Spring is here! I know you all are itching to get back out in the garden just like me so I wanted to round up a list of the best herbs to grow (my personal favorites!) in case you are starting seeds or shopping for starts soon – many of the varieties I list can be planted out before the last frost because they are semi cold-hardy! If you are getting started with your spring garden, these are some great herbs to get started with.
Why Grow Herbs in Your Garden
I feel like herbs are the most understated ingredient in the garden. They really do make a dish sing, and can assist with the health of your other plants. How? When you plant them as companions in your garden, they act as a great pest control, by inviting in a habitat for beneficial insects and deterring the pesky ones. A bonus—they also help nourish the soil and of course can be used in cooking and as gorgeous fillers in bouquets!
Best Herbs to Grow in Your Garden
Here are my favorite Spring herbs to grow, how to tend them, where I like to place them and some ideas for companions and recipes!
Basil is a sun and heat worshipper so I usually plant mine outside 2 weeks after our last frost date. Check your Hardiness Zone here if you don’t know your last frost date yet! Mine is May 15 for zone 6a in New York.
Basil is a branching plant that LOVES to be harvested. Get out and cut your basil as often as possible, the more you cut, the more you encourage growth. Just make sure you’re leaving 2-4 leaf sets on the plant so it can continue to photosynthesize and grow. Letting your basil go to flower is beautiful to look at, and pollinators can never get enough, however, growth will slow, and the sweet basil flavor will become more bitter once it produces seed.
Basil is a great companion for tomatoes, and a great compliment to tomato-based dishes and pastas. Think Caprese salad and everyone’s favorite, pesto. It’s a win-win!
Great Companions/Plant Near: Tomatoes, root vegetables, marigolds, parsley, oregano, borage, chives
Chives are super easy to grow from seed! They like full sun, can be planted when it’s cool and are a great companion to strawberries and any brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage). Clip them often to use in salads and as green garnishes. I love to top hummus with a sprinkling of chives and even use the pink flower top! Because of their strong smell, chives are also a pest deterrent. What’s not to love?
Great Companions/Plant Near: Beets, carrots, tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes, rhubarb, kohlrabi, parsley, basil, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, mustard and peppers
There are many varieties of dill, and the variety, Dill Bouquet is super popular at nurseries. However, I’ve planted Fernleaf which the swallowtail butterflies really love. Also, consider placing dill close to parsley, another herb swallowtail caterpillars love to munch. Yes, I know, purposely attracting caterpillars to my garden!? Supporting beneficial pollinators is really important to me and believe me, the Swallowtail butterflies that emerge are totally worth it. My secret: plant extra so both you and the caterpillars can feast on dill!
Dill is yummy with salmon and adds extra zip to your spanakopita; don’t forget to add some fresh dill to when pickling your cucumbers!
Great Companions/Plant Near: Asparagus, corn, cucumbers, onion, lettuce, brassica family veggies, nasturtium, borage, marigolds
Oh the ways I love lavender! This is one of the best herbs to grow for many reasons. Its heady perfume and deep violet flowers make it an ideal plant to add to your garden. Besides attracting bees and hummingbirds, this mint family favorite is also a deterrent for those pests you do not want around like flies, fleas, and mosquitos! Lavender will hold up well in the heat and requires less water than other herbs, it also loves its soil on the sandier side.
There are so many uses for lavender, so I’ll give you just a few ideas. Dry the blooms for tea, sachets, or your favorite eye pillow. Decorate a cake, bake muffins or macaroons, make homemade lavender lemonade, sprinkle some purple buds on ice cream, and create a fragrant floral bouquet for your favorite room. It’s easy to grow, has amazing-smelling leaves and flowers, and adds so much to any garden!
Great Companions/Plant Near: Echinacea, sage, artemisia, thyme, or ornamental grasses
5. Lemon Balm (Melissa)
Related to mint, this plant can get crazy and take over. Consider planting it in a container. It will survive some cold of late winter/early spring and is fantastic as a calming tea. The scent is so divine, that you might find me with my face in a cluster, inhaling the pungent lemon fragrance.
Great Companions/Plant Near: Dill, basil, squash, broccoli, cabbage family, cauliflower, hollyhocks, melons, angelica, nasturtiums, squash, tomatoes
Watch out for this guy, or he will take over if planted in the ground. Seriously, you’ve been warned! Once it roots and takes off in the ground, there’s no getting rid of it. Consider planting mint in a container. She’s thirsty so frequent watering will make her happy. Mint is a great kitchen staple and comes in hundreds of different yummy varieties (hello pineapple, orange and chocolate) and it is also one of the most effective natural pest deterrents. Mojitos anyone?
