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  • Writer's pictureToni Kenyon

8 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Growing Herbs

8 Mistakes to avoid when growing Herbs
Thyme in the Sydney Botanical Gardens

Growing your own herbs and starting your own herb patch is a fantastic addition to any garden, balcony or deck.

If you're new to growing herbs and setting up gardens, then herbs are great plants to begin with--they can stand a bit of a beating from a beginner gardener. We've looked at containers for herbs and the great reasons to grow your own herbs so now you're ready to take the plunge and plant your garden.

Let's look at some of the common mistakes that you should avoid:

Picking the wrong place

It's too hot, it's too cold. There's not enough light, or there's too much direct sun. Heat, sunlight, long shadows, whether the garden is facing north or south, these are all things that need to be taken into account when you're planning your garden.

Just remember that most herbs like to be in the sunshine and if you're living in the southern hemisphere (like me) your herbs are going to prefer to be north facing. If you're living in the northern hemisphere, then it's the opposite, they're going to want to face south.

Herbs, like a lot of vegetables, need about six hours of sunlight a day to do really well. But, as the climate appears to be warming, then a few less hours of sunlight per day is probably going to be okay. We don't want baked greens! So try not to stress too much about your sunshine hours and just aim for one of the sunny spots available to you.

Starting from Seed

Unlike a lot of vegetables, some herbs can be tricky when it comes to starting them from seed. Others, once you have them, you'll never get rid of them because they will self-seed all over your garden!

However, since you're starting your first herb garden, you're going to want to give yourself the best chance you can to get some great plants growing. You can pick up seedlings from nurseries, garden centres, or by mail order. Yes, I've had some fantastic herb plants arrive by mail and they've grown into wonderful, productive plants.

Early on in my 'herb growing career' I wasn't particularly good at getting herb seeds to germinate. You'll be glad to hear that I've gotten a lot better the more I've persevered--but I do still have some seed sowing disasters--more about that in another blog post.

You can save yourself from disappointment by picking up some seedlings, or young plants for your first herb garden and giving growing from seed a go when you've had some garden experience.

Picking Unhealthy Plants

Make sure that you choose good, healthy plants and seedlings when you're starting out. Of course, this can be difficult if you're purchasing by mail order, but if you stick to the culinary herbs that most people begin growing (mints, parsley, coriander, basil, chives, sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme etc.) then you should get a good batch of herbs delivered to your door.

If you're looking for seedlings at the garden centre or nursery, make sure that you purchase ones that have plenty of foliage, are bright in colour and don't have any chewed leaves or other signs of bug damage.

Starting too Big!

Your first herb garden is exciting, especially when there's so many wonderful herbs to choose from.

Take my advice, start small and make sure that you carefully look after your few plants. Observe them.

Get to know them.

Read up about what each particular plant likes and make sure that you do your best to provide the required environment for your few plants to flourish.

Some herbs will bolt suddenly if it's too hot--yes, I'm looking at you Coriander...

Some herbs will turn up their toes and die if their roots are in waterlogged soil--come in Lavender.

Some herbs struggle if it's too humid--well, hello there Rosemary.

Some herbs don't like it getting too dry and hot--Mint my friend, I know I can avoid you getting rust by keeping your (large) pot in a shallow dish of water.

Quick Tip: Don't plant mint into the ground in your garden unless you want it wandering around everywhere. It's incredibly invasive and grows quite happily in a large pot, as long as it's kept well watered.

So, if you take the time to learn what each herb plant needs, then you lessen the chances of you putting a herb in the wrong place.

Planting similar species together

That mint we were talking about. You can get a really large pot and put several varieties of mint together. They'll happily co-exist. But you wouldn't want to put a Lavender in there because it would die in the constantly damp soil.

Quick Tip: A good rule of thumb is to look at the size of the herbs leaves. If they're large (like mint or parsley or coriander) then they will likely do well in a group together. But if the individual leaves are small (like lavender or thyme) then they'll likely do better grouped together. The smaller leaved herbs tend to come from Mediterranean countries, so they like dry and warm conditions.

Try not to overcrowd your new plants. They'll need some room to grow and the more air that can circulate around your growing plants, the healthier they'll be.

Not Enough Water

Herbs are not houseplants and you need to remember (especially if you are growing them indoors on a sunny windowsill) that most herbs will need more regular watering than house plants.

Even when you're watering your herbs outside, it's best to make sure that you're watering the soil around the plants and not directly on top of the foliage.

If it gets cold at night and the foliage is wet, some of your herbs could succumb to fungal diseases. These can easily be avoided by watering the ground and not the plant.

Not Enough Compost

Most garden soil lacks many nutrients required by herbs and vegetables. Make sure that you're making your own compost. If you don't have any of your own compost on hand, use some organic soil and a good organic compost and your herb garden will thank you by producing beautiful, lush growth.

Reluctance to Prune & Pick

I've said it before, herbs are hardy plants and if you treat 'em mean, they'll by keen to grow more for you!

Quick Tip: Pruning is vital for the health and longevity of your herbs. Pruning and picking the growing tips from your herb plants encourages faster and bushy growth.

Failing to prune or pick means that your herbs will grow lanky and tall and fail to bush out and thrive. The more you pick, the more that you will grow.

Quick Tip: Remember always to pick from the top part of the plant and only ever pick down to the first set of growing leaves. Those leaves soak up the sun's energy, push that energy down to the roots, which in turn grow stronger and create more leaves.

It's a fascinating and rewarding cycle.

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So, keep the above in mind as you plan your herb garden and you will be rewarded with an abundance of fresh herbs.

I've made plenty of mistakes. That's okay, that's how we learn. Herbs are pretty forgiving and, even if you kill the odd one or two (like I manage to do at least every year) the majority will still survive and you'll quickly learn what not to do.

Walk around your garden. Observe. Take notes. Let the plants teach you what they need and how they grow in your garden.


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