If you love to cook and spice up your meals with different types of herbs or you love using them for homemade remedies—healing teas come to mind—then you should grow a herb garden.
It is surprisingly easy, fun and also very cost-effective to grow—the price of fresh and even dried herbs in stores has risen considerably in the past two years. Last year I planted a handful of my favorite herbs, and Kristen asked me to share some of the things I have learned.
Herb Gardening in Zone 7B
I am sharing some of my experiences with gardening in zone 7b. If your not sure what zone you are in, check out your garden zone first for where you live. The good news is that many plants and herbs thrive in region 7. So even if you know very little about gardening, this area is a pretty easy place to start.
Our mild temperatures and long growing season give plenty of opportunities to enjoy a wide variety of herbs, and they are extremely rewarding to grow. I was able to enjoy some fresh herbs even during our mild winter.
This is my third year of gardening in zone 7b, but it wasn’t until last year that I focused on planting my first mini herb garden.
So, let’s dive in!
Zone 7b Herb Gardening Insights
A small raised bed garden
I moved a couple of years ago to a new suburb. Although I have enough space in my backyard, the layout of the land somewhat limits me in creating a large garden. Instead, I turned an unused corner in my yard—and close to my kitchen—into a small herb and vegetable garden by building a seven by four raised bed with boards of about 12 inches high.
I’ll admit that living in a suburb can sometimes come with some unusual gardening challenges, like not having enough space or choosing the right spot to get enough sun during the day. But you can grow a generous supply of kitchen herbs in a surprisingly small area or even opt to plant in individual containers.
Note: if you are looking for a guide to indoor herb planting in pots using seeds, check out Kristen’s in-depth blog post on this topic.
If you are entirely new to gardening and don’t know how to start, Kristen also shares some smart ideas about how to design your small space or container garden, and this also applies to herbs.
Are you interested in making a raised garden bed as I did? There are many kits that you can buy these days and are quickly put together. In my case, I opted to make my own, which gave me more flexibility in the sizing of my garden.
When it comes to choosing a location, select a spot that receives at least six hours of sun daily. I placed my raised bed garden at a position where at least two third of the space gets plenty of sunshine. Good soil, enough sunlight, and sufficient drainage are all you need to create a thriving herb garden.
The Soil Prep in Zone 7b
When I first moved to NC, Raleigh area, I had to learn about my new gardening zone, and in particular its soil. Our clay soil is quite heavy and sticky. Gardeners in this area have to work a little to amend their soil and prepare before planting any herbs or vegetables. It needs a lot of organic matter and enough ground for the plant roots to be able to breathe and for water to properly infiltrate.
If you start with your first herb garden using a raised bed, here are a couple of things I suggest you do:
- First, break up and loosen the clayish soil before adding any soil amendments. I did not do this properly at first. But luckily I had some experienced gardeners amongst my neighbors that recommended spading the soil to a depth of about 8 inches. Initially, I had a hard time digging up the clayish soil. So I watered the area, let it dry for a day and then tried spading it again. It helped a little with breaking any clods of clay.
- Spread one layer of organic amendment over the area and work it into the broken up soil.
- Fill up the bed garden with soil amendment (at least 10 to 12 inches). I used a combination of organic plant-based and composted (aged) cow or horse manure. Your local garden center can help you with recommending the right soil amendment. Many of them contain plant nutrients and act as organic fertilizers.
- Rake the amended soil to loosen it up and level it.
- Eventually, the amended soil will settle, and all you have to do is add every year a little extra soil and compost.
It is worth mentioning that I did not do any soil test or use any liquid fertilizers. I read that herbs grow best in soil between a ph of 6.5 and 7. Every year when Spring is around the corner, I only add extra fresh soil in my garden with a new bag of organic aged compost/manure (horse or cows) and that works for me.However, you don’t have to guess, and you can opt to do a simple soil test. Most local Departments of Agriculture & Consumer services provide soil tests to their residents for free to improve their yard or garden. So contact them first before purchasing a soil test kit online. Here is a link to the NC department to obtain a free test if you live in my area!
When to Plant this coming Spring?
I usually start planting any herbs or vegetables at the end of April or when I am confident that we have had the last frost date.
The last frost date in our zone is usually between late March and mid-April. However, I have witnessed some frost still in the first week of May. So consider these dates a mere guideline. Usually, by mid-April, you can get a good feel if Spring is in full bloom and the colder nights are behind us. If you are in doubt, wait until the beginning of May!
Now, this is the fun part, and my suggestion is to start with herbs that you like using most in your kitchen. Don’t feel limited to what you can grow! But you can always start with easy-to-grow herbs (or at least the ones that I thought required little attention.) Here are some of the herbs I planted:
A great Trainer Herb: Basil
One of the first things that I planted was Basil. It is not only a herb I use most in my culinary adventures, but it is an excellent trainer herb. If you feel a little nervous about starting a full herb garden, then start with Basil this year and add on as you learn.
