Growing your own herbs can be very rewarding and enjoyable, but a few little things can make it frustrating as well. Learn ten mistakes new herb gardeners make and how you can fix them for ultimate garden success this year!
Mistake 1: Growing from seed.While there is something special about starting a plant from seed and watching it grow, there is a lot that can go wrong when starting seedlings. Seeds require a proper environment for germinating and being kept growing indoors before it’s time to plant outside. For the same price (or less) as a packet of seeds, you can pick up your very own starter plants. This allows you to start with a healthy plant and avoiding the disappointment of not having plants to grow in the spring.
Mistake 2: Too complex, too early.When growing herbs, it’s always best to grow what you love; after all you’ll be eating them! At the same time, we’re aiming for success when growing too. For a first time gardener, basil is a perfect trainer herb. It’s a quick grower and it bounces back really well when not watered enough. This flexibility allows you to figure things out with a plant that can take a little abuse. The fact basil is so versatile on recipes and a well-loved herb is yet another added benefit.
Mistake 3: You mean there’s more than one kind of mint? As in life, it’s important to read carefully when choosing your herbs.When you shop for groceries, there’s no such thing as ‘just an apple’ there are many varieties available to you, same goes for selecting herbs. We’ve got plenty of thyme, no seriously, we actually have lots of different varieties of thyme; creeping thyme, silver thyme, lemon thyme, upright thyme, to name a few. When selecting herbs with multiple options available to you, know the flavour your looking to get and pick correctly. Otherwise you could want to make mojitos and grab apple mint instead of spearmint by mistake.
Mistake 4: Help, my soil isn’t feeding me!A well-prepped garden with fresh soil can go along way. Using soil that is tired, with no nutrients left to offer you herbs isn’t conducive to success. Spent soil that hasn’t been worked, had compost added or been worked to turn up fresh soil doesn’t give your herb a warm welcome to its new home. In your garden, turn over the soil and working in some digested compost is a more fitting home. In pots, avoid garden soil, yes you heard correct, avoid garden soils like topsoil or black earth! These soils are heavy and take forever to dry out after a rain. Using a potting soil or ProMix will be lighter and fluffier, perfect for herb growing. Add in an occasional watering (twice a month) with 20-20-20 water soluble fertilizer to recharge the nutrients your plants will take from the soil and you’ve made a bed fit for a (herb) king!
Mistake 5: Prevent a Garden Invasion! Some herbs provide complimenting flavours to our food but forget their manners when planted in your garden. Herbs like mint and oregano are voracious growers and get down right aggressive (even invasion) in a garden. To keep the rest of your garden plot safe, consider growing these herbs in pots and burying them in the ground. The added measure of control a pot puts on the roots of these herbs can keep them from moving in to the rest of your garden and prompting taking over. Of course the surest way to protect your garden from this threat is to grow them in pots grown above ground.
Mistake 6: Watering herbs like houseplants. There are a lot of differences between indoors and outdoors (duh) and those differences make growing plants outside very different than indoors. While herbs and house plants inside might do flourish with a good watering once a week, that just won’t cut it for plants left in the garden. Most herbs will require moderate and regular watering’s, especially in the hot summer months. If you’re growing in pots, make sure the pot has adequate drainage; this will prevent your herbs from drowning after a long rainy period. The downside with growing in pots is your herbs will need even more water than if they’re planted in the ground.
Mistake 7: Letting it all grow out.Knowing when to give your herbs a hair cut (so you can make a meal) can be difficult to judge but do it early and often. Just like the Medusa (or grey hairs), cutting one branch of a herb in the right place will lead to two more growing in it’s place. It’s a good practice to prune in V’s (take a shoot just after two smaller ones) and the others will grow in larger. The cut stem won’t grow any further, almost like a signal to your plant that it can grow that way. You can start trimming when your plant grows to 3-4” above the soil (making sure there are still some good leaves left behind), this will give you a sturdy base to grow on. As your herb grows back you can prune it every 3-4” of new growth, pruning back to with a couple inches of your last cut. After a few pruning’s you so find your harvest yielding enough to fill out a recipe!
An added benefit to a good pruning, aside from increased yield, is a more compact and well-kept plant. Herbs that aren’t pruned can grow tall and top heavy, a pruned herb is shorter and denser. Basil is a great plant to experiment with pruning but you’ll find most plants (like annual flowers) will benefit from a good pruning too. Keep in mind, not all herbs are alike and some respond faster to pruning than others.
Mistake 8: Bigger isn’t always best. When harvesting your herbs it’s best to pick off the biggest leaves and leave the tender new ones, right? Wrong! It may seem counter productive but there are reason behind the madness of harvesting the new growth. First, those large older leaves are powering your herbs growth acting like big solar panels feeding the new growth up top. Removing lower leaves just leaves you with a tall skinny plant that won’t support it’s own growth. Second, remembering mistake 7 (let it all grow out), we want to take our harvest from leaves plucked up top and further proper pruning, the fact new leaves taste better is an added benefit. Don’t forget to pluck above a V so new growth will replace the leaves you harvest.
Mistake 9: Flowers are not welcome at this party!Now, if you’re following the advice about pruning and proper plucking, hopefully this mistake is not an issue you deal with. Flowers are pretty and lovely to see on our annuals or perennials, on herbs, they’re normally a sign of nothing good. Unless yourgrowing something for its edible flowers, you should be cutting back herbs before they start growing flowers. Many people often note their sweet basil turns bitter in the middle of the summer and this is because those darn flowers ruin the flavour party. Add to that the fact herbs will focus all their energy on procreation and neglect growing if given half a chance, it’s clear flowers (a plants reproductive parts) are to be avoided. Keep cutting off flower buds if you find them and it will keep your herb focused on growing leaves.
Mistake 10: Bring another herb (or 5) into your bed. So things have been going really well with that special herb or two and things seem to great, which is why it’s time to spice things up and bring another herb (or five) into your bed. Variety is the spice of life and the more herbs you grow, the more flavour your food can have. For any foodie, this is a no brainer. Think of what you like to cook with and try adding it to your garden. Grown basil and had success? Why not try some rosemary, mint, oregano and thyme! We mentioned the many varieties available in herbs (mistake 3), so if you liked spearmint and had success with it, perhaps you can try growing chocolate mint. Add a pop of colour to your plate with purple leafed basil or a hint of citrus with lemon thyme. Just remember that like people, herbs respond differently to the care you give them. Most importantly, enjoy the experience of growing the herbs you’ll use for cooking at home and have fun, success is sure to follow!