You’re standing in your kitchen, looking at the herbs you’ve just bought from the grocery store. The cilantro is wilting, the basil has brown spots, and the rosemary is way past its prime. You’re thinking, “There has got to be a better way.” And there is!
Growing your own herbs at home is a great way to save money and have fresh herbs year-round. With an initial investment of seedlings and soil, you’ll be able to grow your own herbs for pennies on the dollar.
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Setup costs for growing herbs at home
Growing herbs at home can be as simple or elaborate as you like. If you have a small space, you can opt for a simple windowsill herb garden. A more spacious in-ground or raised bed garden may be better suited for your purposes to grow large quantities of herbs to use fresh or dry and store in your pantry.
Whatever the scale of your herb garden, you’ll need a few simple supplies on hand to begin growing your own fresh herbs.
Pots, containers, or in-ground garden
First and foremost, you’ll want to decide how large you want to make your herb garden.
If you are interested in growing a small, indoor windowsill garden, there are many charming planter options available online that are perfect for keeping just a few herbs at hand in your kitchen.
While you can purchase planters for just a few dollars, self-watering planters can be ordered online for around $20, which can help take all the guesswork out of remembering to water your herbs. For a truly budget-friendly indoor herb garden option, upcycled plastic food containers with drainage holes poked in the bottoms are well suited for many herbs.
If you want to increase your herb-growing capacity but don’t want to plant an in-ground garden, an outdoor container herb garden may be your best option.
Terracotta pots and plastic planters are all great and inexpensive solutions for growing herbs outdoors; however, there are many more choices out there.
Wooden buckets, raised planters on wheels for easy moving, or pots mounted on walls for a vertical herb garden are great solutions for container gardens. They can generally be purchased or constructed at home for around $100.
If you intend to grow a container herb garden, consider keeping your herbs as close to your kitchen door as possible to make gathering them easier (more on that shortly!)
The most permanent and elaborate herb garden option is, of course, in-ground or raised bed gardening.
Although the start-up costs may be a bit higher, depending on whether or not you need to build raised beds and bring in compost and soil, in-ground and raised bed gardens maximize outdoor space and increase your ability to grow a high volume of herbs.
An in-ground or raised bed garden is an investment in your future and will keep producing herbs for years, especially if you plant it with perennial herbs.
Whether you’re growing herbs indoors or planting them outside in your garden, no grow setup is complete without a boost of nutrient-rich compost.
Herbs need nutrients and minerals to grow, and the easiest and most dependable way to provide those nutrients is with natural, organic compost. While compost can be purchased in bags for around $10 to $20 per cubic foot, creating compost at home can be much less expensive and even free.
A simple setup, created with upcycled wooden pallets and chicken wire, is easy to make and will keep you producing compost at home from kitchen scraps and yard waste for years to come with very little investment.
Kevin from Epic Gardening presents an overview of six different methods in this video, Six Ways To Compost. I think you’ll be able to find a method that works for you!
Seeds or seedlings
The age-old question of whether to start plants from seed or purchase seedlings from local nurseries has had gardeners scratching their heads for ages.
Herbs started from seed tend to be cheaper, with seeds ranging from $2 to $5 per packet, depending on the rarity of the seed and whether it was grown organically.
Conversely, nursery starts are more expensive, at around $5 a plant; however, the plants are more vigorous and tend to transplant a bit easier, making for healthier and more robust plantings.
If you need a great online store to purchase your seeds from, choose one from some of my favorite online vendors: 10 Best Places To Buy Quality Flower Seeds Online.
The most worthwhile herbs to grow at home
Before you decide which herbs to plant, you’ll want to take a careful inventory of your pantry and note which herbs your family uses the most.
Growing the herbs your use most frequently will ensure you the greatest cost savings, while herbs you don’t use much may not be worth the trouble of growing. Additionally, if you use a particular herb a lot, consider growing multiples of that herb, while a less commonly used herb may only need one or two plants to meet your needs.
Beyond frequency of use, some herbs are simply easier to grow than others, depending on your climate and growing zone.
In very hot areas, dill and cilantro may struggle to thrive when grown outdoors. On the other hand, if you live in a rainy location, rosemary may not be worth growing as it prefers drier soil.
You’ll want to consider individual herbs’ particular growing requirements when planning your herb garden and opt to grow only herbs that will work well for your area, or grow more sensitive herbs indoors in a windowsill planter or under a grow light.
Easy to grow and abundantly flavorful, who doesn’t love basil sprinkled on their pasta or whipped up into a homemade pesto? Basil is perfect for companion planting with tomatoes in your in-ground garden; however, it does well in containers too.
Harvest your basil frequently to encourage growth. Don’t be afraid to cut deeply in the plant to promote new leaf development. Look for new little leaves forming on the stem and cut just above them.
Greek cuisine utilizes mint often, while chopped mint added to salads or smoothies offers a nice punch of flavor. Mint is notorious for growing rapidly and competitively, so if you choose to grow it, plant your mint in containers or a designated raised bed to prevent it from taking over.
