Question: Instead of buying herb plants this year, I’d like to save some money and grow my own from seed. Can I start any herb from seed, or am I better off purchasing some of them as plants?
Answer: Growing many different herbs from seed is a rewarding proposition. While there are some herbs that are difficult to start from seed or require a long time to germinate and grow, most herbs are simple to grow from seed.
The easiest herb seeds to start are those of annual herb varieties. Basil, parsley, chervil, cilantro, dill, sweet marjoram, borage and chamomile are very easy to start from seed. The seeds can be started indoors under grow lights or in a very sunny window in late March or early April here in Pennsylvania.
You’ll want the transplants to be four to six weeks old before moving the plants out to the garden after the danger of frost has passed. A few of these annual herbs, such as cilantro, chervil and dill, even do quite well by directly sowing their seeds right out into the garden. You don’t even need to start them indoors. Simply wait until mid- to late May and sow seeds right into a sunny spot in the garden.
Remember, most herbs require full sun and good drainage, so keep that in mind when planting them out into the garden. Containers also work very well for herbs and can be placed just outside the kitchen door for easy harvests.
Perennial herbs, including lavender, oregano, sage, chives, tarragon, fennel, thyme and mint, are a little more complicated when it comes to growing them from seed.
These herbs require a bit of patience because their germination and growth rates are slower than annual herb varieties. However, if you’re willing to delay your harvests until the plants are large enough, growing them from seed is a nice way to save money. I suggest starting seeds of perennial herbs in January or February, if possible, so they have plenty of time to grow prior to being moved out into the garden in mid-May. That’s not to say you can’t start the seeds later, it’s just that you’ll have to delay planting the transplants outdoors until they’re a little larger.
For perennial herbs, it’s often easier to start them from cuttings or divisions, rather than from seeds. Find a neighbor or friend who grows the perennial herbs you’d like to grow and ask them if you can dig up a small division of the plant. Most perennial herbs are prolific growers and they need to be divided regularly, so finding someone with a plant that’s ready to divide shouldn’t be too difficult. Most perennial herbs can be started from a division.
Stem cuttings are another easy way to start new perennial herb plants. Again, you’ll need to find someone with an adult plant, then just follow these directions to root some of your own cuttings:
To root your own herb cutting, use a clean, sharp scissors to cut off a piece of stem containing a few leaves and the growing point. The cutting should be 1 to 2 inches long. Remove the lowest leaves and dip the bottom half-inch of stem into rooting hormone (available at most garden centers). Insert the cut end of the stem into a clean pot of new potting soil about 1 inch deep. Firm the soil around the plant stem, water and let it drain.
Place the entire potted cutting into a clear plastic bag and seal it with a twist-tie to keep the humidity high until the cutting forms roots. You probably won’t have to water very much while the plant is in the bag, but water it if necessary.
Place the plant on bright windowsill (but not in direct sunlight) or under grow lights. In 4 to 5 weeks the cutting will have roots. At that point, remove the plastic bag and let the plant continue to grow indoors for a few more weeks before transplanting it out into the garden.