A Beginner’s Culinary Herb Garden Guide

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Have you ever bought fresh herbs for one specific recipe, only to find yourself disappointed when half the container needs to be thrown out just days later? Or do you ever look at a recipe with four different fresh herbs and think you might as well dine out if you are going to spend $20 on herbs? Personally, these scenarios happened to me all the time. This was lead me to start my own Culinary Herb Garden. At first, I had no clue where to start. Through trail, error, and a whole lot of research I became a Gardener. Having Fresh Herbs available year round is beneficial in so many ways. This article covers how to care for the six Culinary Herbs that I always have growing at my own home.

Getting started: Basics of a Culinary Herb Garden

No Matter what Herbs you are growing, there are going to be a few things that are universal when growing fresh herbs. Follow these tips and you will start off on the right foot.

  • Always thoroughly clean your pots and any tools that you will be using. You do not want to spread disease or fungus to your plants.
  • Choose a good Organic Potting Soil, and amend it with Organic Compost if possible. I like to use up to 1/3 compost in my potted herbs. I strongly recommend using all Organic products for your Culinary Herb Garden, because you will be eating these plants after all.
  • How you water is important. Water your plants at the base and try to avoid getting the leaves wet. I personally like pots that have a reservoir, like these, so I can water from the base.
  • Check your moisture levels and only watering when needed. Many plants do not like to have soggy roots. Sticking your finger into the soil and seeing if it is damp is typically works. If it feels dry, add water.
  • Fertilizers will help your plants thrive, but always follow the recommended formulas and frequency. Over fertilizing can kill your plants. I have had luck with this one, but most brands will work just fine.
  • Bugs will at times become a problem in you Culinary Herb Garden. Neem Oil is a good Organic way to control them. Follow manufacturers recommendations and make sure you wash your herbs well before eating.

Here are the 6 Herbs I always have growing in my Culinary Herb Garden.

Basil is key to a Beginners Culinary Herb Garden

1. Basil

Basil is by far one of my favorite herbs to grow and eat. Typically we find a sweet variety known as Genovese in grocery stores and it is fantastic in Mediterranean Cuisine. But, there are several Basil varieties you can grow easily at home that have their own unique flavors. Growing from seed is actually easy or you can just find starters that just need to be repotted. Getting started is easier than you think.

Basil leaves will wilt and brown within days of being picked. Thus making the $4 packet at the super market a real waste of money. If I were going to grow one plant only, Basil would be the first choice. Basil grows very quickly and with proper care, you can sustain one plant for multiple seasons.

Size of Pot:

2 Gallons Minimum, I Prefer to use 3 Gallons like these ones here.

Watering Needs:

Basil needs lots of water, it loves moist soil. So, never let your soil dry out completely. In moderate temperatures I will water every other day. During the Summer I will even water daily.

If you are growing Basil indoors you will need to water less often, maybe even just once a week. Just make sure the soil is moist.

How to Trim:

Using a sanitized pair of sheers, cut the stems just above a leaf node. Go down to the third node from the top of a stem and cut there. Harvesting this way from random areas of your plant, will keep your Basil healthy and keep it’s shape uniform.

Light Needs:

Outdoors: Full Sun. At least 6-8 hours of Direct Sunlight.

Indoors: Basil requires a Grow Light, like this one. I also suggest placing your light on a Timer, with a schedule of 18 hours light / 6 hours off to start.

How to Prune:

If you are using your Basil at least once a week, there should be little need for pruning. However, if you do start to notice flowers forming, that is when you would want to prune. Cutting stems with flowers back to just above a leaf node lower on the stem will trigger the plant to continue to produce edible leaves and prolong the life cycle.

Recipes Using Basil

Basil Citrus Mocktail

fresh rosemary of my favorite Beginner Culinary Herb Garden additions

2. Rosemary

Rosemary has a savory flavor that is unique. It instantly boosts the complexity of any dish that it is used in. Typically Rosemary is associated with Red Meats, Poultry, and Artisan Breads. Adventurous Foodies have even been pushing Rosemary into beverages, cheeses, and deserts. Having Rosemary as part of your Culinary Herb Garden will have you looking for ways to incorporate it into your life.