Unless, of course, you use mint for salsas, chutneys, or drinks. Then just let it run and enjoy the harvest!
A native of the Mediterranean region, rosemary prefers dry climates and is only hardy to zone 7. When grown outdoors in cooler regions, rosemary acts as an annual; however, it can be potted and overwintered indoors if humidity levels are kept high.
Rosemary dries easily and is ideal for storing, making it an easy pantry staple to grow yourself.
A member of the allium family, chives are hardy to zone 3 and can be grown as perennials in pots or in-ground gardens. Spring flowers make charming additions to salads, while chopped chives add flavor to potato dishes and other hardy meals.
Cilantro is a must-have herb if you enjoy Mexican and Indian recipes. An easy-to-grow plant, cilantro does not tolerate heat so, if grown outside, succession plant your cilantro every two weeks to ensure you have an abundant harvest all season long.
Easy-to-grow parsley is a biennial herb that adds freshness and color to any dish. This cold-hardy herb adapts well to regular, in-ground gardens, pots, or even indoors. Choose between flat-leaf or curly parsley, and harvest frequently to encourage your plants to grow bushier.
A favorite among pollinators, sage is an excellent choice for outdoor herb gardens where its purple flowers can’t help but draw in bees. You can find green, purple, and tri-color variations, adding subtle beauty to your herb garden. Sage is a staple herb to add to autumnal and winter dishes.
Drought-tolerant thyme is hardy to zone 5 and can be easily grown outdoors in containers or in-ground gardens. Quick to dry, thyme is best preserved when ground into a fine powder with a spice mill and stored in a jar for easy use.
Tips for growing and using fresh herbs
While different herbs have different growing requirements and tricks to maximize harvest potential, some simple tips work across the board, no matter what herb you are working with.
Buy seedlings for the best results
Some herbs, such as basil and dill, are very easy to start from seed. Many others, unfortunately, are quite finicky to germinate and slow to grow large enough to harvest.
While growing herbs from seed can save you money, herb starts purchased at nurseries tend to be hardier plants that transplant more easily. Because they are already established, they will start growing more quickly in your garden, guaranteeing an abundant harvest.
Additionally, as you are purchasing starts, you can choose exactly how many herbs and what varieties you want to add to your garden.
Grow herbs close to the kitchen
If you want to get the full benefits out of growing your own herbs, you’ll want to locate them as close to your kitchen as possible. Not only will this make harvesting and using your herbs easier, but it will encourage you to utilize them more frequently in dishes that you may have never thought to put herbs in before.
Have a bit of fun with your new herb garden: spice up old recipes with a sprinkling of new-to-you herbs, or try out an herb-inspired dish, such as parsley-based tabouli or mint chutney.
Harvest frequently to promote growth
Just as many plants produce more flowers when pruned often, herbs will produce more branches and grow bushier with frequent harvesting.
When cutting fresh herbs like basil, pinch or cut off the section of herb growth you’d like to harvest, ensuring you cut right above a leaf node to encourage your plant to grow fuller.
The more you harvest, the more your herbs will grow. So don’t be afraid to snip away!
Store fresh herbs properly for the longest use
The type of herbs you’re working with will make a difference for proper storage. Tender herbs have soft leaves and stems, while hardy or woody herbs have tough stems and you only use the leaves in cooking.
To store tender herbs, snip off the bottom of their stems with kitchen shears or a knife, remove any wilted or brown leaves and place the herbs in a jar of water. Change the water every few days or sooner if it becomes cloudy.
Here are some favorite tender herbs:
For hardy herbs, simply wrap the herbs in a damp paper towel and place the towel in a Ziploc bag until you’re ready to use them.
These are some common hardy herbs:
Dry or freeze herbs for winter
For long-term storage, herbs can be dried or frozen quite easily and used all winter long.
If you intend to dry lots of herbs, such as for teas, you may want to invest in a food dehydrator; however, smaller quantities of herbs can be bundled with string and allowed to dry in a cool, dry location out of direct sun.
Alternatively, on a hot day, herbs can be dried without electricity by placing them on a baking sheet and leaving the sheet in a hot car for the afternoon. Once dried, herbs can be ground with a spice mill and stored in your pantry for later use.
If you’re not interested in drying herbs, you can also freeze them and pop them into recipes when cooking as needed. Before freezing, wash your herbs thoroughly and allow them to dry.
For woody or waxy herbs like rosemary or thyme, wrap the herbs in a paper towel and then place the paper towel in a Ziploc bag, rolling the bag tightly to remove as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn.
For leafy herbs like basil or oregano, strip the leaves from the stem and place them in an ice cube tray with a little water, then transfer the cubes to a freezer bag once frozen. This method makes them super simple to add to recipes as you’re cooking.
With a little bit of initial investment, you can enjoy fresh herbs year-round – and save a bunch of money in the process. So get growing!