Sunday, October 3, 2010

Starting your own Herb Garden Part 2: Planning and Layout

Missed Part 1? Read it here: Starting your own Herb Garden: Part 1

Planning Your Herb Garden

Maybe you're thinking you can skip this step. Who needs to plan? Let's just throw some seeds in the ground! But some herbs are picky. Several are very difficult to germinate and are best started by cuttings from an existing plant. Some difficult to germinate plants don't propagate well from cuttings; these you'll be best off buying as seedlings. Planning is especially important with regards to timing and placement. Some plants prefer a shady spot, while others grow best in full or partial sun. Some need well-drained soil, while others can be put in a spot that gets a lot of rain.

Did you know that fall is the best time to plan your spring gardens? That's because it gives you plenty of time before spring to plan your garden layout and get your seeds on sale. It's also a nice opportunity to freshen up your living space for the long winter. A few fragrant potted herbs on the windowsills goes a long way to brightening up your home when outside things are chilly and dreary.

Herb gardens come in many different shapes and sizes. If your space outside is limited or you want to keep your garden growing year-round without fear of frost, you can plant your herbs in pots and keep them by a sunny window. Potting your herbs can also be a good idea if you have poor soil or if you live in the city and only have a balcony or rooftop for your yard. Some herbs like mint (see photos below), which will spread like crazy if you plant it in the ground, are simply better suited to pots. Plan well or all your efforts may go to waste. Not to worry, though. We'll show you how to make garden planning quick and easy.

Mint growth and spreading in 1 month

Step 1: Choose which herbs you'd like to grow and get the seeds.
You may want to grow a certain herb based on taste, smell, or just because it's pretty to look at. See the list of commonly used herbs in Part 1, but keep in mind that this is just a short list; there are many more choices available. If your local gardening store doesn't carry the seeds, you can order them from a seed company online. Since this is a blog about saving money, here are some tips for getting cheap seeds.
  • Ask your friends, relatives, coworkers, and neighbors if they have seeds or cuttings they could share with you.
  • Check your local dollar store. They'll often have seed packs of common herbs for less than a dollar a piece.
  • Late spring to midsummer is the best time to find seed packs on sale. Garden and home improvement stores will often put all their seeds on clearance around this time. Though it might be too late to plant them outside, you can always plant them inside in pots and move them outdoors in the spring or just hold onto them for next year. I've found that most seeds last at least one year after the expiration date stamped on the packet, with no ill effects.

Step 2: Determine when and where to plant your chosen herbs.
Read the seed packets or, if you're not planting from seed, just do a Google search for information. For partial-sun- or shade-loving plants, consider potting them and keeping them inside near a window or putting them in a hanging basket under an overhang. You can also plant them outside in the ground if you have a suitable shady area, perhaps along a wall or solid fence (to block harder rains) or under a deck overhang or awning. If your garden will be totally indoors, put the plants that need the most sun in a window that faces south or southeast (assuming you live in the Northern Hemisphere.) Most herbs will do fine with about 5 hours hours of indirect sun a day.

Also pay attention to the level of moisture preferred by each plant and check the soil in the various locations you've chosen to plant. You don't want to put a plant that prefers drier soil in a low spot where water tends to gather, for instance.

Step 3: Plan your herb garden layout.
Draw a simple map of your yard/balcony/apartment and label where you will place each plant according to your findings in Step 2. Don't forget to allot windowsill and porch space.

Example garden layout plan

Step 4: Schedule the planting.
When to plant your herbs depends partially on your location. Consult the seed packet/internet instructions for best results. Most of them will have a map showing the best time to plant those seeds in your area. Some plants have a better chance of surviving if they're started in peat pots indoors a little before outdoor planting time and then transplanted as seedlings into their outside beds. Consult those seed packets again. Now, on the garden plan you made in Step 3, note the outdoor planting time for each herb and whether you're going to start them indoors beforehand.

Example garden layout plan with timeline

Step 5: Make a planting timeline.
If you're only planting a few herbs you won't need this step, but it's helpful if you're planning a larger herb garden with many varieties. On the back of your garden layout plan or in the margin, make a list, in chronological order, of when you will plant and transplant each herb. This will help you stay organized so you don't forget and miss your planting times.

Basil in a sunny, well-drained spot

Next Up: Starting your own Herb Garden Part 3: Planting
Learn how to create recycled "peat" pots in which to start your seeds indoors, how to grow your garden organically on the cheap, and how to make a variety of beautiful recycled planters. Also: ideas for unique gardens. It's time to get creative.

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chandra said...

Awesome tips..i will do this on weekends. The imagination itself is great!

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