Mistakes can happen in gardening so I wanted to share some of my early ones, to help you avoid making them! I hope you will save time, money and heartache in your herb garden!
From watering too much, to a lack on sunlight herbs will respond. However once you learn how to prune a herb to encourage more growth, or where to position them to avoid harsh winds, you will find an abundance of food to harvest. Learn how to feed them, water them with adequate drainage and your confidence will soar.
Trust me you will really reap what you sow when it comes to a productive and happy herb garden!
1. Mistakes With Watering
A lot of aromatic herbs are native to warmer climates than the UK and Northern America. So when we grow them we make the mistake of treating them like our own native plants. The temptation is to water them more to keep them healthy.
In reality herbs like rosemary and thyme are pretty happy with periods of drought and can be encouraged to produce new growth in these conditions. The worst condition for many of these plants is constantly wet soil. Roots need to be free of fungal infections and mold, which are all encouraged by damp soil.
A simple solution for your indoor herb garden would be a passive watering system. This also means that you can be away on holiday and not worry that your plants will die! It is always a heart break to come home to herbs that have died from soggy roots rather than drought!
When you have plants outside in pots it is important to water regularly, however you will still be on the safe side if you have dry soil on the top layer.
Make sure to water the soil and not the top of the plant. Many herbs with softwood have very delicate foliage and the mistake of damaging leaves with sun damage is real! This is particularly important when using liquid feed as you can actually burn the leaves with the nitrogen.
Water in the morning, this will mean that the water has time to soak into the soil without the sunlight evaporating it. So even if you do get a little on the leaves it won’t kill off the leaves!
2. Mistakes When There Is Not Enough Sunlight
Herbs that are used to living in the Mediterranean or Asian countries would like a longer period of daylight. Whilst we can think that our windowsill gets plenty of sunshine, it may not be for long enough periods.
If you do want to grow herbs outdoors you may need to think about greenhouses or poly tunnels. We extend our growing season by many months using our poly tunnel.
If you are going for an indoor herb garden, then reconsider which room to grow your herbs in. We moved some of ours into the back bedroom and found it had much more sunlight. Therefore we just have to remember to use the herbs in our cooking, but this is the nicest smelling room in the house by far!
Too much direct sunlight can really harm your herbs and it is a common mistake to think that more sunlight means more photosynthesis can occur. Harsh winds and too much sunlight can mean that your herbs are dried out and literally the leaves start to fade before they dry out completely. If you see this happening move them out of the sun.
Often it is the afternoon sun that is most damaging. I know that our french lavender has massively improved since I have repositioned it.
This is another good reason to grow herbs in pots! You can move them to find their optimum position. So the top tip here is to monitor them.
3. Not Pruning Or Harvesting Leaves
You may not fancy any basil for a few weeks, but the plants will get leggy and straggly without regular pruning.
Correct pruning can make the difference between straggly Lemon Verbena which doesn’t provide you with more than a handful of leaves a year to a lovely verdant and bushy shrub.
Don’t forget you also have the benefit of cut and come again herbs, like parsley and chives. They will both grow again to replace what you take. Often if you Don’t take the leaves they will die off and never be replaced.
When pruning, if you don’t want to eat them straight away, why not dry or preserve in herb butters?
4. Starting From Seeds
Starting from seeds can seen a natural way to start off many plants. However some herbs do not give a true plant from seed so it may be better to grow from a seedling. We love fast growing herbs from seeds, and would encourage you to try some of those from seed, especially cress! However it is important to know that a few good quality plugs from reputable online nurseries will be worth their weight in gold.
When you buy plugs or seedlings you are getting a true plant and it will carry on the characteristics that you have chosen.
5. Not Providing Drainage
You will find that most herbs thrive when their roots dry out occasionally. Leaving them in soggy soil will kill off any plant quickly.
One of my pet hates is those beautiful ‘planters’ that you can buy as gift sets, but that have no drainage. You can create your own with a sharp masonry drill bit, but why should you? Just sell us what will help our plants to live!!!
However having drainage holes is not the whole story. Make sure that you add more drainage in the form or broken pottery or pebbles in the bottom of the pots as well. This will slow down the water leaving, meaning that it has time to soak into the soil.
6. Growing Herbs That You Don’t Eat
It sounds nice to have a wide variety of herbs in the garden, however if you don’t like the taste of tarragon don’t go all out and grow Russian and French!
