Most commonly used herbs will grow in the Northeast. If you have
room, you can make herbs part of your vegetable garden. However,
you may prefer to grow herbs in a separate area, particularly
Herb Garden Size
First, decide on the size of your herb garden; this will depend
on the amount of variety you want. Generally, a kitchen garden
can be an area 20 by 4 feet. Individual 12- by 18-inch plots
within the area should be adequate for separate herbs. You might
like to grow some of the more colorful and frequently used
herbs, such as parsley and purple basil, as border plants. Keep
annual and perennial herbs separate. A diagram of the area and
labels for the plants also will help.
Site and Soil Conditions
When selecting the site for your herb garden, consider drainage
and soil fertility. Drainage is probably the most important
single factor in successful herb growing. None of the herbs will
grow in wet soils. If the garden area is poorly drained, you
will have to modify the soil for any chance of success. To
improve drainage at the garden site, remove the soil to a depth
of 15 to 18 inches. Place a 3-inch layer of crushed stone or
similar material on the bottom of the excavated site. Before
returning the soil to the bed area, mix some compost or sphagnum
peat and sand with it to lighten the texture. Then, refill the
beds higher than the original level to allow for settling of the
The soil at the site does not have to be especially fertile, so
little fertilizer should be used. Generally, highly fertile soil
tends to produce excessive amounts of foliage with poor flavor.
Plants, such as chervil, fennel, lovage, and summer savory,
require moderate amounts of fertilizer. Adding several bushels
of peat or compost per 100 square feet of garden area will help
improve soil condition and retain needed moisture.
Sowing Herb Seed
Nearly all herbs can be grown from seed. Although rust infects
mints, very few diseases or insects attack herbs. In hot, dry
weather, red spider mites may be found on low-growing plants.
Aphids may attack anise, caraway, dill, and fennel.
A few herbs, such as mints, need to be contained or they will
overtake a garden. Plant them in a no. 10 can or bucket; punch
several holes just above the bottom rim to allow for drainage. A
drain tile, clay pot, or cement block also can be used. Sink
these into the ground; this should confine the plants for
Herbs can also be grown in containers, window boxes, or hanging
baskets. These methods will require more care, especially
If possible, sow seeds in shallow boxes in late winter.
Transplant seedlings outdoors in the spring. A light,
well-drained soil is best for starting the seedlings indoors. Be
careful not to cover the seeds too deeply with soil. Generally,
the finer the seed, the shallower it should be sown. Sow anise,
coriander, dill, and fennel directly in the garden since they do
not transplant well.
Most biennials should be sown in late spring directly into the
ground. Work the soil surface to a fine texture and wet it
slightly. Sow the seeds in very shallow rows and firm the soil
over them. Do not sow the seeds too deeply. Fine seeds, such as
marjoram, savory, or thyme, will spread more evenly if you mix
them with sand. Some of the larger seeds can be covered by as
much as one-eighth of an inch of soil. With fine seeds, cover
the bed with wet burlap or paper to keep the soil moist during
germination. Water with a fine spray to prevent washing away of
Cutting and Division
Cutting and division also are useful in propagating certain
herbs. When seeds are slow to germinate, cuttings may be the
answer. Some herbs, however, spread rapidly enough to make
division a main source of propagation. Tarragon, chives, and
mint should be divided while lavender should be cut.
Herbs should be harvested when the oils responsible for flavor and aroma are
at their peak. Proper timing depends on the plant part you are harvesting and
the intended use. Herbs grown for their foliage should be harvested before they
flower. While chives are quite attractive in bloom, flowering can cause the
foliage to develop an off-flavor. Harvest herbs grown for seeds as the seed pods
change in color from green to brown to gray but before they shatter (open).
Collect herb flowers, such as borage and chamomile, just before full flower.
Harvest herb roots, such as bloodroot, chicory, ginseng, and goldenseal, in the
fall after the foliage fades. Some general guidelines to use include:
- Begin harvesting the herb when the plant has enough foliage to maintain
growth. Up to 75% of the current season's growth can be harvested at one
- Harvest early in the morning, after the dew dries, but before the heat
of the day.
- Harvest herbs before flowering, otherwise, leaf production declines.
- Herb flowers have their most intense oil concentration and flavor when
harvested after flower buds appear but before they open.
- Herb flowers harvested to dry for craft purposes should be picked just
before they are fully open.
- Annual herbs can be harvested until frost.
- Perennial herbs can be clipped until late August. Stop harvesting about
one month before the frost date. Late pruning could encourage tender growth
that cannot harden-off before winter.
- Harvest tarragon or lavender flowers in early summer and then shear the
plants to half their height to encourage a second flowering period in the