growing fresh herbs

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.

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.

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.

Once you’ve figured out location, 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. 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.

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.

Once your garden is in full bloom, you can use your harvest for a host of different meals. Read on for some recipes where your homegrown herbs will be front and center!

Herbed Heirloom Tomato Salad

herbed heirloom tomato salad

Chowhound

This salad is all about letting fresh ingredients (like those 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. Serve it at a dinner party as a light precursor to a heartier meal. Get our Herbed Heirloom Tomato Salad recipe.

Spinach and Basil Hummus

spinach basil hummus

Chowhound

Looking for an even healthier version of store-bought hummus? This veggie-centric recipe is the perfect centerpiece for a drool-worthy snack platter. Get our Spinach and Basil Hummus recipe.

Lebanese Lentil Salad with Garlic and Herbs

Lebanese herbed lentil salad

Kalyn’s Kitchen

Herbs take center stage in this vegan and gluten-free salad. Make a large batch and save leftovers for lunch the following day. Get the recipe.

Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

fresh mint chocolate chip cookies

Dessert For Two

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 recipe.

Garlic and Parsley Butter Shrimp

garlic and parsley butter shrimp

Jo Cooks

Learn to DIY your own herb butter and then use it to infuse jumbo shrimp with a ton of flavor in this recipe. Even better? This meal will be ready in less time than it takes you to watch your favorite network comedy. Get the recipe.

Grilled Rosemary and Balsamic Chicken

grilled rosemary balsamic chicken

Wholesomelicious

Say buh-bye to dry, sad chicken! This meal takes poultry from “meh” to “wow” with the help of rosemary, soy sauce, and brown sugar. Get the recipe.

Creamy Avocado Basil Pesto Spaghetti

avocado basil pesto spaghetti

Ahead of Thyme

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 recipe.

Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Kelsey Butler is a reporter and editor based in New Jersey. She has written for a number of health and lifestyle publications, including Women's Health, Brides, and NBC News Better. Hot sauce, black coffee, and bacon make up 50% of her diet.
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