A DIY herb garden is an easy way to have fresh basil, cilantro, and other kitchen staples on hand—no more running to the store or wasting cash on wilted parsley! What’s not to love?
But if you’re wondering whether a DIY herb garden is easy to set up and keep alive, rest assured, it’s the perfect choice for a beginner. Here’s how to get started in six simple steps.
1. Determine the best place for an herb garden
Find a patch of lawn that gets full sunlight for at least six hours a day.
“If you live in foggier, coastal climates, plant on the south or southwest side of your lawn,” recommends Rhianna Miller of Rubbermulch.
Be sure to steer clear of grass or turf that’s been treated with pesticides, says Sam Souhrada, maintenance division manager at FormLA Landscaping.
“These chemicals don’t always stay where they’re sprayed, and the rain can cause them to run off and travel to your herb garden,” he explains.
2. Choose your herbs
Most perennial herbs (e.g., sage, mint, and thyme) and many annuals (e.g., basil, cilantro, and dill) will thrive in much of the U.S. As for your own herb selection, don’t go wild and pick a lot of oddballs. Instead, plant the ones you like and will actually eat.
For example, chocolate mint sounds fun, but most people prefer regular mint for cocktails and iced tea. Basil is popular in salads (with tomatoes and mozzarella), pesto, and savory dishes. Bonus: Basil is known to keep mosquitoes and houseflies away, reports Amy Lowe, a nursery specialist at Lowe’s.
Other low-maintenance herbs include thyme and rosemary (the latter can survive on very little water).
3. Plant the herbs
Planting from seeds is less expensive, but also less predictable, and it takes more time,” notes Souhrada. And if you don’t know what oregano looks like, you could end up plucking it out when you weed. Instead, cut to the chase and put in small plants from the farmer’s market or nursery. Look for bright color, plenty of foliage—and no bugs.
Space herbs out (10 to 12 inches between each) since many spread as they grow. Gently remove the plant from its container, squeeze the bottom roots to loosen them, and then nestle it into a hole. Lightly pack dirt around the herb, and then water it well.
You might want to label each section with the name of the herb painted on a rock or written on a wooden stick.
4. Water and feed the plants
Water when the dirt is dry, during the morning hours. Direct the water spray at the soil—not the leaves (this can promote mildew and disease).
“You may need to water frequently, even daily, in very warm climates,” says Miller.
How often you’ll need to weed is also related to rainfall, according to Souhrada.
“Check the area weekly to be sure weeds aren’t outcompeting the herbs,” he says.
Add 2 inches of mulch around your plants, as it’ll release nutrients and help retain moisture so you can water a bit less. Target weeds naturally with a spray made from white vinegar.
5. Pinch and prune flower buds
See flower buds forming? Snap them off, which will help keep the herb’s flavor from turning bitter.
“Some flowers, like chives, are edible, but it’s not a good idea to allow your herbs to flower early in the season,” says Miller.
Once this happens, the plant is signaling that its life cycle is ending. To keep this from happening, pinch off buds as they appear.
6. Keep animals away
Brace yourself: Rabbits, mice, deer, and squirrels all want a piece of your herb bounty. You can plant herbs in raised boxes and enclose them with chicken wire to keep critters from stealing the harvest. Or sow with critters in mind.
“Rabbits love lettuce, but not rosemary or cilantro,” says Souhrada.
Tackle insects (beetles, mites, aphids, and whiteflies) with organic or homemade sprays made with orange, cedar, peppermint, lavender, or neem oil, recommends Miller.
“Using insect sprays for a five-day cycle will typically rid your herbs of the offending bugs,” she explains.