I did the same. I first started growing Basil in pots and small containers before moving it to my raised garden bed. It not only grows quickly, but I learned a lot about keeping the soil well-drained, what type of compost works best and how much care is needed. Basil is a very forgiving herb that quickly recovers and therefore an excellent starting plant.
Unfortunately, Basil does not like cold or frost though, so I plant this herb when we usually hit 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the days. You can try to keep this annual plant alive by transferring it into a pot and moving it indoors. But I have never done this. Instead, I always freeze in the remaining leaves of the final harvest before winter starts.
Parsley and Rosemary:
These herbs not only smell delicious but are very forgiving and also quite resistant to the cold. They both have survived this year in my garden even during the hardest frost. Especially my parsley was pretty adaptable, considering that I wasn’t always good at keeping the soil super moist during the hot summer months—which this herb loves typically.
I also planted Oregano, peppermint, and chocolate mint (it smells divine). But other herbs like Chives, Cilantro, and Dill, are better fresh than dried and probably also worth planting this Spring. I will consider adding them this year, and I keep you posted on my progress.
A word about oregano and mint. These herbs grow fast and spread out trying to take over your little garden wherever there is a spot available. Oregano is a little more polite than the mint and doesn’t spread as progressively. But they did take over my garden and crowded my Parsley. In hindsight, I should have either:
- Potted these herbs and then burying the pots in the ground. This way you have at least some control over their root system,
- or plant them in their little environment and not with the rest of the herbs.
But on the flipside, both of these herbs are notoriously winter-hardy (that is winter in zone 7) and therefore super rewarding and easy to grow.
Seeds or seedlings?
I recommend buying seedlings or young plants to plant directly into your garden. They are very cheap, and there are so many things that can go wrong with trying to grow from seeds. At the beginning of Spring, I usually go to my local garden center where I can find a vast selection of them.
Remember, Kristen has a beautiful tutorial on indoor seed starting as well as an online seed buying guide if you feel you want to give it a go. Because I don’t have the proper space and a south-facing window to provide these seeds with adequate light indoors, I started my herb garden with seedlings.
I’ve also tried planting from seed straight in the ground. While I had some success, transplanting baby plants is so much easier, and you see results faster.
When you come home with your seedlings, please don’t leave them too long in their pots. It is best to plant them as soon as possible so they can take root. Gently break up the soil by raking, dig a hole large enough to cover the root ball of the plant and cover firmly with soil. Immediately give these planted seedlings some water to moist the ground, but don’t overdo it.
Watering, Pruning and Caring for Herbs?
I water herbs a moderate amount every day in summer, and only when necessary in Spring or other seasons. Check herbs twice weekly and water any time the soils become very dry. In summer, I usually water in the late evening when the plants are getting a break from the intensely hot sun here in my neck of the woods.
If I have learned anything with my Basil is that you can’t forget to prune your herbs. Especially in the summer months, when plants grow incredibly fast. It is best to harvest your produce before they start growing flowers. Always cut off the little flower buds as soon as you start seeing them on your plants. I also made a mistake to prune the bigger leaves from the bottom. It is best to begin pruning from the top. You want to keep your herb plant at a nice full size and not thin out too much at the bottom.
Some of my herbs developed white spots, but it never got any worse than what you see on the pictures. At first, I suspected some fungal or pests infestation. Fungal diseases can show up quickly in humid, wet weather like the summer months in my zone. But the spots only appeared on top of the leaves, and I could not detect any pest problem. It also did not do any damage to the plants. They kept flourishing.
My second guess was powdery mildew or maybe spots from minerals left behind from hard water. Here is what I did to rectify the problem:
- I pruned the leaves that contained white spots and thinned out the plant.
- Just in case, I followed Kristen’s advice on controlling powdery mildew
- I kept a close eye on the herbs, just to make sure no new white spots appeared
This year I am going to give my herbs enough air circulation and space them out more. I also will be more careful in wetting the soil instead of the plants to avoid any damp conditions on the leaves.
This Spring I am going to add more herbs to my garden, and I am looking forward to sharing my new found experiences. If you have any favorite herbs you would like me to plant this year; please share!
I confess I am not the greatest gardener in the family. My grandmother was, and now I wish that I had listened better while she was trying to teach me her tips. Her vegetable and herbs garden always looked like an endless and beautiful oasis of organic produce!
But I learned from her that gardening experience comes from doing and learning from your mistakes. Isn’t that with anything in life? And you have to trust your gut a little. I can tell you this though, if I can grow a bed of herbs then so can you! And it is incredibly rewarding to grow something with your own hands!
Let me know if you are planning a herb garden this Spring and if you have questions or advice for me, I would love to hear them!
I love the challenge of creating and learning new things whether that is making original healthy meals for my family in the kitchen, working on home projects or learning how to tend my garden better. If I did not live in a suburban area, I would have a flock of chickens.