If you have ever considered growing a vegetable garden, you know how time-consuming it can be. You need to find an area that gets full sun for a majority of the day, then prepare the soil with compost, fertilizer and top soil, fence it in against veggie predators (like rabbits and deer), and then plant seeds or seedlings. It’s a heck of a lot of work, and that’s even before you consider pruning, staking, watering, and weekly weeding.

That’s why some of us have decided it’s easier is to grow an herb garden. Here’s why:

  • Both herbs and vegetables are annual plants, meaning they last one growing season.
  • Herbs are generally a little hardier than vegetables.
  • They require less fuss (no staking, for instance).
  • Herbal gardens take up less room. They can be grown outside in a pot or in a smaller garden.
  • Herbs can also be grown inside in a container next to a sunny window.
  • Since you will be using them for cooking, pickling, sauces, and salads throughout the spring, summer and fall, chances are good your herb plants will stay on the small side, not requiring re-potting, dividing or staking.
  • Most herbs produce multiple leaves and stems throughout their lives, continuously providing the pungent ingredients you planted them for.

Sound good? Let’s get growing with herbs! Since it’s already June, you may want to look for young plants rather than seed packets. You can plant seeds anytime, but they will take a good 2 weeks to get to the thriving seedling stage.

What to look for when you buy herbs:

  • Choose small, compact plants
  • Color should be bright green (yellowed leaves mean too much water and/or too little sun)
  • Plants that are “leggy” (long stemmed) mean they are looking for sun – and grown in small confined spaces
  • You want to see new growth near the top of the plant
  • Look for stems that have branched out and have new “leaf buds” showing where new stems will soon grow.

Transplanting your new herbs

Indiana soil tends to have a lot of clay in it, which tends to rot roots. You want good, rich soil that has phosphorous and nitrogen – available in many types of plant food — for healthier plants. But don’t overdo it. Having too much plant food can burn roots. Make sure to mix in compost and a bit of sand for water circulation as roots take hold.

When transplanting your new seedlings to your garden or pot, make sure you allow for growth. Baby herbs will be filling out quickly, so leave a minimum of 6” between plants.

If you are planting into a garden, use a trowel to dig down deep enough so that delicate plant roots will not have to push through hard compacted soil to grow. Roots grow as deep as your plant gets tall.

Remember to water your herbs twice a week and enjoy watching them grow. Cut (rosemary, lavender, tarragon) or pinch off leaves (basil, sage, spearmint, peppermint) for fresh additions to spaghetti sauces, pickling and canning, garden fresh salads, even herbed soft cheeses (such as cream cheese or goat cheese). You can even use some herbs in summer cocktails.

Have fun cultivating your herbal green thumb!