The warm weather has already set in for most parts of the South and, while it may be too late to start plants from seeds, you can still start an herb garden with established plants from the nursery. Whether garnishing a salad or blended into a homemade pesto, herbs make a delicious accompaniment to fruits, vegetables, and grilled meats. Since many of our favorite herbs are easy to grow, this an ideal project for beginner gardeners. Here are my top picks for starting an easy herb garden.
Also known as Mexican parsley, cilantro grows fast in the cool weather of spring and fall. When the weather gets warm, the plant sends up a long, lanky flower stalk which later produces coriander seeds. Plant cilantro in a bed devoted to herbs where it can reseed, or in a corner of the vegetable garden. Avoid full sun or excessive heat, or the leaves will turn bitter. This herb does not retain its flavor when dried and wilts quickly once cut, so keep several pots on hand for homemade salsas and fresh salad garnishes.
Common sage grows as a low shrub, often wider than it is tall. Ideal for pots or the garden, sage mixes well with rosemary, basil, and other Mediterranean herbs. Sage doesn’t like wet ground, so plant it in a sunny spot with fertile, well-drained soil. As with all herbs, harvest the leaves regularly to encourage more growth.
All types of mint, including sweet mint, peppermint, spearmint, and chocolate mint, are fast-growing, spreading plants. Either give them a huge place to spread without overtaking other plant, plant mint in pots. Keep this herb in full sun or partial shade and pinch out any flower buds to encourage more leaf growth.
You can choose from (and mix them in flower beds) a plethora of basil varieties–sweet basil, purple basil, Thai basil…the list goes on. This herb grows rapidly in 80- to 90-degree weather, and two or three plants will yield plenty of fresh leaves for a family of four. If you plan on putting up some pesto, plant at least a dozen or more plants.
A shrub plant, rosemary is woody-stemmed with needle-like leaves that can commonly reach 3 feet in height, sometimes stretching to 5 feet in warmer climates unless clipped. Rosemary is ideal for home gardens because it also thrives in large containers or small pots on the windowsill. An aromatic herb, rosemary plants grow well with basil, oregano, and sage.
Whether in pots or in the ground, parsley needs rich, slightly damp soil in full sun or partial shade. This herb makes an excellent companion plant to annuals, perennials, and other herbs in beds, containers, and window boxes. The caterpillar of the black swallowtail butterfly loves parsley, so consider planting enough parsley for both you and the butterflies-to-be. They are very likely to appear in late summer and fall and, while they will eat lots of the plant, but they won't kill it.
Both onion and garlic chives are used in the garden as perennial edging or border plants, or as herbs in the kitchen – both the leaves and the fuzzy, colorful globe flowers are flavorful. Chives also grow well in containers (even the pockets of a strawberry jar), either alone or in combination with other long-lived herbs such as rosemary.
Oregano grows best in dry, warm climates, needs less water than most plants, and grows faster when trimmed, like basil and sage. Oregano also loves to grow in pots, spilling over the edge, and it also makes a good seasonal ground cover or edging along a path. A universal companion plant, oregano helps nurture the other plants it grows with.