Jekka's guide on how to grow herbs

Sowing & propagating herbs

Herbs are propagated either by seed, cutting or division.  The time of year is important, when sowing UK native herbs one should sow the seeds in the autumn, following nature.  When growing herbs from the Mediterranean or warmer climates it is best to start in the spring.

If one wants to get a head start on the season, either use a propagator or sow seeds under cloches to protect the young seedlings from the weather.  If you want to sow direct into the soil on an allotment or garden, with no protection, make sure the soil is warm enough.  Do not start too early on the first sunny day in spring.  Check the soil by putting the back of your hand on it.  If it feels cold then wait a bit longer.

Some common herbs grown from seed, cuttings and division:

- Herbs grown from seed in the spring: Basil, Chives, Chervil, Coriander, Dill and Oregano
- Herbs grown by cuttings taken before flowering, or off new non flowering shoots: Bay, Mint, Rosemary, Sage, Tarragon and Thyme
- Herbs grown by division: Mint and Tarragon

Most herbs benefit from being sown in seed trays or modules and then planted out once they are fully rooted and when all threat of frost has passed. Alternatively, once rooted, they can be potted up. Jekka advises to always start in small pots and not over pot as the plant will not grow until its roots touch the side of the pot and this can be a struggle for many seedlings.

Annual and biennial herbs like basil, coriander, parsley, dill, and chervil are fast growing and best sown at intervals throughout the spring and summer so you are guaranteed a continuous fresh supply. You can sow hardy annual or biennial herbs like dill, chervil and coriander from March directly into their final positions. This is especially important for coriander, chervil and dill because of their tap root they are difficult to transplant. Also read our blog on winter sowing which suggests several herbs that can be sown into early Autumn.

Propagate from cuttings perennial herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme in late spring before flowering. Take the cuttings from strong shoots, then place under cover in the warmth, and pot them on once they are rooted.  Harden off plants in a cold frames or tunnels before planting into their final positions.

Some popular herbs you might wish to start with are:

- Annuals: Basil, Coriander, Borage, Sweet Marjoram and Dill
- Biennials: Caraway, Chervil and Parsley
- Perennials: Chives, Fennel, Mint, Sage, Tarragon and Thyme

Planting herbs out

When growing any plant, you should consider where the plant comes from and try to reproduce that environment. Although herbs are from all around the world, most of the culinary herbs we use today come from the Mediterranean and the Middle East and grow best with full sun, in a sheltered location with light, well-drained, moisture-retentive, fertile soil with plenty of organic matter incorporated. If you have heavy clay soil then incorporate some coarse grit and organic matter to improve drainage. See Jekka's guide to soil for more information.

In Jekkas Herbetum, we grow our herbs in raised beds and therefore we can control the drainage and soil type. If you have moist, shady conditions consider planting chervil, parsley, meadowsweet, mint, lemon balm, or chives.

At Jekka’s we sell herbs in 1 Ltr and 2 Ltr pots. These are established and hardy herb plants that are grown to survive the UK climate. After purchasing your herbs you need to either pot them up or plant them out. Jekka’s tip is to pot up a plant one size of pot at a time as going from a 1 Ltr pot to a 10 Ltr pot in one go will stress the plant and can quite often kill it. Position them somewhere warm and well-lit until the roots have nicely filled (but not overcrowded) the container. The best compost in which to grow herbs is peat free and loam-based; if your options are limited go for a standard John Innes. For more information, read Jekka's blog containing her top steps to growing on your herbs.

Jekkapedia will give you the acidity of the soil that the herbs prefer but, in general, most herbs will tolerate a slightly acid soil with the best pH-level for growing herbs being neutral to alkaline. Prior to planting out prepare the soil by raking the soil level and removing any large clods or stones, make sure the soil or compost is moist at planting time. Gently loosen plants from their pots by gently squeezing the pot and pushing them up from the base or knock out plants from pots by giving a sharp tap to the bottom with the handle of your trowel. Handle plants by the rootball to avoid damaging the stems and leaves, planting in a prepared hole so the top of the rootball is just below the soil surface.

Once planting is completed, water in using a watering can without a rose. Shallow-rooted plants dry out quickly so water regularly when they are growing strongly.

It is becoming increasingly popular to plant Thyme, Corsican mint and Lawn chamomile in paths. If you wish to do this, we recommend creating a good growing space, either by removing a slab or by cutting a slab in half.  Plants do not grow in small cracks, seeds will appear but only last a season or two. Nor do plants grow in straight lines.  Remember the paving stones will become very hot in summer, this makes the small roots, that the creeping herbs use to grow, shrivel up.  So, if you require herbs in your path, give them space.  

Growing herbs in containers

Maintaining herbs

Jekka's blog

Harvesting herbs

Herb based recipes

Some common problems with growing herbs

Jekka’s top herbs to start your herb garden

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

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Bay (Laurus nobilis)

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Caraway (Carum carvi)

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Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)

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Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

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Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)

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Dill (Anethum graveolens)

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French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)

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Marjoram (Origanum vulgare)

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Mint (Mentha)

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Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

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Rosemary (Rosmarinus)

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Sage (Salvia)

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Savory (Saturajea montana)

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Thyme (Thymus)

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Jekkapedia

Whether you are starting out, an avid chef, a plant enthusiast or garden designer our collection is likely to have something to inspire you. We are growing a virtual Herbetum called Jekkapedia enabling you to browse and learn at your leisure.