Whether you’re already devoted to your houseplants or looking for an easy way in to the plant parent lifestyle, gardening is for everyone—in fact, you don’t even need a backyard. When you can easily start your own herb garden on your kitchen counter, there’s no reason not to give it a try.
The benefits, after all, are pretty substantial. “Herbs are easy to grow; they require little maintenance and are naturally pest and disease resistant,” says Alex Bates, cofounder and creative director of Bloomist. “Throughout history they have been valued in the garden for their culinary and healing properties, as well as for being ornamental.”
Herb gardens are beginner friendly, but granted, if every new plant you pick up from the nursery fills you with the paralyzing fear that you might accidentally kill it a few days later, some helpful tips will give you the confidence you need. Not only are these five herbs practically fail-proof—they’ll also make your meals (and the occasional cocktail) even tastier. Here’s how to help them thrive, whether you’re gardening outdoors or in.
You add basil to just about everything—pesto sauce, salads, and roasted chicken—so it’s a smart idea to have a big batch of it at your disposal. Basil is pretty easy to grow in your backyard and inside. It does best in the summer, so you should place it in a location that receives six to eight hours of direct sunlight. Place your seeds about a foot apart and plant them a quarter of an inch below the surface. While the soil is supposed to be moist, it shouldn’t be drenched in water. If you want to grow basil indoors, opt for a container that promotes water drainage.
Most people think of basil as a delicious ingredient, but this herb also boasts pretty flowers. However, if you’re using basil for taste and not just aesthetics, Bates recommends continually pinching the center flowers back to improve the plant’s taste. “Basil, especially African basil, is a beautiful flower addition to the garden if allowed to bloom and go to seed,” she says. “If you have the space, plant some for eating and some for blooming. Bees are particularly attracted to the purple flowers of African basil and can help pollinate your vegetable garden.”
Mint is one of the best herbs for gardening beginners. Not only is it super-easy to grow, but it also grows quickly. The most important thing to know is that, unless you create a physical barrier, this herb will keep growing. Mint has a reputation of being a little intrusive, so it’s a good idea to create a wall or plant this herb in a container—even when planting outside.
“To control mint’s spread, plant it in a terracotta pot and bury it just below the surface so the roots are contained,” Bates recommends. “Turn the pot regularly to prevent the roots from sneaking out through the drainage hole.” Place your seeds in an area with partial sun, and don’t forget to keep your soil moist! Like basil, mint needs a good drainage system. If you’re planting in a flower bed, add some mulch to help retain moisture.
Chervil (French Parsley)
No outdoor space or sun-drenched rooms? No problem. Chervil, also known as French parsley, is a great herb to grow inside. Unlike most options, which need plenty of sunlight to thrive, chervil can adapt to low-light environments and it prefers cooler temperatures.
“Chervil is best to grow in cool weather, as it tends to bolt in the heat, but you can plant a second crop in late August because of its short growing season,” Bates says. “If you bring it indoors, keep it in a cool place under lights or somewhere with approximately four hours of sunlight.”
Fortunately, caring for chervil is pretty easy, too. Simply dust a thin layer of soil over the seeds, and be sure to keep the dirt moist, not soggy. This herb can grow pretty tall (think: up to 24 inches), so you’ll want to trim the top.
If you’re looking for an herb that’s even more low maintenance, give thyme a try. It can withstand virtually anything, from drought to being stepped on. Thyme thrives in plenty of sunlight, heat, and little water, so this is perfect if you want to grow something this summer but have planned a handful of weekend getaways. “It’s a low-growing, aromatic herb, covered with fragrant leaves and flowers,” notes Bates. “Thyme prefers a slightly alkaline soil, sun, and some shade. Plus, it can survive on very little water.”
After you’ve planted thyme, you only need to give it a thorough watering when the soil is completely dry. And unlike other herbs, which might need some fertilizer or mulch, thyme doesn’t need any special soil treatment.
Similar to thyme, sage is a drought-resistant plant, which means it does just fine in the heat. You might be a little concerned if you see your sage plant has wilted, but don’t worry: A little bit of water will be just what the doctor ordered. And if your outdoor space is full of bugs and critters, you’ll be pleased to know sage is relatively pest-resistant.
Plus, you’ll find plenty of use for it in the kitchen. “Sage is best when used fresh for cooking,” says Bates. “But to dry and store for later use, you can wrap a few leaves and hang them upside down in a dark, cool area for a week or so.”