How to Plant an Herb Garden

By Rachel Jones / Photography By Michael Fornataro | February 23, 2016
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While making pizzas at my sister and brother-in-law’s house last summer, she decided we needed a burst of fresh basil to take our pies to the next level. So she went out onto the deck, plucked a few leaves from her herb garden, and effortlessly elevated the flavor profile. Inspired by the convenience of her cultivation and a recent obsession with cilantro-covered fish tacos, my roommates and I decided to plant an herb garden this spring.

Getting started may have yielded dozens of questions about the dos and don’ts, but growing an urban herb garden actually requires minimal effort. The best part is it also maximizes the deliciousness in our favorite recipes, not to mention the personal joy and sense of accomplishment that stem from growing and enjoying your own food — even if it’s just for garnish!  

With decades of experience at Soergel Orchards, Randy Soergel knows a thing or two about gardening. Follow these easy steps and top tips, and you’ll be ready to grow! 

1. First Thing’s First
“You need to know that you’re going to have fun. You're not going to worry,” Soergel says. “People are afraid of trying to do something because it might fail. It’s all a learning experience.”

2. Save the Date
March is a good time to start planting, but you still have plenty of time in April, May, or even June! If you start too early, you might not have enough light for your seedlings. Remedy that by placing fluorescent lights just a few inches above the soil.

3. Make a Guest List  
Whether it’s cilantro, basil, dill, or parsley, choose what you want to join your herb garden based on your personal preference and curiosity. ”I encourage customers to try things that seem a little funky,” Soergel says. “Just because you don't recognize it, doesn't mean you won't have fun growing it.”

4. Set the Stage 
Pick up a light bag of soil, preferably a peat or seed starting mix. (Regular old potting soil will work, too!) The lighter the bag, the more structure and drainage the soil has, which provides plenty of room for the roots to expand.

5. Start Out Small
Plant the seeds in your soil according to the packet directions, then cover with plastic wrap to seal moisture in during germination. They don’t need to be housed in anything special — a recycled cottage cheese container can make a great starting point. (Just poke holes in the bottom, so water can drain out!) If you decide to plant your herbs in a long window box, keep the seeds 3-4 inches apart to prevent overcrowding.

6. Let the Sun Shine In 
Your seeds don’t require much light to germinate. Once the seedlings start to sprout, remove the plastic wrap and move the plants to a sunny windowsill. Speed up the germination process by putting your containers on a heating pad or on a cookie sheet propped up over your home’s heating vent. 

7. Move It On Up
When your herbs are big enough, they’re ready to move outside. Aim to do so after May 15-20, also known as the frost-free date, when an overnight frost is no longer a threat. Choose a spot that’s sunny until 2 p.m., so your herbs can enjoy the sun without drying later in the day. “Plants are just like us —  they can sunburn. When we’ve been inside all spring, we can go outside for a half hour in the summer and fry,” Soergel says. “Just do a little sun each day before a permanent move outdoors, or put newspaper on top to toughen them up before exposure to straight sun.” 

8. Make the Cut
Trim your herbs for use as much as you’d like! “You will never kill a plant by pruning it,” Soergel says. “It’s actually better for them to get regular ‘haircuts’ because it takes off the terminal or end bud and creates side buds that make the plant bushier.”

Remember: “It’s supposed to be a hobby. It’s supposed to be fun,” Soergel says. “You already work five days a week. Enjoy this!” 
Drink Up: To prevent your herbs from drying out or drowning, always keep the soil slightly damp to the touch. 

HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW? Share your herb garden photos with us on Instagram @edible.allegheny!

Soergel Orchards, 2573 Brandt School Road, Wexford. 724.935.1743.

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