The flavor of fresh herbs is tough to beat. That’s why having your own little herb garden can make a *huge* difference in the kitchen. Stirring a batch of homemade tomato sauce? Pick some fresh basil. Muddling up mojitos? Enter aromatic mint from the garden. Baking cheddar scones? Your windowsill chives are just the ticket. But what herbs grow well together in the same pot? We spoke to Joyce Mast, resident Plant Mom at Bloomscape, a plant delivery service, to find out the quickest, easiest way from zero to herb garden. Here are her recommended picks, plus care and maintenance tips.
This herb is prime for beginners, especially those who aren’t the strictest about tending to plants. It has soft, fuzzy leaves, meaning that it requires less water than other herbs. In fact, overwatering is a recipe for root rot. Mast recommends golden, tricolor or purple sage to start.
Avoid planting with: Alliums like onions, leeks, garlic, shallots and chives, which need moist soil, and fennel, which can stunt your plant’s growth.
This herb is delicate and fragrant on the nose, but hardy in the pot. It loves hanging in dry sunlight, just like other Mediterranean herbs that prefer arid soil. And just like sage, thyme and oregano, it’s drought-tolerant and great for beginners. “If you miss a watering, they will bounce [back] once given a good soak in pots with drainage holes,” says Mast.
Avoid planting with: Fennel, because it grows too tall to be planted with low-growing herbs like creeping thyme and prostrate rosemary, which grow down and out instead of upright.
We love a hands-off plant project. Enter this woody-stemmed gem that thrives with lots of sun and solid drainage. There are about 350 types, but Mast says common, lemon, woolly or creeping thyme are wonderful places to start. Be sure to let the soil dry a bit before watering since this herb loves dry heat.
Avoid planting with: Mint. “I suggest planting mint alone and to not mix with any other herbs. [It grows] very quickly, and it tends to crowd out other plants,” says Mast. If you want to grow fresh mint, stick to one type per pot to avoid cross-pollination.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to this herb. Think stews, chicken dishes, pasta sauce and beyond. Fresh oregano is a lot milder than the bottled, dried kind you have on your spice rack, so be sure to give it lots of light and modest water for potent flavor and add it to dishes last so the flavor doesn’t cook off.
Avoid planting with: Herbs that need lots of moisture, like basil or parsley.
This purple beauty is famous for its healing, calming properties. Try growing alongside aromatic marjoram or sharp bay laurel (that’s bay leaf). They all do best in arid soil and sunlight. Be sure to provide good drainage and air flow so the soil doesn’t stay too moist or humid.
Avoid planting with: Any plant that needs a lot of water, because a consistently moist environment will promote root rot.
Use it: Lavender Latte
Basil isn’t a Mediterranean herb, unlike the five mentioned above. It requires a lot more watering and consistent moisture. Even though it may be a bit more high-maintenance, basil is good to have on hand for everything from soup to salad to pasta. Plant this alongside tarragon or cilantro—they need just as much water.
Avoid planting with: Herbs that prefer a drier climate, like sage and rosemary.
Use it: One-Pot Tomato Basil Pasta
Meet the simplest garnish ever. It’s great for beginners and indoor growing, plus it grows well with other herbs that flourish in arid soil. Mast says both garlic chives and onion chives are prime for beginners, so it really just comes down to your taste. Clip them at the base to harvest and wrap them in a paper towel before storing in the fridge in an airtight container.
Avoid planting with: Tarragon, cilantro or other moisture-loving herbs.
Use it: Ham, Cheddar and Chive Scones
Here’s another leafy cutie that’s always thirsty. Mast reminds us to avoid letting this (and any other tender, high-moisture herb) dry out. “[It] prefers to have more consistent moisture in the soil,” she says. Take your pick between curly, which is typically used as a garnish, or Italian flat-leaf, which is more flavorful and better for cooking.
Avoid planting with: Alliums like garlic, onion or shallots, which can stunt parsley’s growth.
Maintenance and Tips
“Most herbs are able to grow both indoors and outdoors,” says Mast. The key is to provide the proper soil, lighting and temperature so the herbs will thrive.” Here is some of Mast’s best advice for making your herb garden dreams a reality.
Herbs need at least six hours of sun a day. Whether you’re growing in your apartment or in the garden, pick a sunny spot that preferably faces south. If you’re growing an herb that likes the shade, like mint, parsley or thyme, a west-facing window or spot in the yard will do. If you don’t have access to adequate natural light, a grow light is the next best bet.
2. Watering and Drainage
Herbs should *always* be planted in pots with drainage holes and saucers. Too much stagnant water = root rot and a dead plant. Choose a pot with drainage holes big enough to let moisture out but small enough to retain soil. Be sure to check that water flows freely through the drainage holes after you give your herbs a shower and always empty the saucer of standing water. Occasional drying won’t ruin your herbs (especially if they like dry soil), but watering whenever the top one or two inches of potting mix are dry is a safe bet. Frequent dryness can result in brown, dry leaves.
3. Growing Media
Go for potting mix over regular soil. It’s lighter and lets water and air get to the herbs’ roots more effectively. Mast likes Fox Farm's organic indoor mixes for herbs because it’s fully loaded with everything you need to start planting. If you’re using straight peat potting mix, Mast suggests mixing it 2:1 with perlite, which makes the soil fluffy and light. Some potting mixes include fertilizer already, but if yours doesn’t, give Dr. Earth’s a try. Organic, slow-release fertilizers will offer a steady stream of nutrients to your herbs. Avoid growing media containing compost and bark—these bring fungus gnats.
Trimming and pruning is important for lush, bushy growth. “This really applies to culinary herbs,” says Mast. “The more you use them, the more they will grow.” Be sure to leave about 1/3 of the herb behind when harvesting so the leaves can grow back. If your herbs are outdoors, they can be pollinated and eventually start producing flowers and seeds. This is fine for your plant but reduces the number of edible leaves you can use in the kitchen. Pruning prevents the plant from reaching that point.
If your herbs have already flowered, don’t panic. Just snip them right off and trim the top of your plant weekly to prevent flowering in the first place. There’s also deadheading, aka removing old blossoms from a plant, which tricks the herbs into producing more leaves. Mast suggests using simple pruning shears for pruning and deadheading and cleaning the blades with rubbing alcohol between uses.
5. If your plant is shriveled, limp or dried out
So, you missed a few days of watering. Happens to the best of us. If your plant has had better days, it’s likely just thirsty, especially if it’s hot and sunny out. If your herbs are outdoor plants, just soak them generously with a hose until water comes out the drain holes. If they’re indoors, Mast recommends soak-watering to rehydrate the plant. Just place the plant in the sink or tub without the pot’s saucer. Fill the sink or tub with water until it’s about two to four inches high. Let the herbs soak from the bottom for at least 45 minutes and spray the tops of the plants with water. Then, drain the tub and let the herbs rest while the pot drains before moving them back to their usual spot.
How to Store Herbs
Line an airtight container with paper towels or a paper bag, then add the herbs and store. Whatever you do, don’t use plastic bags. It’s a recipe for soggy, stinky herbs. If you have lots of leftover herbs, the freezer is your best bet. Rinse and chop the herbs after removing their stems. Fill an ice cube tray with about 1 tablespoon of herbs per slot. Carefully top the tray off with water and freeze for 24 hours. Transfer the cubes to plastic bags and plop the cubes into soup, sauce and beyond.