Depending on your Zone, you may be able to grow Rosemary outdoors year round. In Zone 4, I have been able to move my plants indoors and have them live multiple seasons. Sadly, when I have tried to overwinter outdoors I have never had success.

Size of Pot:

For the First two years you will want at least a 14 inch deep pot that drains well, Like this one here. After two years you will need to increase the size of your pot each year.

Watering Needs:


When potted: Allow your Rosemary’s Soil to get close to dry between watering.

If planted in a garden bed: Water Rosemary every few days for the first month. Then only water during extended periods without rain.

Light Needs

Outdoors: Full Sun.

Indoors: Rosemary needs to be directly under a grow Light. Use an 18 hours light / 6 hours dark schedule.

How to Harvest

Use a sanitized pair of sheers and follow a stem down from the top. Once you find where the main stem branches off into multiple stems, cut the thickest off shoot just above the intersection. This will promote the plant to continue to send additional stems out. If you cut below the intersection, you will decrease the plant’s production.

How to Prune

For the first few years there is little reason to prune your Rosemary plants. If you are using your Rosemary often and cutting above branch divisions, you are likely doing all you need to.

Although, If there are dead branches, remove those near the base of the plant using sheers. Otherwise, if esthetically your plant needs shaping, you can certainly trim away any branches that are too long.

Mint is needed in any Beginners Culinary Herb Garden

3. Mint

Maybe the easiest herb to grow by far is Mint. It is so easy to grow that it should come with a warning. My Neighbor taught me this trick and it has kept the mint from over taking her raised beds. If you burry a pot with the bottom removed in your garden it will keep your mint from spreading. See Photo above.

Mint has a roots that produce lateral shoots and after a few years it will take over and strangle the rest of the plants in your beds. Mint is a perennial, meaning it will come back year after year. If left unconstrained it will come back bigger each season.

If you want mint year round, in the early fall, divide your plant and place a few stems in potting soil under grow lights indoors. Doing this will also give you a chance to add some compost to your garden bed. Don’t be afraid to do this, your mint can handle the abuse.

Size of Pot:

Use a 3 Gallon pot like this at a minimum. After a few months, you may need to divide your plant so that it does not become root bound. If you mint starts to wilt, this is the most likely scenario.

Watering Needs

Medium. When planted in a garden bed, water every few days for the first month. Then water during dry periods. When Potted, water 2-3 times a week. Soil should remain moist.

Light Needs

Outdoors: Partial Shade. Mint will tolerate Full Sun, but prefers some shade.

Indoors: Place under a Grow Light, scheduled 18 Hours Light/ 6 Hours Dark.

How to Harvest

Use Clean Sheers and cut the stem just above a leaf node. When the plant is young, be cautious to only remove the top couple sections of leaves. Once established, Mint is resilient and can handle less precise harvesting.

How to Prune

If mint is starting to spread beyond your desired location, remove any stems and their roots. If any stems appear to be dead or dying, trim them at the base. Otherwise there is no need to prune your mint.

Recipes that Use Mint

Mint Simple Syrup

Chives are part of a Beginners Culinary Herb Garden

4. Chives

Chives are another perennial Culinary Herb that are incredibly easy to grow. They work great in containers, as well as raised beds. Most recipes that use Chives do not call for a large quantity, so it is easy to grow enough to sustain your use.

The Flowers are not only attractive, but they are also edible and pollinators love them. If you want to make sure your Chives do not over take your Culinary Herb Garden, make sure to remove the flowers as they start to dry. I forgot to one year, and my entire garden bed became a Chive bed the following spring.

Size of Pot

Chives require only a 1 Gallon Pot, like this one. You can certainly plant them in a larger pot, but since their roots are near the surface, they do not require a larger vessel.

Watering Needs

Medium to Light. Chives can tolerate drought, but will perform better when soil is kept moist. If potted, water twice a week. If planted in a garden bed, water during dry periods.

Light Needs

Out Doors: Full Sun is Preferred, Light shade is tolerated.

Indoors: You will get best results with a grow light set to 18 hours light / 6 hours dark.

How to Harvest

Cut the Chives using a clean pair of Sheers or Scissors. It is important to leave at least 2 inches of above soil level growth. Doing this will allow the Chives to regrow and give you a constant supply.

