You can grow just about any plant without soil. Plants tend to grow a lot faster under hydroponic cultivation and taste better too. This is due to the almost perfect conditions that hydroponics can produce. It is possible to provide a full range of nutrients for the plant to prosper when you grow herbs hydroponically. With soils becoming so depleted of nutrients, more and more people are seeing hydroponic gardening as a way to overcome this.

There are options to buy complete hydroponic herb gardening kits like the Aerogarden 7 which is sold on Amazon, but it’s not too hard to make one yourself. This video below shows you how.

Choosing An Indoor Herb Garden Kit

The Planters’ Choice herb kit includes everything you need to get started.

An indoor herb garden kit can be a great addition to your home if you’re not keen to source some pots, soil, and seeds yourself, or want to just dip your toes in the water with growing herbs at home.

There are complete kits available, like the Planters’ Choice Organic Herb Growing Kit which retails for under $17 and includes the growing containers, potting mix, and seeds. Everything you need to get started.

Whichever option you choose to grow herbs indoors, you’ll find it really rather easy. As long as you provide for the basic needs of the plant, warmth, light, adequate drainage and enough water, it will grow happily indoors. It’s also an excellent choice as most herbs will be pretty happy with the typical ambient indoor temperature of 70 deg F. If you are not too hot and not too cold, the plants will likely be very happy too.

Herbs To Grow In An Indoor Herb Garden

Most herbs will do great indoors, but I thought it would be nice to provide a list of some tasty herbs that do wonderfully well. Here are 9 of the easiest to get you started.

  • Basil – A big fave of mine, very versatile for cooking, putting on pizza, or in salads. It can be tricky to grow during the winter in cooler places but does great in the summer months.
  • Thyme – Needs 6-8 hours of good sunlight each day, supplemental lighting can be useful.
  • Rosemary – Likes things a little drier, can easily be overwatered.
  • Oregano – Greek oregano is the simplest to grow, a well-lit window sill is required to give the plant 6-8 hours of good light each day.
  • Coriander AKA Cilantro – One of my favorite herbs, love this in curries. The Vietnamese version is easier to grow than the normal variety.
  • Mint – Grows like a weed! If planting in the garden, I like to actually plant it IN a large pot to prevent it spreading too much. Great for cocktails and for a delicious homemade mint sauce to go with roast lamb.
  • Parsley – Easy to grow, doesn’t need a lot of maintenance. Grows slowly so don’t harvest it all at once.
  • Lemongrass – No need to put this in the soil, in fact, you shouldn’t. After using shop bought lemongrass, just put the stalk in a glass of water and it will re-sprout. The base of the stem needs to be intact.
  • Chives – Great in the garden, the bees and insects love them, but also a hit indoors for the herb grower. Chives are really easy to grow, don’t need a lot of light. If you have chives in the garden, dig up a clump, plant it in your indoor herb planter, chop 2/3 off from the top to stimulate some new growth and you’ll be away.

This isn’t a definitive list, try others, I’ve grown plenty of herbs indoors, rarely with complications. You can manage the environment easily, and look forward to a glut of tasty herbs year round.

As a glut is a great thing, here’s a little tip to save your herbs for the winter. Of course, you can dry them, and I recommend it, but one way that works great is this:

Take your chosen herb and put it into a food processor or blender. Add some filtered water and blend until smooth. Then simply pour the liquid into ice cube trays and freeze. You can then put the frozen cubes into labeled bags and throw one or two into a stew, curry or soup as you need them. Works amazingly well.

So, we’ve covered some indoor methods for growing a herb garden, how about outdoors?

Inspirational Indoor Herb Gardens

I love the colors in this one, looks great on the kitchen counter. Image:

A simple frame and some colored pots bring an air of fun and interest to this planter. A super convenient herb garden that would look great in any kitchen.

Creative use of a pallet for this herb garden. Recycling is a great way to keep costs low. Image: Beers ‘n’ Beans

This is actually a whole pallet hanging on the wall. Lots of growing space, and you could paint the pallet with pastel shades if you wanted to dress it up a little. I like it as it is though.

Innovative re-purposing of a canvas shoe organizer. Image: Pretty Plain Jane

I love it when people think outside the box. This shoe organizer, similar items can be picked up really cheaply on Amazon is a great way to grow herbs indoors. Or even outside on a sheltered wall. One can see a little mildew forming on the fabric, which would be a pain to clean up, but still, it works and shows a good deal of creative thinking.

Growing a herb garden indoors is a great thing to do, and if you have no outdoors, it may be the ONLY thing to do. Most keen gardeners and homesteaders with some open space like to put it to use for food production too. There is no problem with growing herbs indoors and outdoors. Do both, you’ll reap the rewards.

Step Three: Transplant Herbs or Plant Seeds

While a Mason jar herb garden is an easy way to transplant herbs from outdoor planter boxes for kitchen-friendly gardening, Mason jars are also a cheap and convenient way to plant herbs indoors. Follow instructions provided by seed provider for best results, but in most cases, simply sow seeds on top of potting mix, cover with an inch or so of additional potting mix and lightly water.

When transplanting herbs to Mason jars, gently pull roots apart to encourage growth, plant in jar and pack mix firmly around the roots and base of plant (top off jar). For plants with more established roots, it may be necessary to remove a little potting mix from the jar before planting. Keep roots exposed to the air for as little time as possible and water plants as soon as they are re-planted.

Watch the video: Organic Herb Gardening Tips: How To Grow Organic Thyme

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