It’s that time of year. The air smells fresh and the time for planting is nigh. No matter what kind of space or light you find available in your home, now’s the perfect time for you to use your green thumb. Need some tips to get started? Bluebird’s resident herbalist Johnnie Heider-Kuhn is here to help.
Choosing your herbs
Johnnie is not only a Certified Clinical Herbalist but also a permaculturist with six years of growing experience, so he knows a bit about taking care of plants.
“Herbs can be easy or challenging, depending on what you choose to grow,” he says. “It can be rewarding to start simple.”
That being said, “everyone has their easy-to-grow plants,” Johnnie notes. So, while this list is a good place to start, you may find more luck with other herbs.
Here are Johnnie’s top choices for an easy intro to herb gardening:
- Calendula: grows quickly from seed, transplants well, and sows easily. Calendula is an annual but it seeds so well that it is easy to re-grow year-to-year. You can either harvest the seeds to replant or allow the plant to drop seed and regrow the following year if you have space in your garden. Calendula makes a great companion plant around other vegetables as it attracts aphids away from those plants. Harvest it frequently to promote healthier herb growth.
Chamomile: a perennial that comes back stronger in each subsequent year of growth. Similarly to Calendula, the more often you harvest, the fuller the plant will grow back.
- Spearmint: a perennial and a great pollinator plant. It’s best to keep in pots or boxed beds because it is prone to spreading and can overgrow other herbs.
Lemon Balm: another perennial within the mint family. Like mint, lemon balm can spread fast and overgrow other garden companions, so it’s best to give it ample space.
All of these herbs are great for your digestive and nervous systems. They can also be mixed together to make a great tea!
Choosing your garden location
“The best gardens start with a good plan,” says Johnnie.
The first step in choosing your garden location is observation. Questions to consider:
- How much sun are you getting and from which direction is it coming?
- What is your water source and how easy/difficult will it be to get it to your garden?
- What are your space and size requirements and/or limitations?
If you’ve got a sunny window and a little help with resources, it can be relatively easy to set up your own herb garden at home. You can create a narrow garden bed using household bins or other items, or pot herbs in individual pots and position them in a favored spot.
Get creative! It can be a fun decorating project to determine the best sunny spots - and thus best places for your herbs - in your home. Finding it a challenge to get enough sun? You can try investing in a small LED grow lamp to help.
Getting your seeds
To ensure the greatest success with your garden, plant early in spring. With it being April, you want to get your garden started ASAP.
We always recommend shopping local, if you can. Check your local directory for information about garden centers or other seed banks in your area.
You might check herbal apothecaries in your area, or even connect with neighbors through NextDoor to see if they may be willing to do a seed curbside drop-off. If your herb garden grows with great success this year, consider setting up a seed bank.
Getting other growing materials
Seeds aren’t the only thing you’ll need to start a successful herb garden. You’ll also want to ensure you have ample water, light, and a really good potting mix.
Standard potting mix will usually suffice, but you can also consider organic potting mix. Adding Mycorrhizal fungus to your soil mixture can also help promote root growth.
Other materials that can assist in sprouting success:
- Seed trays.
- Seed rack.
- Small grow light - great for those who have limited light and can also speed up the growing process.
- A heating mat can also be beneficial for starting some seeds (e.g. peppers).
Talk to folks at your local garden center and ask for their advice! Most have great insight and are willing to share.
Herbs to grow from starters
Some herbs, like lavender, can be really tricky to start from seed. They also may take longer to mature or be more sensitive to transplanting. For these herbs, it’s often a great idea to grow your garden from starter plants!
Starter plants can also be purchased at your local garden center and are typically about $3-10 a piece.
Be curious and enjoy the process
Gardening can be an enjoyable and gratifying activity as long as you allow yourself to have fun and learn along the way. In fact, curiosity is ultimately the key to a successful garden. You might lose a couple plants as you’re getting started, and that’s perfectly okay! You’ll learn what works along the way, so don’t be afraid to experiment and explore. Many beginners find it helpful to start a garden journal to keep track of germination, harvest, soil mixtures, and other important notes. Get creative and enjoy the process!
Did you know that getting your hands dirty in the garden can also increase your serotonin levels? That means growing your own herb garden not only provides you with plentiful deliciousness, it also has a positive impact on your mood!