Herbs: growing

How to raise herbs

Starting off

Sow seed of herbs such as basil, chives and parsley under glass with or without heat from January to early April. Additionally, as soil conditions allow, you can sow seed of chervil, coriander and dill, directly into the soil outdoors from March onwards.

Cuttings of some herbs such as bay, marjoram, mint, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme can be taken from late summer to early autumn.


Divide hardy herbs such as sweet marjoram, oregano, mint and thyme in spring or after flowering in late summer.

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More information can be found on our page for propagating herbs.

If you do not have suitable conditions for raising your own herbs, many mail order suppliers and garden centres offer a range of young plants or plugs. When these arrive they need to be carefully removed from their packaging and potted up, either into cell trays or 9cm (3½in) pots. Grow on somewhere warm and well lit, such as a windowsill, until the roots have nicely filled (but not overcrowded) the container.

Planting out

Plant out young plants after hardening off. Make sure the soil or compost is moist at planting time:

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  1. Rake the soil level, removing any large clods or stones
  2. Gently loosen plants from their trays by pushing them up from the base. Knock out plants from pots by giving a sharp tap to the bottom with the handle of your trowel
  3. Handle plants by their leaves or rootball to avoid damaging their vulnerable stems
  4. Plant so the top of the rootball is just below the soil surface
  5. Firm in
  6. Once planting is completed, water in using a watering can without a rose
  7. Shallow-rooted plants dry out quickly so water regularly when they are growing strongly
See also  Best Watering Practices for Veggie Gardens


Some herbs and salads such as coriander, wild rocket and cress may be ready to harvest within a few days of sowing, while others may take a few weeks. They can be picked easily by pinching out or cut before flowering to promote bushy growth.

Guide to growing herbs

Here is a brief guide to growing and using some of the most commonly-grown herbs:

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

  • Grow in rich, light well-drained to dry soils in sun
  • Pinch out growing tips to encourage bushiness and delay flowering, though regular sowings are still needed to a summer-long supply
  • Leaves are picked during the growing season and used fresh or dried
  • Purple-leaved cultivars have ornamental value

Bay (Laurus nobilis)

  • Well-drained soil in sun or part shade
  • Bay also lends itself well to container-growing
  • Trim to shape in summer, removing suckers from standards and topiary as they appear
  • Leaves can be picked in summer for drying

Caraway (Carum carvi)

  • Well-drained, fertile soil in full sun, tolerant of heavy soils
  • Leaves and roots used fresh as vegetable, seeds, when ripe, used dried
See also  Rainbow Star

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)

  • Rich, light, moisture-retentive soil in part shade
  • Delicate anise flavour, leaves used fresh in salads or in French cooking; flowers and roots are also edible

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

  • Rich, well-drained soil in full sun, though tolerant of wet conditions and heavy soils
  • Cut down to the ground after flowering to produce fresh leaves
  • Mild garlic-like flavour; leaves, bulbs and flowers are all used

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)

  • Well-drained fertile soil in full sun, although leaves may be more productive in part shade
  • Leaves and roots used fresh, especially in Thai cooking
  • Seeds used dried in curries and pickles

Dill (Anethum graveolens)

  • Well-drained neutral to slightly acid soil in sun
  • Leaves are cut in spring and summer for using fresh or dried; seeds harvested in summer for use dried, all widely used in cooking, especially Scandinavian cookery

Marjoram (Origanum vulgare)

  • Grows best in well-drained to dry, neutral to alkaline soil in sun
  • Leaves are picked during the growing season; often used dried in Italian, Greek and Mexican cuisine

Mint (Mentha spp.)

  • Rich, moist soil in sun or part shade where it may become invasive, so it is best grown in a container and regularly divided
  • Strongly aromatic leaves used for flavouring and tea
See also  How to establish a new garden bed

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

  • Rich, well-drained neutral to alkaline soil in sun or part shade
  • Pick leaves just before flowering and use fresh; an essential ingredient in French, Italian and Middle East cookery

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

  • Well-drained, ideally neutral to alkaline soil in full sun with shelter in cold areas as it rarely survives prolonged freezing
  • Remove dead stems and weak growth in spring, prune after flowering to encourage bushy growth
  • Fresh or dried leaves are used for flavouring, especially meat such as lamb. Fresh sprigs can be steeped in vinegar or olive oil

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

  • Well-drained to dry neutral to alkaline soils in full sun, sage dislikes damp conditions and low light in winter
  • Many cultivars have excellent ornamental value
  • Hard prune in early spring to promote bushy growth
  • Leaves are used to flavour many dishes, especially meat. Fresh or dried leaves are used for tea

French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)

  • Well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline soil in sun
  • Pick leaves before flowering
  • Distinctive, aromatic leaves used to flavour chicken and egg dishes, salad dressing and sauces

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

  • Well-drained, even stony poor soils in sun; most thyme prefer neutral to alkaline soil
  • Trim lightly after flowering to maintain bushy habit
  • Fresh or dried leaves and flowers used to flavour many dishes especially French cookery