Herb gardens are popular in South Florida as they are easily grown and are fun to cultivate. Fresh herbs make any meal special, and can inspire you to try new recipes and eat healthier. While most herbs thrive easily, there are a few common mistakes people make when growing them. But you can keep your thumb as green as possible by avoiding these mishaps.
Common Mistakes when Cultivating Herb Gardens
- Choosing an unhealthy plant: Choose your sprouted plants wisely and don’t be afraid to be extremely picky. Look closely for any signs of disease or infestation—finding even one insect means there are likely many more you cannot see. Your choice of plant could be the difference between a healthy garden and an infested one.
- Overcrowding: The herbs will be small when you first buy them, so many new gardeners overcrowd them in the bed or container. Resist the temptation to plant densely, as many species grow quite large and have extensive root systems. Most herbs require about 12-18” between each plant for maximum growth and production. Some such as dill put deep taproots down into the soil, and consequently require a minimum soil depth of 1-2ft to thrive. Read the tags or research each herb you buy to know how much room they need.
- Incorrect growing conditions: Each type of herb has a specific set of requirements for soil moisture and sun. Avoid planting herbs with different requirements in the same bed or container, otherwise you will never be able to make them all thrive and one or more types will likely die after just a few weeks. Rosemary, sage, and thyme are all drought-tolerant, need full sun, and prefer dry, sandy soil. On the other hand, parsley and basil can grow in partial shade and prefer moist (though still well drained) soil. Planting herbs with the same requirements will make your life easier in the long run.
- Not fertilizing: When growing herbs in small containers, fertilizing may slip your mind. However, it is critical that you feed your herbs—they work hard to constantly grow new leaves and shoots, and need the energy boost that fertilizer provides. Dilute your fertilizer of choice (fish emulsion, granular feed, compost tea, etc.) to half the recommended strength and apply to your garden or containers every 4-6 weeks to keep your herbs happy and healthy.
- Being scared of pruning: Pruning is critical for large, healthy growth, especially when the herbs are young. If you avoid pruning, the herb will grow only a few long stems, then the leaves will die off. When you harvest the leaves consistently, it encourages the herb to continue putting out new growth and to grow in a bushier, more prolific form. Prune no more than ⅓ of the plant at a time by pinching off leaves right where they meet the stem, or by cutting some of the stem right above a leaf node. Focus on pinching newer leaves; the large basal leaves provide stability and act as “solar panels” to gather energy when re-growing upper leaves. Don’t pull or tear the leaves from the plant, as this can expose your herb to disease or infestation.
- Letting them go to seed: While the flowers of some herbs are tasty and beautiful, avoid letting all your plants flower and go to seed. The herb becomes less flavorful once seeding and eventually dies. To keep them growing year after year, pinch flower buds off as you see them develop.
Shop Big Earth Landscape Supply for beautiful containers, gardening tools, soil and compost – everything but the herbs! We look forward to seeing you again soon at one of our 4 local Tampa and Sarasota area locations.