Which herbs like full sun? Which herbs are annual? Or perennial? Can I grow them in containers? Get the answers to these beginner questions and more to get started with outdoor herb growing.
If you want to grow indoors, see How to Grow Herbs Indoors (Beginner’s Guide).
Growing Herbs Outdoors: Tips For Beginner Growers
Use these tips to get started with herb growing outdoors in containers or garden beds. The first step is know which plants are annual or perennial and then learn the best growing conditions for each variety.
This advice is geared toward gardeners growing in cold climates (hardiness zones 4-8) in the United States and Canada.
- What are herbs?
- What are the differences between annual, biennial, & perennial herbs?
- Which herbs are annuals?
- Which herbs are perennials?
- What are the different ways to propagate herbs?
- How much sun do herbs need?
- Can I grow herbs in containers?
- Which fertilizer should I use for herbs?
- When should you harvest herbs?
- How do you preserve herbs?
- How do you grow and make herbal teas?
1What are herbs?
Herbs come from the leafy and green parts of plants whereas spices come from roots, bulbs, stems, bark, or seeds.
A plant classified as a herb can be used for food (culinary), flavor, scent, color, or medicinal purposes. Some are potent and can be harmful.
We tend to include some spices (derived from plants) under the herb umbrella, and I have included some here.
What are herbaceous plants?
Herbaceous plants (by definition) are flowering perennials that do not develop woody stems. Many herbs are herbaceous plants, but not all. Rosemary and lavender both develop woody stems, so, by this definition, they are not herbaceous, but they are herbs.
2What is the difference between annual, biennial, and perennial herbs?
Herbs can be annuals, biennials, or perennials.
- Annuals are plants that germinate, bloom, produce, seed, and die, within one year. These include many flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Basil is an example of an annual herb.
- Biennials have a two-year biological cycle. They grow leaves the first year, and flower, seed, and die in the second year. Parsley is an example, although we grow it as an annual.
- Perennials are plants that live on for several years. They can flower or fruit year after year.
3Which herbs are annuals?
Annual herbs germinate, bloom, produce, seed, and die within one year.
- Basil, sweet | Ocimum basilicum
- Borage | Borago offininalis – spring herb
- Caraway | Apiaceae spp.
Use: fruits and seeds
- Cardamom | Elettaria cardamomum
Use: seed pods
- Chamomile, German | Matricaria chamomilla
Use: flowers (daisy-like)
- Cilantro coriander | Coriandrum sativum – goes to seed quickly (tends to bolt)
- Cilantro – leaves and stems
- Coriander – seeds
Recommended: Vietnamese coriander is one of the easiest to grow.
- Chervil | Anthriscus cereifolium – perennial grown as annual
A relative of parsley, okay with low light.
- Cutting Celery | Apium graveolens – perennial grown as an annual
- Use: leaves
- Dill | Anethum graveolens
Use: leaves and seeds
- Fennel | Foeniculum vulgare – grown as an annual vegetable for the bulb, allow to flower for seeds
- Hyssop | Hyssopus officinalis
- Lemongrass | Cymbopogon citratus – zones 9-10 tropical plant
Use: leaf stalks
Start with a stalk from the grocery store. Trim top and grow in a few inches of water.
- Parsley | Petroselinum crispum, Petroselinum hortense – biennial grown as annual
- Summer savory | Satureja hortensis
4Which herbs are perennials?
Perennials are plants that live on for several years. They can flower or fruit year after year.
