A continuous medley of aromatic, fresh herbs are easy to grow and harvest, adding vibrant flavours and texture to any meal.
Herbs to try
All of the commonly used culinary herbs can easily be grown in traditional herb or vegetable gardens, raised beds, containers or the mixed border. These include;
- Popular annuals: basil, coriander and dill
- Biennials: caraway, chervil and parsley
- Perennials: borage, chives, fennel, marjoram, mint, sage, tarragon and thyme
When and where to grow herbs
Herbs grow best with full sun and light, well-drained, moisture-retentive, fertile soil with plenty of organic matter incorporated. For a continuous supply:
- Sow seeds of ones that rapidly run to seed, coriander and dill for example, on a fortnightly basis throughout spring and summer
- Choose several cultivars, where available, with different maturing times to help to keep the herb garden productive
- Pot up herbs such as chives, mint, parsley, or tarragon grown outdoors and bring them in for the winter, standing them on a south-facing windowsill
- Keep a few containers near the house for easy picking
- Pot a few larger containers with stronger-growing herbs such as mint and sage
- Make use of new or used growing-bags especially where space is limited
- Start early in the spring by sowing herbs under cloches and frames
- Sow a few trays in a greenhouse, conservatory or sunny windowsill and grow plants on ready for planting out when the soil warms up
How to raise beds
Sow seed of herbs such as basil, chives and parsley under glass with or without heat from January to early April. Additionally, as soil conditions allow, you can sow seed of chervil, coriander and dill, directly into the soil outdoors from March onwards.
Cuttings of some herbs such as bay, marjoram, mint, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme can be taken from late summer to early autumn.
Divide hardy herbs such as sweet marjoram, oregano, mint and thyme in spring or after flowering in late summer.
More information can be found on our page for propagating herbs.
If you do not have suitable conditions for raising your own herbs, many mail order suppliers and garden centres offer a range of young plants or plugs. When these arrive they need to be carefully removed from their packaging and potted up, either into cell trays or 9cm (3½in) pots. Grow on somewhere warm and well lit, such as a windowsill, until the roots have nicely filled (but not overcrowded) the container.
Plant out young plants after hardening off. Make sure the soil or compost is moist at planting time:
- Rake the soil level, removing any large clods or stones
- Gently loosen plants from their trays by pushing them up from the base. Knock out plants from pots by giving a sharp tap to the bottom with the handle of your trowel
- Handle plants by their leaves or rootball to avoid damaging their vulnerable stems
- Plant so the top of the rootball is just below the soil surface
- Firm in
- Once planting is completed, water in using a watering can without a rose
- Shallow-rooted plants dry out quickly so water regularly when they are growing strongly
Some herbs and salads such as coriander, wild rocket and cress may be ready to harvest within a few days of sowing, while others may take a few weeks. They can be picked easily by pinching out or cut before flowering to promote bushy growth.
Herbs such as coriander, dill, basil and wild rocket can be quick to bolt especially if overcrowded or in poor dry soil. Make regular sowings to have a good supply of these crops.
Maintain air movement and ventilate greenhouses to help reduce problems with fungal diseases such as grey mould (Botrytis cinerea) and damping off of seedlings.
On lettuces, downy mildew can be problematic and mint rust can affect marjoram and savory as well as mint species.
Rosemary beetle can be a problem on lavender, sage and thyme as well as rosemary. Protect young seedlings from birds, slugs and snails.