Whether you have a sprawling backyard, a tiny patio, or no yard at all, growing an herb garden is one of the easiest and most rewarding gardening projects you can take on. Small herb plants can easily be placed on a sunny windowsill, in pots along the porch, or integrated into garden bed arrangements amongst other plants and flowers. They grow quite quickly, so you can harvest them regularly for fresh flavors and aromatic accompaniments to mix into your recipes and cocktails.
Now that the weather in Fort Lauderdale is cooling down, it’s the perfect time to start an herb garden. Our hot Florida summers can sometimes cause herb plants to bolt, which is when they flower instead of directing their energy towards producing edible leaves. Here’s a basic guide on how to begin growing an herb garden, so you dramatically improve the quality of your cooking while saving money on expensive fresh herbs.
Tips for Growing an Herb Garden
When starting an herb garden, there are a few things to consider to ensure conditions are ideal for your little plants. Here are some herb gardening tips to help you start your project off on the right foot:
- When starting your seeds, keep the soil medium moist. Those little paper seed starting cups do work, but the moisture in the soil evaporates quicker because the material is porous. If you’re unsure if you’ll remember to water the seed cups daily, place glass cups or bowls upside-down over the seed cups to help retain moisture. Or, just use a different, non-porous container to start your seeds, like some old espresso cups or shot glasses.
- If you’re putting a mix of different herbs together in one pot, make sure they’re compatible. Some plants, particularly ones from the mint family, are quite nutrient-hungry and grow more aggressively. Placing them in a container with some slow-growing plants could lead to the weaker ones getting starved of vital soil nutrients, and the aggressive plants completely taking over.
- When transplanting your seedlings into pots, make sure they have drainage holes. Since herb planters are often on the smaller side, water may remain in the pots and keep the soil too soggy. This can cause root rot, which will put an end to your plants pretty quickly. Drainage holes will make sure that water can escape properly from the soil and prevent the roots from drowning.
- Some varieties, like basil, are meant to flower, while others, like cilantro, should not. If you notice your cilantro plant is beginning to flower, nip off the blossoms and place the plant in a slightly less sunny spot, as it’s probably getting a bit too much heat.
- Don’t harvest all the leaves off at once. When they’re ready to be picked, try not to remove more than ¼ of the leaves at one time to keep from stressing out the plant.
- If you don’t want to wait around for seeds to sprout, pick up a starter plant. We have plenty of cheap herb plants for sale, and when bags of fresh mint can cost as much as $7 a pop, having your own plant is like having a mini money tree!
The Best Herbs for Beginner Gardeners
Ultimately, whatever herbs you decide to grow should be the ones you like to use in your cooking. Think about what kind of cuisines and styles of cooking you tend to prepare most often. Are you big on Italian food? Then basil and oregano are an absolute must. Love Mexican food? Then you’ll make great use out of cilantro. More of a traditional meat-and-potatoes family? Then the staple savory spices like rosemary, thyme, and dill will help make your roasts and grilled meats all the more delicious.
If you’re a bit of a newbie in the kitchen, here’s a basic rundown of some of the most popular and easy herbs to grow at home, as well as some fun ideas for how to use them:
Basil: This crisp leafy green comes in many different varieties: lemon basil, Thai basil, sweet basil—the list goes on. Basil is incredibly versatile and can be used in anything from pasta to pizzas, curries, stir-fries, and some of the most delicious salads imaginable. Toss a bunch of basil in a food processor with some oil, nuts, and parmesan, and blend it up to make a yummy pesto sauce for pasta dishes, sandwiches, and grilled meats.
Mint: Mojitos, anyone? Mint is probably the easiest option for beginners—seriously, it’s like a weed. You won’t believe how fast it develops! You’ll likely be able to harvest from it weekly. For an easy appetizer that’s always a hit at parties, skewer a cube of watermelon, a cube of feta cheese, and a mint leaf onto a toothpick, then drizzle with a balsamic reduction. The sweet, salty, and tangy flavors mingle beautifully!
Cilantro: This classic Mexican spice tends to spill out from the container it’s grown in, so it makes a pretty border plant for container arrangements. If you’ve been growing tomatoes this year and are unsure of how to use them up before they go bad, try dicing them up and tossing them with some fresh cilantro, minced onion, lime juice, and salt, for a fresh pico de gallo to eat with chips or to top off your eggs in the morning.
Rosemary: You can use this delicious spice in both savory and sweet dishes—your options are limitless! Try it in soups, potato dishes, roast meats, focaccia bread, or even some sugary lemon rosemary glazes for cakes and pastries. Rosemary thrives in hot, humid weather, so Fort Lauderdale is a perfect place to grow your own.
Dill: Not only is dill a tangy, delicious herb for culinary use, but it also acts as a fantastic natural pest repellent in the garden. If you’re into pickling, you’ll get good use out of dill, but realistically, it’s a complementary flavor for all sorts of vegetable dishes. Glazed carrots, mashed potatoes, roasted beets, and so many other garden-fresh veggies taste that much better with a sprinkle of dill.
Thyme: No roast chicken is quite complete without a few sprigs of thyme. It just gives it that delicious aroma that’s reminiscent of Sunday dinners at Grandma’s house. It’s often paired up with rosemary, and the two have similar flavor profiles that work in both savory and sweet glazes. Their fragrance and their flowers are quite lovely too, so that’s a nice bonus. Thyme loves the sunshine and is pretty drought-tolerant, so you don’t need to water it too frequently. Just wait until the soil has completely dried out before watering again.
Herb gardening is pretty much the perfect hobby. Not only are herb gardens inexpensive and easy to start, but it can save you a lot of money and trips to the supermarket to pick up store-bought spice blends. Plus, everyone can benefit from it—after all, who doesn’t appreciate food and drinks that are extra delicious? To get started on your own little garden-grown spice rack, visit Living Color Garden Center in Fort Lauderdale. We’ll get you set up with all the seeds and supplies you’ll need.