My number one piece of advice for all gardeners—new and somewhat seasoned—is to go local. Gardening is specific to your climate, so it’s essential that you use local information, plant varieties and planting schedules, as opposed to, say, those otherwise-convenient little seed packets. (Here in Texas, for example, essentially all the seed-planting dates on those little seed packets are incorrect, due to our much warmer climate and year-round growing season. So, like I said: Go local.)
Start by visiting a local plant nursery. They will carry plant varieties that do well in your area, as well seasonally-appropriate plants, and also have the best all-around information for your area. Big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s are good for purchasing garden hardware like hoses, tools and mulch, but often don’t carry regional-specific plant and seed varieties, which just doesn’t set you up for success as a plant parent.
Try your hand at growing herbs and flowers before moving on to vegetables. Herbs, for one, are easy to grow and give you more bang for your buck (and your space): You can grow all the herbs you’ll ever need in a 4×6 or 4×8 garden bed (or even in pots!), and fresh herbs (usually so pricey at the grocery store) make a HUGE difference in your cooking. Vegetables, on the other hand, require much more space and much more sun to produce an amount of food that will have a significant impact on your family’s diet (i.e. multiple garden beds instead of just one) and are typically cheaper at the grocery store.
And without further ado: A few of my favorite herbs and flowers herbs to grow in a home garden right now. (For new gardeners, I suggest starting with transplants from your local gardening center; make it easy on yourself! For raised beds, garden soil amended with compost is best, and for pots/containers, any soil-less potting mix will do fine. All appreciate a bit of organic high nitrogen fertilizer before planting.)
1. Basil A warm season annual. Very easy to grow from seed or transplant. Fast grower, requires full sun and about 1-2 feet of space, depending on variety. I usually grow one Genovese basil (a typical “grocery store” basil) and one lemon basil (for Asian dishes). Be sure to keep the buds trimmed! Otherwise, the plant will put energy into making seed, rather than leafy growth, and the leaves will lose their flavor. At the end of the season (just before first frost), harvest the entire plant, make a big batch of pesto and freeze in ice cube trays to use all year long.
2. Mint A perennial. Must be kept in a pot; very aggressive spreader. Suggest 12” pot to allow for mature size. Appreciates afternoon shade in hot climates.
3. Dill A cool season annual, best planted in early spring and again in fall. Amazing culinary herb, and also a host plant for swallowtail butterflies—don’t be surprised if your plant is covered in little caterpillars during spring. I suggest growing a little extra for them. Dill gets large (mature height is 3-4 feet and 1-2 feet diameter), so best in large pots or raised beds. Best in full sun, but can tolerate partial shade.
4. Rosemary Probably my favorite culinary herb. Perennial plant with mature size about 3-5 ft tall and wide, so great for planting in the ground, but can also do fine in a large pot. Best in full sun, but can tolerate partial shade. Drought tolerant, and a great landscaping plant in dry climates.
5. Sage A perennial herb. Very easy to grow and amazingly fragrant leaves. Requires full sun/partial shade, about 1 feet spacing, grows 1-2 feet tall. Pretty flowers, as well.
6. Thyme A low-growing perennial. Sun or part shade, mature size is 6-8” tall and wide. I like growing a few different varieties, but lemon thyme is my favorite.
7. Oregano Another low-growing perennial, approximately 1 feet spacing. Appreciates afternoon shade in hot climates.
8. Chives Adorable low-growing perennial herb. Plant in full sun / partial shade, about 6-8” apart. Mature height is 12-18”.
Next up: Flowers. I love growing a few flowers mixed in with my herbs. It will put such a big smile on your face (and a few are edible, too)! Here’s what to start with.
1 – 3. Pansies, violas, and nasturtiums (cool season) All would love full sun, but can take some shade too. Pansies/violas are small plants, with a mature size about 6” wide and tall. Nasturtiums have a trailing habit, with beautiful bright flowers and lily-pad like leaves. Great for border or pots! Pansy and viola flowers are edible, as well as the flowers and leaves of nasturtiums.
4 – 6. Gazanias, zinnias, and cosmos (warm season) Not edible, but beautiful and will make you smile. These prefer full sun, but can handle some shade. Gazanias are low-growing (mature size ~10” tall and wide), whereas zinnias and cosmos are a bit taller (~1-3 feet). All are relatively care-free, and easy to grow from seed.
When in doubt, just stop by your local plant nursery and ask for guidance.
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