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How to Grow Herbs
By Don Rosenberg - Master Gardener, Author of ‘No Green Thumb Required!' and Co-Author of "The Organic Gardener's Cookbook"

Herbs are very popular for the home garden. Since most of them have Mediterranean origins they need lean, well-drained soil instead of the super-fertile soil I recommend in our raised bed gardens for vegetables. An herb’s job is to produce leaves, which is a lot easier than generating big fruits like tomatoes, squash or peppers, so fertilizers aren’t as important.

I advocate growing your herbs in pots or separate planters. Our raised beds are designed for production vegetables, which are planted and grown over each season only to be removed and replaced by the next season’s crops. Since most herbs last longer than a single season, they tend to get in the way. Basil is an exception – it’s more like a tomato than an herb, so it will do well in a vegetable garden, and has the added benefit of tending to repel insects and deer.

For your soil, use a leaner mix – 50% compost and 50% sand (or fine gravel) is an option OR 50% potting mix and 50% sand/gravel. Don’t use fertilizers or potting mix that has fertilizers included.

Avoid clay pots. They dry out very quickly. You may end up having to water twice a day and your plants will go crazy from being in very dry to very wet in a short time. Instead use glazed pots or plastic pots - many look just like clay, and they’re lighter and inexpensive.

Consider using water crystals. They absorb water and release it slowly as needed. This means less watering and less stress on your plants. They’re available at garden centers under different names like Terra-Sorb and Soil Moist. Add the crystals to your soil as indicated on the package.

Instead of buying a whole packet of seeds to grow just a few plants, I suggest you head out to the garden center or farmers market in the spring and look through the variety of herbs to choose from as transplants. Rub a leaf or two and get a sense of how each smells and tastes. Instead of three plants of the same cultivar, get three types of basil and give them all a try. This is your chance to experiment – lemon basil, Thai basil, purple ruffled basil, globe basil, the choices are many. Each herb has lots of varieties. Just like with your vegetable garden, consider your plant selections to be a competition each year, with the winners coming back and the losers being replaced by new challengers.

Finally, remember that most herbs are happiest when they’re used on a regular basis, so pinch often and don’t let them get away from you!

Don Rosenberg is a Master Gardener and Author of “No Green Thumb Required, Organic Family Gardening Made Easy" and Co-Author of "The Organic Gardener's Cookbook: Easy Growing Tips and Delicious Recipes for Your Home-Grown Vegetables." To purchase his books, fabric raised garden beds, seeds, and get free gardening tips, visit