Boredom for many is in high gear right now. It’s been almost two months since Gov. Ralph Northam enacted the stay-at-home order, and he has not definitively decided when Northern Virginia will enter phase one of reopening. In summary, Northern Virginians need something to do to keep themselves entertained.
A perk of the stay-at-home order happening in the spring is it’s the perfect time to plant a garden. And, with restaurants closing and more residents turning to their own kitchens to make meals, a herb garden is the perfect mix of productivity and fun. Plus, it comes with benefits (who doesn’t want fresh seasoning on their homemade meals?).
But, if you’ve never started a herb garden before, you may not know where to start. We asked the team over at Merrifield Garden Center, which has locations in Fairfax, Gainesville and Falls Church, to give us advice for beginners. See below for quick tips from the team.
For someone who is starting a herb garden from scratch, what are the main tools they’ll need to begin?
Most gardeners grow herbs in containers. Whether you’re planting in indoor containers or outdoor containers, you will need a hand trowel for planting and kitchen or garden scissors for harvesting. If growing outside in the ground, you will also need a sturdy shovel for cultivating the soil.
What are the easiest herbs to maintain in a garden?
Easy-to-grow herbs include basil, chives, oregano, mint, rosemary and thyme.
What is the best soil to use?
Oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme and other Mediterranean herbs prefer a coarse, slightly dry soil and don’t need much fertilizer. Basil, cilantro, dill, mint and parsley grow better in a moist, well-drained, fertile soil.
How much sun does a herb garden need each day? How much water?
Most herbs need six hours of full sun per day. Basil, cilantro, mint and parsley are exceptions and will grow well with as little as three to four hours of sun per day.
In general, you should water your herb garden when the soil begins to dry out. We recommend putting your finger into the soil and watering when it feels like a slightly damp sponge.
What are the main benefits of planting a herb garden?
Having fresh herbs to use when cooking and making cocktails! Gardening, even on a small scale, is a mood-boosting activity and has been shown to increase happiness, similar to biking or walking.
For indoor herb gardens, is there anything readers should know that differs from outdoor herb gardens?
You can grow your herb garden indoors or outdoors. Indoor herb gardens are typically not as productive as outdoor herb gardens given the lack of sufficient sunlight. If you are planting your herb garden indoors, choose a location with as much direct sun as possible, such as a garden window. If window light is a challenge in your space, you can also use a plant light.
What are the biggest mistakes beginners make with herb gardens?
Over watering. Herbs are generally easy to grow but beginners will sometimes kill them with kindness. Always check the soil to see if it is moist to slightly dry before watering. Mint is an exception and will thrive in moist to wet conditions.
Is it better to start a herb garden with seeds or plants?
Many of the most popular herbs, including oregano, marjoram, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme, will take two or more years to grow from seed to harvest. If you’d like a harvest this year, we recommend purchasing those herbs as plants. Basil, dill, cilantro, chives, fennel and parsley grow quickly and easily from seed. Growing from seed can save the expense of purchasing plants, but will take some additional time.
Should you plant flowers with herbs or is this a no-no?
This is an absolute yes-yes! Dill, fennel and parsley are all host plants for swallowtail butterflies and make great additions to a butterfly garden. Allowing herbs to flower may reduce the productivity of the herb, but basil and chive blooms are beautiful and provide pollen and nectar for bees. Hummingbirds will also feed on the flowers of sage.
Any other general tips?
It’s important to group herbs with similar environmental and cultural needs. For example, lavender, rosemary, sage and thyme all thrive in sunny, slightly dry conditions and make good companions. Basil prefers more moisture and some protection from strong sun and wind and would not thrive in the same conditions as the others. Mint and its relatives (lemon balm, horehound, etc.) spread aggressively from underground stems. They will out-compete other herbs and will be easier to manage if grown separately in their own pot or corner of the garden.
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