Ready, Set, Plant: Tips for Planning a Summer Herb Garden

You could argue that herb gardens are good for body, mind, and spirit.

Growing your own herbs is tremendously fulfilling; the fragrant herbs you produce can take your cooking to new levels, and many fresh herbs are a great source of antioxidants, which can boost your physical and mental well-being.

If you’d like to start planning an herb garden now, you’ll be just in time to grow heat-loving herbs like basil, chives, and mint this summer.

We have some guidelines to help you get started. 

Summer herbs and fun in the sun

As with most gardens, one of your first planning to-do's is to select a location. As you may have guessed, most herbs that do well in the summer love the sunshine. Look for a spot where your plants will get at least six hours of direct sunlight a day.

But if providing full sun isn’t doable, don’t be discouraged. You do have some options, including cilantro, dill, and parsley, that will tolerate partial shade (about four hours of sun.)

Your location also should be convenient for you. Look for a spot where you can easily access your herbs for watering, snipping, and harvesting.

Finding your perfect match


You’ll have no problem finding herbs that thrive during the summer. They include basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, mint, cilantro, dill, parsley, chives, and tarragon, to name a few.

The key is to figure out which ones are best for you. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind.

Will you eat it?

Are there herbs you love to cook with—or would love to try? Basil, for example, is great with tomatoes and Italian dishes. Thyme is wonderful with roasted vegetables and soups, and cilantro is perfect for Mexican dishes.

How much sun will they need?

Not all herbs have the same sun requirements. As mentioned, most herbs prefer full sun, but some can tolerate partial shade. Cilantro, for example, will bolt (go to seed) prematurely if it gets too much hot afternoon sun. Check seed packets or the information that comes with your seedlings for details.

How much space can you give them to grow?

This will be especially important if you decide to grow your herbs in planters or containers. Some herbs, like rosemary and oregano, can grow quite large and bushy. Parsley and thyme, on the other hand, are more compact and a good fit for smaller pots.

What will play nicely together?

Some herbs can be companion plants for each other, meaning they benefit from being planted close together. Dill, for example, is said to deter some pests that bother basil. On the other hand, some strong growers like rosemary can overshadow and stunt the growth of your smaller herbs. We suggest doing some research on companion planting and the herbs you’re interested in growing.

The down and dirty on your herbs


As you plan your herb garden, put some thought into its soil needs. Most herbs prefer well-draining soil; they don’t like to sit in wet conditions. If the soil in your yard is dense with high clay content, you can try mixing in coarse sand, perlite, or organic material like compost to improve drainage—and add nutrients that your growing herbs will need. Or you can grow your herbs in raised beds or pots, where you control what kind of soil they’re in.

As for fertilizers, herbs don’t need highly fertile soil. In fact, too many nutrients, especially nitrogen, can dilute their flavor. A moderate amount of organic compost is perfect to healthy growth. 

Another consideration is your soil’s pH level. Most herbs prefer a neutral to slightly alkaline pH between 6.0 and 7.5. Try using a pH testing kit, which can be purchased at garden centers or online. If your soil is too acidic, you can amend it with garden lime. If it's too alkaline, add sulfur or peat moss.

Ready, set, plant

When you’re ready to get your herb garden started, you can use these tips to guide you.

Spacing out: Give your herbs plenty of room to flourish. Check spacing guidelines on seed packets or plant tags — crowding plants can lead to poor air circulation and disease.

Depth perception: When you plant, make sure to set each herb at the correct depth. This is usually about twice the height of the seed. For seedlings, the soil level should match the level they were growing in their container.

A toast

After planting, give your herbs a good drink. That will help settle the soil around the roots. Water at the base rather than overhead to minimize wet foliage, which can encourage disease.

Caring for your growing herbs

After you plant your herb garden, aim to water deeply as needed. Herbs like moist soil where their roots are, but you’ll want to let the soil dry out slightly between waterings

Keep an eye out for weeds that can steal nutrients and sunlight from your herbs. A little weeding goes a long way in keeping your garden healthy.

As your herbs grow, don’t be shy about snipping and using them. Regular harvesting encourages new growth and can help keep your plants bushy and productive.

A few thoughts on container gardens

If you’d prefer to start herb gardening on a small scale, consider container gardening. Here are some tips:

Choosing the right container: Terracotta pots are popular because they breathe well, but they can dry out quickly. Plastic pots retain moisture better but can become waterlogged. We suggest choosing a material based on your watering habits and the climate you live in.

Drainage: Whatever you go with, make sure your container has drainage holes to prevent the roots from sitting in soggy soil. If your pot doesn't have holes, you can drill them yourself.

Potting mix: If you’re going with containers, you can skip the garden soil. Look for a lightweight potting mix that is labeled for herbs or vegetables.

Planting and watering: Plant your herbs according to the spacing recommendations on the plant label. Water thoroughly after planting and then water regularly, allowing the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings.

Fertilizing: Container plants deplete the nutrients in the potting mix faster than plants in the ground. A gentle fertilizing every few weeks during the growing season can be beneficial. Opt for a water-soluble fertilizer formulated for herbs.

Harvest time

The real fun begins when it's time to harvest.

The best time to pick herbs is in the morning after the dew has evaporated but before the sun is at its hottest. This is when their flavors are most potent. If you have more herbs than you can use immediately, try drying or freezing them for year-round flavor.

Leave a comment