- Alexanders | Smyrnium olusatrum – biennial – zones 5-9
Use: leaves, shoots, roots, flowers, and seeds
- Anise hyssop | Agastache spp. – zones 4a–9b
Use: leaves (mint family)
- Bay laurel | Laurus nobilis – tender perennial– zones 8-11
- Chamomile, Roman | Chamaemelum nobile – zones 3-9
Use: essential oils
- Chives | Allium schoenoprasum– zones 3-9
Use: leaves and flowers
- Fennel | Foeniculum vulgare – zones 6-10
Use: leaves and seeds
- Garlic chives | Allium tuberosum – slow-growing, started from seed– zones 3-10
Use: leaves and flowers
- Lavender | Lavandula – prefers slightly sandy, alkaline loam soil – zones 5-9
- Lemon verbena | Alaysia triphylla – tender perennial – zones 9-10
- Lemon balm | Melissa officinalis – invasive- zones 4-9
- Lovage | Levisticum officinale – zones 4-8
Use: roots, seeds, and leaves
- Marjoram, sweet | Origanum majorana -*tender perennial – zones 9-10
- Mint | Mentha spp. – invasive – grow in containers in-ground or above-ground – zones 4-9
- Oregano | Origanum spp. – zones 4-8
- Rosemary | Rosemarinus officinalis – tender perennial– zones 6-9
- Sage | Salvia officinalis – zones 5-9
- Shepherd’s Purse | Capsella bursa pastoris – zones 4-7
- Sorrel | Rumex scutatus – zones 3-9
- Sweet Woodruff | Galium odoratum – zones 4-8
Use: flowers and green leaves for flavoring drinks
- Tarragon, French | Artemisia dracunculus – zones 4-8
- Thyme | Foeniculum vulgare, Thymus vulgaris – lots of varieties – zones 5-9
Use: leaves and seeds
- Valerian | Valerian offisinalis – zones 4-9
- Winter Savory | Satureja montana – zones 5-8
Use: stems, leaves
- Yerba Buena | Satureja douglasii – mint family – zones 7-10
5What are the different ways to propagate herbs?
We can grow herbs from seeds, cuttings, or by dividing existing plants.
- Some herbs are easy to grow from seeds, others, such as basil, are unreliable.
- Some herbs are easy to propagate from cuttings, like rosemary and lavender.
To propagate from cuttings: Cut off a 4-inch stem. Remove the bottom 1-inch of leaves. Plant in light potting mix, placing stems against inner sides of pots, and keep moist.
This tutorial has more information on growing plants from cuttings.
6How much sun do herbs need?
Herb Sunlight Chart
Best growing conditions including the amount of sun vary by plant and the intensity of your growing conditions.
Generally, most herbs like well-drained soil, do not tolerate damp conditions, enjoy full sun (a minimum of 5 hours per day without drying out from the heat), and do fine in containers. Specific needs vary by species. I find a number of herbs will do fine in part-shade which can slow growth but avoid drying out in hot summer sun.
7Can I grow herbs in containers?
Yes, all herbs can grow in containers.
- Use lightweight potting mix and ensure excellent drainage. In general, lean soil is preferable as most herbs originate in Mediterranean growing conditions and do not require extra nutrition.
- Prop pots on stones to avoid base sitting in a saucer of water.
- Using separate containers for each plant makes it easy to move them around as needed and bring them indoors for over-wintering.
8Which fertilizer should I use for herbs?
Some herbs don’t need much nutrition so it’s best to look up what you’re growing and feed it accordingly.
If you do need to fertilize, diluted fish fertilizer is one option. Look for an organic product safe for food crops, geared toward leaf (foliage) growth, not blooms. This guide on organic fertilizers has more info. I just use my own homemade compost.
9When should you harvest herbs?
The best time to harvest herbs depends on what you’re growing and which part of the plant you want to use.
- For herbs used for their stems or leaves, regular harvesting (not more than 1/3 of the plant) encourages new growth. These are edible at any time.
- Removal of emerging flowers can help delay the seed production stage which marks the end of the plant’s life.
- For flowers and extracting oils, wait until the flowers have matured.
- Seeds are produced after flowering and also need to reach maturity to be viable.
10How do you preserve herbs?
Herb Drying Methods
Herbs can be used fresh or dried, depending on the type and purpose.
- Bundle stems—but allow good air flow—and hang indoors or under a covered porch until completely dry (may take 6 weeks).
- Microwave drying: rinse and pat dry with towel. Place in microwave on paper towel for 1 minute. Turn and check at 30-second intervals until completely dry.
Storing, Freezing, & Infusing Herbs
Store dry herbs in air-tight containers. This shows how long household herbs and spices last.
You can also freeze some herbs on their own, or in ice cube trays with oils.
Infused Oils and Honey
Place dry herbs in a bottle, fill with olive oil. After six weeks, strain oil. The flavor of the herbs remains. You can do the same with honey but it’s not so easy to strain.
11How do you make homegrown herbal teas?
How you make herbal tea depends on which part of the plant is used. This could be leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, or roots.
This article on 60 Plants To Grow For Homegrown Herbal Teas and more resources to get started.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
Seed Starting for Beginners
Sow Inside Grow Outside
by Melissa J. Will
Everything you need to get started with indoor seed starting for indoor and outdoor plants. Grow what you want—any time of year!
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