Similarly putting pots by the back door will really make it a lot easier to remember to pick some fresh herbs. But also be realistic, don’t plant them all the way at the back of the garden. We find that walking out in the wind and rain at night will really put you off getting a little bit of garnish for your fish!
Equally if you have favourite herbs, why not grow them on the windowsill as well as outdoors? That way if you have a last minute thought when making tomato sauce, it won’t need to be a big rush to go outside in the break between storms.
Check out which herbs go with which foods that you do cook. This can be a nice way to expand your herb garden as well.
7. Not Feeding
herbs have a reputation as being easy to grow. They will need a liquid feed throughout the growing season.
We make up a simple solution with borage leaves. It is a form of fertiliser that many people use. Simply shred a few stems and leaves. Then place into a sealed bucket of water. Two weeks in, open up and give it a stir then do the same in four weeks. If it stinks then it is ready to use.
Use the fertiliser three parts water to one part liquid feed. Then apply to the soil in the pots or the ground.
8. Using Poor Quality Soil
Irrigation is key to most of your herbs as we know about keeping those roots free from rot. But a well rotted compost which is rich in humus material will also provide a slow release of food.
Don’t worry too much about checking for the soil PH, but you will find that a good organic feed will provide nutrients to solve most problems.
When it comes to planting herbs like dill you will need to dig through with nutrient rich soil and homemade compost will be the best in most cases. You can overwinter the ground to be planted in with a green manure and that way is free and organic! As well as a bit of a lazy win for keeping weeds at bay!
9. Being Afraid To Try New Herbs
I did just say don’t grow herbs you don’t know how to cook! However what about all of the many varieties of Oregano, mint or thyme? Sarah Raven Nurseries have the nicest Basil collection and you can learn about how to use fresh herbs in salads to really lift the flavours.
Using a reliable online nursery can help you to plan your kitchen herb garden as well!
What about using your herbs in new ways? So perhaps you are used to growing mint for garnish, but now use it for a nice herbal tea. Or what about in a cocktail, or in mint ice cream that you make yourselves?
10. Ignoring The Weather Forecast
Certain herbs are hardy perennials and can be left with as little as a heavy prune in late Autumn. Others are tender perennials and will need to be covered or brought inside when the weather turns frosty. Then some are annuals that cannot handle so much as an icy breeze.
So pay attention to the weather forecast as a warm day in May can sometimes lead to a frosty night below freezing.
Plants like basil will perish so bring them into shelter. Whereas plants like mint may appreciate a heavy trim before the frosts come along.
We have a few fleeces for the garden as well as a cloche or two to protect the younger plants. It is mid May as I type and our Lovage is still under wraps at night. This is just because of the heavy frosts we have been experiencing. They are being hardened off though as we hope for a stronger second year!
11. Letting Your Herbs Grow Like Weeds
I am talking about your mint and chamomile types here. Herbs that are super satisfying to grow, but that will keep on growing wherever they like. So do not be tempted to plant into the ground unless you want a lifetime of digging up mint runners.
This is one of their amazing properties and one which we love for keeping propagating from these herbs, however it will mean that mint in particular can really suffocate anything in the same county! So keep them in pots, and keep an eye on those drainage holes as we have had runners coming from them in the past!
So please do not plant mint directly into any plant bed as you will find it crops up literally everywhere! Also if you are composting any that you don’t want, chop it before adding to the bin!
12. Flowering Mistakes
For us we love to grow herbs to attract bees and butterflies into our garden. So we allow flowering to occur. But you need to know that a herb will focus on the flowers and not on the foliage. So for herbs that we eat the leaves this can mean limited productivity. Which isn’t the end of the world once the shrub is established.
With flowers they are produced to make seeds. So for herbs like chamomile and borage where the flower is one of the tastiest parts it can mean you need to keep a watchful eye on the flowers. Removing them as they are dying off can avoid self seeding. But sometimes you will benefit from this as a plant that is otherwise an annual can act as a perennial, coming back year after year from its own seeds.
13. Planting Herbs Together That Don’t Like Each Other
Not a personal thing, but I would not plant basil with thyme. They have different preferences for sunlight, watering and even how much wind they can take.
Thyme will relish the chance to be in hot sunlight most of the day, with dry soil and as much wind as the British Isles can throw its way. Whereas basil will wilt and quickly die in those conditions.
Do not fear the herbs! Get online and look at some of the wonderful varieties of your favourite herbs and start to feel confident that you can grow them yourself and start to feed your family too!