How to Prune

Chives do not require any pruning to stay healthy. It is recommended to remove any flowers after they have bloomed, otherwise chives will spread throughout your garden.

Thyme as part of a Beginners Culinary Herb Garden

5. Thyme

Thyme is another herb that is so easy to grow that buying it seems silly. It does not need much attention and is perennial zones 5-9, but I have had luck over wintering even in Zone 4.

Size of Pot

Watering Needs

Low. Once your plants are established they will require little water when planted in a garden bed. Do water in times of drought. When growing in a container allow soil to partially dry between watering.

Light Needs

Outdoors: Full Sun preferred, will tolerate partial shade.

Indoors: Thyme needs to be directly under a grow light. Set your Timer to 18 hours light / 6 hours dark.

How to Harvest

Cut near the base leaving at least 1 inch of stems using clean Sheers. Never Harvest more than one third of your total plant at a time. Thyme is a tough plant and does not require much special care when harvesting.

How to Prune

Thyme does not require any routine pruning. If you do notice any dead stems, remove them near the base using pruning sheers. If your plants start to get too woody after a few years, you can split them and repot them.

Sage Growing in my Culinary Her Garden

6. Sage

Sage is maybe one of the most over potentially powering herbs that I use in my cooking. Where I do enjoy it’s aroma and flavor, a little goes a very long way. I simply cannot justify buying a $4 packet to only use 3 or 4 leaves.

One Huge benefit I have found with growing sage is that deer hate it. The plants near my Sage seem to always be protected because of the smell.

Size of Pot

Sage Grows well in a 2 gallon pot with good drainage, like this one.

Watering Needs

Low to Medium. Sage does not like wet roots. Try to avoid wet leaves by watering at the base, especially when being grown indoors. I will water my out door Sage once a week typically, but in extremely hot weather I will water every other day.

Light Need

Outdoors: Full Sun. Sage does not like being in the Shade.

Indoors: Sage needs to be directly under a grow light.

How to Harvest

Use clean sheers to avoid introducing disease, cut just above a leaf node. Try to cut from different parts of the plant. Most recipes call for such little sage that you easily pull the one or two leaves off that you need without any damage to the plant.

How to Prune:

Prune sage being used for cooking in the spring by cutting back any woody branches.

Do not prune sage in the fall or winter to reduce damage to new growth, except any dead branches should be removed. Sage should never be cut back all the way to the ground.

I have found that there are great benefits to growing a Culinary Herb Garden at home with the top 5 being :

  1. You will Save Money. The $4 Packets of herbs can really add up, especially if you are cooking a variety of recipes that call for fresh herbs. I know I am not alone in cringing, as I place multiple packets in my cart. I’ll do the math and question whether I really need this element to my dishes.
  2. Growing a Culinary Herb Garden makes your food taste better. A lot better. With a good selection growing in your Herb Garden you will look forward to adding them to your dishes. No more reaching for dried varieties and you will craft your dishes around your garden. Picking the herbs fresh they have an even more intense flavor that the fresh already picked herbs available at the super market.
  3. A Culinary Herb Garden allows you to use some of the edible flowers you just can’t buy at the super market. Each year for a few weeks most herbs will flower at some point. In those few weeks it is always fun to see and smell the flowers, but you can also cook with them or use them as edible garnishes. Each herb seems to have it’s own two week window where it likes to show off. I find inspiration to play, create, and honor that ingredient during that time.
  4. An Herb Garden will bring beauty and aromatics to your home. Potted plants are a look that never goes out of style.
  5. Connects your children to where food comes from. Even on a small scale. When I making dinner and I want the kids to feel involved so that they will try something new. I take them out to the garden and allow them to pick the herbs and vegetables we will be using. They always get excited to see how the food tastes and will proudly tell their mother about how they helped grow and pick our meal.

Published by Chef Ben Mogren

I am a professional Chef with over 20 years of Culinary Experience. I trained at the Culinary Institute of America. I spent my career working throughout the Napa Valley, The Four Seasons Resorts, The American Club, Lambeau Field, The Mayo Clinic, and as a Corporate Chef in Manufacturing Sauces and Sous Vide Items. My recipes focus on creating absolutely delicious food from easily sourced ingredients. They focus on proper technique and extracting as much flavor as possible out of common ingredients.

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