Great Companions/Plant Near: Oregano, marigolds, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, peas, beans, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, lettuce
Ah, my love for nasturtium runs deep. Spicy flowers with mild leaves, a beautiful addition to the garden and any salad dish. She will self-seed and likes full sun in the cool weather, but shade in warmer climates. Nasturtium is also an aphid attractor which makes her one of the most functional companions to any garden —the aphids will go for nasturtium instead of your beloved veggies.
Great Companions/Plant Near: beans, broccoli, cabbage, cucumber, kale, melon, pumpkin, broccoli, cauliflower, radish
Oregano likes full sun, but needs less water than most herbs. Also, the more sun it gets, the stronger the flavor! Mine was tucked under some tomatoes for a while and did fine, but didn’t thrive. Once I pulled out the tomatoes, she was much happier. Oregano is one of the more cold-hardy herbs so can be planted out before your last frost. I use oregano in marinades, in tomato sauces, on grilled veggies. It goes so well with so many dishes, just use a light hand!
Great Companions/Plant Near: peppers, eggplant, squash, beans, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and turnips, strawberries
Parsley thrives with lots of sun and water and this guy is a great companion for tomatoes (click here for tips for growing tomatoes), peppers, and peas. Parsley is biennial which means she will grow for a season and a half before she peters out, she’s also another cold-hardy herb to plant for early spring!
Remember how I said the swallowtail caterpillars love to munch on dill? Well, add parsley to the list. Plant an abundance and use it with almost anything. To prevent it from going to seed, harvest frequently.
I love the whole leaves in salad to add that little bit of taste to counterbalance lettuce’s neutrality, they also make the perfect garnish to elevate both the taste and appearance of any home cooked meal. Please don’t forget about the parsley’s flavorful stems! Add them to stocks to create tasty soups or pasta sauces.
Great Companions/Plant Near: Asparagus, tomatoes, chives, carrots, corn, peppers, onions, peas. Do not plant near alliums or lettuce.
Rosemary can live as a perennial in zones 7 and above, and in these zones, it turns into a giant shrub that gets quite woody. Harvest whole sprigs for drying or fresh use in your dishes. Bees love rosemary and for me, it does well in a little bit of shade and not too much water. I love to cut large sticks of rosemary and use them as skewers for a BBQ. Another favorite—rosemary with roasted potatoes and chopped up with grilled veggies. I am getting hungry!
Great Companions/Plant Near: Lavender, marigolds, sage, thyme, oregano, strawberries, chives, anything in the Brassica family. Do not plant near mint, basil, pumpkins, cucumbers, tomatoes.
Plant sage in soil that drains well, she is unhappy sitting in water. Also, it likes warmth— think 60 – 70 degrees, so this is a late spring addition. Once nestled in its spot, it will grow like crazy so be prepared to harvest and dry or use it often. You’re in for a treat if you let sage go to flower – hummingbirds adore the trumpet-shaped blooms and they also make a great filler in your cut flower garden bouquets.
The soft, fuzzy leaves can be used in more than just stuffing! Fry them in a little olive oil or butter to use as a pasta garnish or flavor enhancer. Fresh is so much better than what you can buy in the supermarket!
Great Companions/Plant Near: Rosemary, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage (it’s said to repel cabbage moths)
The last best herb to grow in your garden is thyme. Thyme likes the heat and full sun as well. In my garden, she is a perennial so I leave her year-round in the sunniest bed we have. It goes dormant in the winter and grows again each spring—nothing like a perennial herb garden! Don’t be afraid to cut back old growth as thyme can easily expand and want to take over.
There are so many fun varieties of this herb to grow that you might consider like lemon thyme, a favorite for salads, or silver thyme which has bright, variegated leaves with a white-edge green coloration. Growing to 12” tall, this beauty has pink flowers and can be used in any recipe that calls for thyme, but don’t forget to add it to both your beds and containers for intriguing texture and color play.
Great Companions/Plant Near: Rosemary, oregano, sage, lavender (they all prefer drier soil)
Where to Buy Herb Seeds
Seed Buying Recommendations:
Where to Buy Local Herb Starts:
I used to think that all herbs were created equal, but they certainly have nuances. They make a fantastic addition to any garden for aesthetics, for pollinators, for pest control and, they jazz up any kitchen garden recipe. If you see some herbs on this list of the best herbs to grow that you haven’t planted before, give them a try! Herbs add beauty to your garden and are good for you! Happy spring and happy planting!
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