Though you may initially associate gardening with warming spring weather or the dog days of summer, the fall can actually be an ideal time to use your green thumb. Autumn is a prime time for planting many herbs that thrive in cooler weather, like cilantro, mint, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and more. You already know how using herbs can spice up some ho-hum dishes and add an additional kick to your favorite cocktails, but these ingredients can also contribute a slew of health benefits. Cilantro, for example, can combat inflammation, while mint is thought to promote digestion, and rosemary has antibacterial properties.
Given all the positives, you likely don’t need any convincing that having fresh herbs at your disposal will be a boon for both your palate and your health. But how exactly can you set up an herb garden if the only thing you’ve planted recently is yourself…on the couch? We’ve laid out a few simple steps.
Where to Plant Your Herb Garden
First things first, the most important thing is location, location, location. If you’re in an apartment or home without outdoor space, find a window sill or ledge near a window that has plenty of light, since your garden will need sun exposure for at least four hours per day. Pick out some pots for each herb (at least six inches in size), checking that each one has drainage holes, which are key to ensuring that your plants’ roots aren’t sitting in stagnant water. You’ll also likely want to pick up saucers for each pot, to protect any surface that you’re putting them on.
Related Reading: How to Dry Fresh Herbs
If you’re in a milder climate, you can also opt for an outdoor garden. The same rules apply: select a sunny spot. Make sure that if you’re using larger pots, they have drainage holes, or if you are planting directly into the soil, check that your soil will drain well and is clear of stones.
What Herbs to Plant for Fall
The next step is figuring out what exactly to plant—depending on what hardiness zone you live in, it may be warm enough to grow pretty much anything all fall, including warm weather lovers basil, tarragon, and dill. But even in cooler climes, certain herbs grow well into the autumn. According to Bonnie Plants and Savvy Gardening, some of the best choices for your fall herb garden are:
Making Your Garden Grow
Once you’ve figured out location and what to grow, you can get to the actual planting part, which will start inside, regardless of where your final garden will end up. The best option is to use a seed starting potting mix, which will allow for proper draining and is lighter than garden soil, and fill up each vessel nearly to the top.
Indoor/Outdoor Herb Garden Kit, $59.95 from Amazon
Maintain an herb garden in your apartment or backyard with this all-in-one-kit.
Create a hole for your seeds, using either your hands or a small shovel. The exact depth will vary depending on the specific herb, which should be outlined on the seed packet. Cover the hole back up and return your pots to your preselected sunny area. Regularly water your plants to keep soil moist but not sopping wet. You can also opt to use a fertilizer every one to two weeks to help the plants flourish.
If you’re keeping your plants indoors, then, boom, you’re done and free to enjoy your garden as it grows!
If you plan to move your herb garden outdoors, then you’ll have to ready your outdoor garden for a transfer, about a month and a half to two months after the initial planting. If you haven’t already done so, prepare the planting bed to make sure it is free of stones, and has the adequate soil. The best is loam, which is light and has a loose structure that helps with drainage. If you don’t have adequate soil outdoors, you can improve it by adding peat moss or compost to the area.
Aromatic Herbs Collection (Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme), $65 from Bloomscape
You can also start with potted herbs and just keep them growing.
Loosen each of your existing plants from their pots to get them ready to be moved. Dig holes in your outdoor garden for each of the plants, ensuring that you leave enough room between them (some plants, like mint, require much more room) and that the spaces are deep enough for the plants to be completely in the ground. Take your loosened plants out of their pots and place them into the ground, making sure that the roots are fully in the hole. Fill the remaining hole with soil and tamp it down lightly to make sure the plant is secure. Finally, continue to water and fertilize as you did before, to keep herbs healthy.
The Herbs of Your Labor
Once your garden is in full bloom, you can use your harvest for a host of different meals. Add them to fall veggie “chicken” nuggets or anything you’re roasting; mix them into easy beer bread batter or into compound butter for brushing onto sliders, baked potatoes, and meat; and sprinkle them into salads and on top of soups.
See our 21 Ways to Use Fresh Herbs Before They Go Bad guide, or read on for some specific recipes where your homegrown herbs will be front and center!
This salad is all about letting fresh ingredients (like those last precious farmer’s market tomatoes you’ve been eyeing) shine. Not to mention, you’ll get some use out of the basil and parsley you’ve grown yourself. Get our Herbed Heirloom Tomato Salad recipe.
Related Reading: The Best Ways to Use the Last Summer Produce You Can Find
These delicate, crepe-like omelets are absolutely packed with fresh herbs (any combination you like), and filled with crème fraîche or sour cream, although you can use whatever other fillings you want, like cheese and ham, or cooked vegetables. Get our Fresh Herb Omelets recipe.
If your parsley plant is getting out of control, snip off a whole one and half cups for this terrific tofu recipe; it’s crusted in herbs, garlic, and pistachios, roasted with sweet tomatoes and onions, and topped with a vibrant red chimichurri sauce (you can use fresh oregano in it if you’re growing that too). Get this Pistachio-Crusted Tofu with Red Chimichurri recipe.
Looking for an even healthier version of store-bought hummus? This veggie-centric recipe is the perfect centerpiece for a drool-worthy snack platter, but if you’re fresh out of fresh basil, swap in another herb (just not super strong ones like rosemary or sage, since a little goes a long way; you can add those in smaller quantities). Get our Spinach and Basil Hummus recipe.
Losing track of your thyme? Six tablespoons go into the rub for these hearty braised short ribs. If you can’t find bison, it’s just as good with your standard beef short ribs too. Get our Thyme-Rubbed Bison Short Rib recipe. (And serve it with a salad dressed in our Fresh Thyme Vinaigrette recipe.)
Fresh oregano and cilantro give this spicy, herby Peruvian sauce its verdant character, but there’s a lot more going on in the flavor department too. You can (and should) put this on everything: fish, chicken, steak, roasted veggies… Get the Peruvian Aji Verde recipe.
If you thought all recipes featuring herbs were savory, think again. These homemade cookies will satisfy your sweet tooth and make you never want to reach for a box mix again. Get the Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe.
Herb, citrus, and seafood form a holy trinity for this delicious pasta dish. Even better? This meal will be ready in less time than it takes you to watch your favorite network comedy. Get our Fast Lemon Parsley Shrimp Pasta recipe here.
Say buh-bye to dry, sad chicken! This meal takes poultry from “meh” to “wow” with the help of rosemary, soy sauce, and white vermouth. Get our Roasted Rosemary and Lemon Chicken recipe here.
Slender green chives are often used as a mere garnish, but these biscuits fold a full 1/4 cup into the batter. Serve with stew, roast meat, or as the base of a Benedict. Get our Lemon Chive Biscuit recipe.
This is a simple meal that sings with flavor; the potato gnocchi are easy to make, and only need some fresh sage sizzled in butter and a sprinkle of parmesan to make a comforting fall meal. Get our Potato Gnocchi with Sage Butter recipe.
Yet another way to use your fresh sage besides rubbed on your Thanksgiving turkey: Chop some up and fold it into the pumpkin filling for these easy popovers with chorizo. They’re a perfect snack, starter, or side dish for an autumn meal, and they use crescent roll dough so they come together in a flash. Get the Pumpkin Poppers recipe.
Few things go together better than basil and pasta. For a unique spin, sample this take on spaghetti which boasts a creamy pesto, thanks to the added avocado. Get the Creamy Avocado Basil Pesto Spaghetti recipe.
Related Video: How to Use Herbs in Cocktails
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