How to Start an Herb Garden From Seed
By Robie Benve
Growing Herbs Indoors From Seeds
Herb seedlings can be purchased, but starting your own can be much more economical, especially if you have a big garden. Also, some unusual varieties or less common herbs may not be available as plants. And starting herbs from seeds can be fun!
Some herb seeds can be sown into the garden but others need the extended time to grow that you can provide only starting indoors. Some herbs with a long growing season are: cumin, germander, lemon balm, rosemary, sesame, and valerian.
Other herbs may not need to be started indoor, but will flower or be ready for harvest much sooner if they are, like basil.
Plants with tiny seeds, such as savory, wormwood, and yarrow, do better started indoors because they can easily wash away in the rain.
Basic Requirements For Starting Seeds Indoors
- Sterile sowing medium mix containing sufficient nutrients to carry through until transplanting.
- Steady moisture.
- Adequate sunlight or fluorescent light.
- Suitable temperature.
Some Herbs Cannot or Should Not be Grown From Seeds
Some herbs don't set seeds, thus they must be propagated by cuttings or divisions. These include: horseradish, lemon grass, lemon verbena, and saffron.
Other herbs, even if they do set seeds, are difficult to germinate or take a long time to become established, and in some cases they are not flavorful when grown from seed.
Herbs that are better propagated by division or cuttings include: scented geraniums, germander, ginseng, lavender, mint, oregano, rosemary, some sages, and valerian.
Pots for Seed Planting
Traditionally, seeds are started in flats or pots, make sure they have draining holes.
You can use purchased flats and peat pots, but also a variety of other containers such as aluminum foil pans, cut-down milk cartons, and many other discarded kitchen containers and punch drainage holes in the bottom.
A flat of the size of 5 1/2 x 7 1/2 can hold up to 100 seedlings of large seeds, and as many as 300 seedlings of fine seeds.
Since not all the seeds will germinate, and some will be lost in transplanting, always sow more than you need. If you end up with extra plants, you can share with friends and neighbors.
Plastic and foil containers can be reused from year-to-year. Make sure you clean them with soapy water and rinse well to prevent transmission of diseases.
Best Soil for Growing Seeds
The best starter soil is a lightweight sterile mix sold for this purpose, especially formulated for germination, fast root development, and leaf formation.
If you grow seeds indoors on garden soil, they may not germinate well, and commonly develop a fungus disease, called dumping-off.
Sowing Herbs in Containers
- Cover the drainage holes with moss or pieces of broken flower pots, cover the bottom with an inch of moist peat moss.
- Fill with moistened soil mix, up to about 1/4 inch of the top edge.
- Level soil and sow seeds.
- After sowing, water with a gentle fine spray. This is especially important for fine seeds, because they need to touch the growing medium to germinate, and watering will eliminate air pockets.
Vegetable Seed Germination
Right after the seeds are sown they usually don't need much light, unless light is required for germination, they are covered with growing medium and would not see the light anyway.
Very important is to provide moisture to the seeds. Covering the containers with plastic or glass will maintain a good amount of humidity without having to water, which could dislodge the seeds.
Once seeds have germinated remove the cover.
Seedling Plants Need Light
Seedlings need a good light to grow healthy and strong. If your windows supply insufficient lights, you can use fluorescent lights, or commercial growing lights.
You can tell the seedling plants are not receiving enough light when they grow tall and leggy.
If you use growing lights, you can set a timer to ensure light for fourteen to sixteen hours a day.
First Transplanting of Seedlings Indoors
Before your herb seedlings can be ready to be transplanted outdoor, you need to thin them by transplanting them indoor.
Once two sets of leaves have formed, it is best to move the seedlings from the flat to individual containers so their roots can develop properly.
To keep the fragile little plants healthy and let them suffer the minimum stress during transplant, do the following:
- Water well before beginning transplanting.
- Prepare the pots and fill them with moistened growing soil, making holes to accommodate the seedlings.
- Gently lift seedlings with a spoon handle. Always handle seedlings by their leaves, not their stems, because they easily break.
- Holding the seedlings by their leaves lower them into the hole and press soil around the roots.
Place the newly transplanted seedling in good light, but not direct some. Some wilting is normal, keep them moist.
Some herbs do better when the growing tip is pinched, it keeps them from becoming too leggy and encourages branching.
Herb Transplant to Garden
In late spring, when the herb plants are big enough, and the season is right according to the requirements of each variety, it is finally time to plant the herbs outdoors in the tilled and fertilized garden.
Before you move your plants out for good, expose them to the sun and the whether slowly, for few hours each day, avoiding the hottest hours, when the sun is too direct, and bringing them inside at night when the temperature drops. The young leaves are not used to direct sun, and like our skin, may get burned.
After a few days of acclimatizing, you can finally plant them in your garden.
Growing Herbs Outdoors From Seeds
Most herbs can be grown from seed right in the garden, and in some cases it is the best way to go, like for: borage, fennel, parsley, sesame, and more.
Most herbs can be sown as soon as the soil is ready to be worked in spring. Tender annuals can be started after all danger of frost is past.
© 2012 Robie Benve