How to Set up an Outdoor Herb Garden
Season your favorite dishes with what grows in your yard, plus a yummy garden salsa recipe
Anyone who does a significant amount of cooking knows the need for quality herbs. But they can cost a small fortune at the grocery store, and growing your own is surprisingly simple. With a little planning and preparation, you can have vibrant, fresh herbs right at your fingertips by setting up a dead-simple kitchen herb garden. I haven’t purchased herbs from the grocery store in years now, and my budget (and palate) thank me for it!
Location, Location, Location
Before you begin, you’ll need to pick the right spot for your herb garden. A location close to the house (and ideally the kitchen) would be perfect. It’s easier to nip away from the stove to pick a few fresh leaves of oregano that way. But you’ll want to be sure that your location gets full sun. If it’s too close to the house, it’s likely to be shaded part (or most) of the day.
I recommend raised beds to grow culinary herbs. My go-to beds come from Birdies Garden Products, which I’ll have available on my site (epicgardening.com) starting this month. They make harvesting easy and stop pets from trampling them. Use a high-quality, well-draining potting soil to plant in. Happy Frog from Fox Farm is one of my personal favorites, which you can find at most local nurseries and garden centers.
Grow the Right Herbs
What herbs do you use the most? Those are the ones you should grow. Don’t feel that you have to grow certain herbs. If you don’t use marjoram in the kitchen…don’t include it in the garden. Opt instead for additional varieties of the herbs you use most.
My personal favorites include oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary and sage. I use these in so many recipes because they’re incredibly versatile, so even if I’ve got a small herb garden, I’m maximizing my use of it.
If you love cooking Mexican food, you’ll probably need a ton of cilantro. Italian cooks might find themselves in need of huge quantities of basil. Think of what you cook most often, and how much of it you use. This will help you determine what to grow in your space.
Planting and Care Tips
So you’ve got your planting space prepared, and you’ve decided which plants to grow. What’s next?
Layout matters, especially when you’ve got a mixed group of herbs. Consider growing your tallest plants, such as cilantro or parsley, at the back of your bed. Plants that are slightly shorter, such as rosemary, can go in front of them. Low or creeping plants, like thyme or oregano, should be at the very front. Laying your herb garden out this way ensures your larger plants don’t block precious sunlight from your smaller ones.
TIP: If you want to keep your plants fairly small and compact, there’s a trick for that. Most culinary herbs won’t grow larger than there is space for the roots.
You can plant the herbs into terracotta pots and bury those containers beneath the soil. This tends to keep your plants small and compact, plus it ensures they have plenty of moisture.
Drip irrigation is perfect for herb gardens. I especially like using soaker hoses. Those keep the moisture off your plants’ foliage, preventing diseases like powdery mildew. They also prevent water waste, which is awesome in our drought-prone region.
Even if you don’t need them for cooking, trim your herbs often. This stimulates them to keep putting out new growth, and encourages a bushing habit. It also prevents them from invading the space of other nearby plants.
Garden Tomato Salsa Recipe
Enjoy delicious fresh-from-the-garden homemade salsa this summer with the fruits, veggies and herbs of your labor.
To grow the garden, plant cilantro every three to four weeks because it’s a short-season crop. Include your favorite tomatoes and peppers, adding basil and oregano to the mix, which give salsas great flavor. Use raised beds and find a spot in full sun for best results.
1 garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeño, seeded
1/2 red bell pepper
1 Tbsp. cilantro
2 Tbsp. basil
1 tsp. oregano
3 Tbsp. lime juice
Salt and pepper
Dice ingredients, and combine in a bowl.