Cooking with fresh herbs is the best and healthiest way to increase the taste of your meals, whether you toss some in a salad, roast them on meat and veggies or add them to sauces. While fresh herbs are often accessible at grocery stores all year round, growing your own herbs is a great way to achieve satisfaction and you know you are cooking with the utmost freshest herbs. It doesn’t matter where you live, in a house in the suburbs or an apartment in the city, growing herbs is EASY!
For those who are feeling baffled about where to start with herb gardening, here are a few practical guides to growing herbs for beginners;
- Growing from seed.
As a beginner it might pay to start with a seedling rather than planting your own seeds. There are little starter plants available from the majority of nurseries and plant/garden shops for roughly the same price as a packet of herbs from the grocery store. Many things can go wrong in the seed to seedling transition, so it is advised to skip that complex task to prevent ending your herb garden dreams before you even begin.
- Starting with the wrong varieties.
Basil is the recommended herb to start with, as it is a perfect trainer herb. It grows rapidly, allowing you to witness the effects of your care more easily. Also, when not watered enough, basil leaves wilt noticeably and recover well when you water the wilted plant. This all helps you figure out how much water is enough.
- Watering herbs like pot plants.
While majority of pot plants flourish with one solid water per week, most delicate herbs need moderate and regular watering. This is predominantly true during the hotter summer months. Ensuring you have good drainage and rocks beneath the soil will help keep your herbs from drowning if you have watered them too much.
- When to start pruning.
Although it may seem like the tiny herb isn’t ready for pruning to a novice gardener, it is essential to prune while the herbs are young to ensure full thick growth. Yet again, basil is a great herb to rehearse pruning. As with pruning all herbs, it is best to cut the herb directly above a set of growing leaves. The originally pruned stem will no longer grow, instead, two new stems will grow around the original cutting, creating a “V” shape. If basil is not regularly pruned, it will become too tall and top-heavy therefore it is advised that your first trim is approximately 3-4 inches above the soil to ensure a nice, sturdy plant. Of course always leave a few good durable leaves on the plant. As it continues to grow, continue to prune it approximately every 3-4 inches for a nice solid plant
- Picking leaves from your herbs.
Most beginners pick the large leaves from the bottom and think that it is best to leave the tender little leaves to grow, this is INCORRECT! Those large tough leaves at the bottom are the solar panels that power your herb’s growth, once your plant has grown adequately to ensure a decent harvest, continue picking from the top, as you have been when pruning. This ensures that you get all those tender new herbs that are so flavoursome, and your plant gets to keep its well-built solar power system in place. If you do pluck from the base and leave the top whole, as mentioned before, your plant will become top heavy and topple over. Don’t forget to clip off just above the leaves to ensure good, strong regrowth.
- Letting your plants get out of control.
Pruning regularly is a must unless you are growing something for its edible flower, otherwise, be sure to cut back herbs before they start growing flowers. If you allow it, herbs will focus more energy on procreation and neglect growth. If you want healthy, thick leaves, be sure to cut off the little flower buds whenever you find them, and it will encourage your plant to focus on developing more leaves.
- Old soil with zero nutrients.
Don’t ever use tired soil that has been sitting in your garden or lawn forever, you literally reap what you sow, therefore spoil your herbs with a dose of the good stuff. A combination of potting soil and organic compost is best if you have some on hand, also crushed egg shells is good. Those without access to compost may want to invest in some fertilizer for herbs to help them flourish.
- Branching out.
Don’t stick too long with just one or two herbs, branch out to a few other basic herbs that you will use regularly in your kitchen. Once you are comfortable with basil, the following herbs that are recommended are oregano, mint, rosemary and thyme. All are regularly useful herbs in the kitchen, and all are relatively simple to grow. You will notice that rosemary cleaves after cutting in a rather similar way to basil, but grows considerably slower, so the effect is more challenging to notice.
- Different varieties.
There are many different varieties of each herb so when choosing herbs, be sure to read the label carefully. For instance, there are two main assortments of oregano: Mediterranean and Mexican. Mediterranean oregano is the more common variety, and what you most likely store in your cupboard. Mexican oregano is best for spicy dishes and often used in tomato dishes to reduce the marinara flavour. In the same way, there are many different types of mint. The spearmint plant is more pungent whereas the apple mint is much more subtle, so be sure to do your research and get the required flavours for your individual tastes.
- Protect the rest of your garden.
Planting in soil instead of pots can enable your seedling to dominate the rest of your garden. If you are considering planting herbs directly in the garden, rather than in pots, you may need to contemplate potting these herbs and then burying the pots in the ground. This will add a measure of control to the root systems of these herbs, which could ultimately take over a garden and strangle nearby plants. Be aware that oregano and mint are both insatiable growers. If in doubt, do the relevant research on individual herbs to eliminate the threat of devastating your garden.
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