Herbs are some of the most interesting plants around. From adding flavor and zest to dishes to treating common maladies, herbs have a wide variety of uses in the kitchen and around the home. Because of this, herb gardens are a popular addition in every environment and locale in the world inhabited by humans. Growing your own herbs can be a productive and enjoyable pastime, allowing you to get closer to nature and help offset your grocery budget. In this article, we will discuss how to prepare your soil, how to choose the right herbs for your environment, and how to lay out your herb garden for optimal results.
Preparing Your Soil
Every region has different soil, from fertile silt to moisture gulping clay. However, herbs in the wild are practically weeds. They will grow virtually anywhere with minimal coaxing. For optimum yield and the best possible flavor and scent, you should prepare your soil beforehand. If you have a compost heap, this will be much easier, but basic fertilizer from any garden supply store will work just fine. Starting in the fall, you should prepare the area for spring planting by tilling it up and working fertilizer and/or compost into the soil. Then, in early spring, dig up a shallow trench with a hoe or similar device and put in more fertilizer alongside your rows. This is known as “side dressing” and allows additional fertilizer to reach the plants from rain and artificial irrigation.
Laying Out Your Garden
The layout depends in large part on how much space you have available. A flowerbed in the front yard will obviously take up a lot less room than a full-size garden, and growing directly in the soil requires less space than growing in pots in the soil. The key factors that dictate how to organize your garden include:
- Projected heights of plants, with tallest toward the middle or “back” of the garden
- Light and shade requirements of each plant
- What herbs grow best in your area
- Type of plant i.e. creeper, climber, or tall
To determine what kinds of herbs will grow best in your area, contact your local horticultural society or ask the people at your local garden center. These can also be valuable sources of information about light and shade needs and the approximate heights you can expect various herbs to grow to. Your layout will also be determined by the natural lay of the land and the direction of drainage. “Thirstier” plants that require more water should be on the low side or toward the direction of drainage to get the maximum amount of water, while hardier plants that require less water should be planted higher or against the direction of drainage.
Choosing the Right Herbs
The next thing to consider is what you want from your garden. Many people plant culinary herbs such as dill, mint, sage and basil. Others plant medicinal herbs such as aloe vera, mint, chamomile and echinacea. Many herbs serve dual purposes, making them more versatile and useful for a broad range of applications. However, a garden predicated on medicinal herbs is laid out and harvested differently than one that is intended primarily for culinary use. Knowing what herbs you want and why is a crucial first step in creating a garden that will give you the most utility and best results.
Which herbs you plant will to a greater or lesser extent depend on the layout of the garden, how much space you have available, and the light and shade needs of each plant? Because of this, you may find some herbs work better in your garden than others, while other herbs may be impractical for a number of reasons. This will also affect how much of each kind of herb you plant. Some herbs grow wild with little encouragement or additional assistance, while others may need extra care in environments that are outside their normal tolerances. Too many “wild” herbs will choke out other types of herb, making it important to constantly prune and cull these so they are maintained at a manageable level.
Growing an herb garden in your home can be an enjoyable summer hobby for the entire family, with benefits that last far beyond the growing season. Herbs with high yields could save your family a lot of money on store-bought, dried spices and herbs that you can grow and store yourself. These herbs will generally be more flavorful and enjoyable, because you know exactly what went into and onto them at every step of the growing process. You can save many of these herbs for use during the winter, and the garden will beautify your home as well!