Squeeze The Most Herbs Into Your Small Garden (Spacing Chart)

square foot herb garden planted with basil, sage, cilantro, and thyme

Herbs make great starter plants for beginner gardeners or people who think they don’t have enough room to grow a garden. There is no need to have a large garden or tons of gardening experience to enjoy growing your own herbs. In fact, with a little careful planning, you can grow a wide variety of herbs in a small space.

Herbs will generally thrive when planted 12 inches apart. This spacing is enough room for the plants to mature and produce a harvest without crowding the garden bed. Closer spacing is acceptable for herbs that will be harvested frequently, while farther spacing is best for herbs that will mature into large plants.

Garden herbs are relatively easy to care for. They don’t require a lot of water or fertilizer and are generally resistant to pests and diseases. In addition, most herbs are quite tolerant of being crowded together. So if you’re tight on space, you can still grow a healthy crop of herbs by planting them reasonably close together.

Here are some tips to guide you on the correct spacing and how to bend the rules.

How close can you plant herbs?

As a general rule of thumb, you should plant herbs 12 inches apart. This distance will give them enough space to fill out and mature without crowding out other plants. However, herbs you will harvest frequently can be planted closer since they will be regularly pruned through harvesting.

SpacingHerbs
6-12 inchesBasil, cilantro, parsley, chives, thyme
12-18 inchesBorage, dill, mint, oregano, sage
18-24 inches Lavender, rosemary
Use the closer spacing for herbs you will harvest frequently and the farther spacing for those you don’t pick as often.

This is especially true if you will frequently be harvesting from the plant. If you harvest basil leaves frequently to cook with, then putting the plants closer together probably won’t cause an issue since the plants will not grow to their full potential.

Likewise, if you’re constantly harvesting parsley leaves to make tabouli, you can put the plants at a closer spacing than if you only occasionally pick a sprig to garnish your plate.

Of course, there are limits to how close you can plant herbs together. If they are too crowded, they will compete for light, water, and nutrients, which can stunt their growth.

Also, if the plants are too close together, you might not get the yields you were hoping for. For these reasons, it’s important to balance giving each herb enough room to reach its full potential while still saving space.

Slower-growing herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and lavender can use more space. You probably won’t harvest as much from these herbs since a little goes a long way. Plus, you want to leave enough room around each plant so they can fill in with growth over the season.

When in doubt, err on the side of giving each herb a little more space rather than planting them too close together to provide them with the best chance to thrive and produce an abundance of fresh herbs for you to enjoy.

What if you don’t have enough space for all the herbs you want to grow?

If you’re short on space, there are a few options for fitting more herbs into your garden.

One option is to plant them in containers. Herbs grow beautifully in containers, and you can create combinations meant to be used together in the kitchen. For example, an Italian herb garden might have basil, oregano, and parsley. A potted Greek herb garden could combine mint, Greek oregano, and dill.

You don’t need a huge container to grow potted herbs, either. For a few tips on the best-sized pots to use, jump over to this article and learn more: Can You Grow Herbs In Shallow Soil? (Yes, You Can!)

Another option is to grow herbs vertically. Most herbs don’t climb a trellis, but you can still take advantage of vertical space by growing in a hanging basket or tower planter. Growing vertically is a great way to save space and have plenty of fresh herbs on hand.

Finally, you can also grow herbs in an herb spiral. An herb spiral is a raised bed shaped into a spiral, with each curve stacking on top of the one beneath it. The shape and layering allows you to fit more herbs into a small space while giving each plant enough room to grow.

No matter how small your garden is, there’s always a way to fit in a few herbs. With a bit of planning, you can enjoy fresh herbs all season long.

What happens if you plant herbs too close together?

Even though herbs are relatively easy to care for, like all plants, they need a certain amount of space to grow and thrive.

Herbs planted too closely together can compete for resources such as sunlight and water. The competition can result in smaller, less vigorous plants that don’t produce as much useable foliage for you to bring to the kitchen or flowers for you and the pollinators to enjoy.

Sunlight

If your herb garden or container is planted in full sun, you can get away with tighter spacing.

As long as the herbs have similar growth habits, each one should be able to get the sunlight it needs. However, if your herbs are growing in partial sun or shade, adding the stress of too-close plantings can result in spindly, weak plants that produce less foliage and fewer flowers.

Water

The same goes for water. If you can provide enough water, tighter spacing may not be an issue.

You could run into trouble if you plant two water-loving herbs such as basil and cilantro but don’t provide enough water to satisfy both. The herbs will compete for the limited irrigation, most likely resulting in lackluster growth from both herbs, complete with sad, droopy stems.

Overgrowth

Finally, one herb can outgrow another, smothering or shading its companion. This can happen with taller or bushier herbs, such as cilantro when grown over slow-growing or creeping herbs such as thyme.

You’ll need to provide enough space so that the slow or low grower doesn’t get shaded out by the faster-growing herb, stopping it from reaching its full potential.

What herbs should not be planted close together?

There are only a few instances where you wouldn’t plant herbs close together. Mint and lemon balm can be invasive, so they are best grown in their own containers. Rue, fennel, and anise are known to inhibit growth in neighboring plants, so they should be grown separately from other herbs and plants. 

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