The 9 Biggest Herb Gardening Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

Having fresh herbs on hand certainly makes home cooking more fun for me. However, those early herb gardening attempts exposed many pitfalls I hadn’t anticipated – wilted plants, over-pruned stumps that never recovered, and more. But gradually the lightbulbs started clicking as I corrected course. Now with the most common challenges solved through fundamental best practices instead of reactions, I want to provide tips so fellow gardeners avoid needless hiccups.

From ideal growing conditions, soil care, proper pruning, and pest prevention, to correct harvesting, let’s walk through the nine areas where I see herb gardeners frequently struggle unintentionally. My goal is to help you look forward to an abundant, thriving herb patch this season through insight rather than ever repeating my early defeats! With just a few key pointers on providing what these flavorful plants need, civilizing herbs is very doable.

A beautiful lush herb garden.

Mistake #1: Not Enough Light

The first mistake is not giving your herbs enough light. Most herbs need at least six hours of sunlight per day, so if you’re growing them indoors, make sure to put them near a south-facing window.

However, some herbs, such as mint and cilantro, don’t need as much light. If you’re uncertain about the light requirements for specific herbs like mint and cilantro, consulting a gardening expert or conducting online research can provide valuable insights into their optimal growing conditions. Understanding the light preferences of your herbs ensures they receive the right amount of sunlight to thrive indoors or outdoors.

A thyme plant soaking up the sun.

Mistake #2: Not Preparing the Soil

Another big mistake is not preparing the soil correctly. The soil you use can make a big difference in how well your herbs grow. Depending on which herb you’re growing, you may need to add some organic matter to the soil. Consider mixing in compost or manure to enrich the bed before planting.

You can also test your soil to see what nutrients it lacks. This will help you know what amendments you need to add. Visit the best soil for lavender to ensure your lavender plants receive the nutrients and drainage they need for optimal growth and fragrance. Visit my post on the best soil for raised beds.

Soil, pots and a shovel.

Mistake #3: Not Watering Correctly

Overwatering is another common mistake people make when herb gardening. Herbs prefer moist but not soggy soil, so water them regularly, but be sure to allow the soil to dry out somewhat between waterings.

Over or under-watering can lead to problems such as root rot or yellow, wilted leaves—plan to water your herbs about once a week or whenever the soil feels dry several inches down. Check out How much water do mint plants need and How often do I water indoor lavender for tailored guidance on caring for these commonly grown herbs.

Watering a lavender plant with a watering can.

Mistake #4: Not Fertilizing

Fertilizing is essential to herb gardening, but it’s also easy to overdo it. Too much fertilizer can do more harm than good since it can burn the roots of your plants.

Use a fertilizer designed explicitly for herbs, and follow the directions on the package. You should only need to fertilize every few weeks or so, or you can use a light fertilizer such as compost tea to give your plants a boost.

Tip: Try Banana peel water for your Basil! They love it!

A top view of a bed of herb plants.

Mistake #5: Not Pruning Properly

Pruning is essential for keeping your herbs healthy and can help them produce more leaves or flowers, but it’s important to do it correctly. You should prune back about one-third of the plant each time. This will encourage new growth and prevent the plant from getting too leggy. Trust me, last year I neglected to prune my dill and it went to flower and stopped producing its feathery leaves.

Too long or too short of cuts can damage the plant, so be sure to use sharp pruning shears and make clean cuts.

Dill flowers in the sun.

Mistake #6: Not Deadheading

Deadheading is the process of removing spent flowers from your plants. This helps them focus their energy on producing new growth and promoting more blooming.

You should deadhead your herbs regularly, especially if you’re growing them for their flowers. Simply snip off the faded flowers at the base of the plant and throw them away.

A handful of pruned herbs.

Mistake #7: Not Controlling Pests and Diseases

Pests and diseases can be a big problem in herb gardens, but there are ways to control them. The best way to prevent pests and diseases is to start with healthy plants and keep your garden clean.

Remove any dead or dying leaves or stems as soon as you see them, and don’t let weeds grow. You can also use organic pest control methods such as companion planting or traps.

If you have a problem with pests or diseases, identify the issue before treating it. Many herbicides will kill beneficial insects like ladybugs, so it’s important to know what you’re dealing with.

Mistake #8: Not Thinning Out Your Plants

When your herb plants start to crowd each other, it can stunt their growth and make it difficult for them to get the nutrients they need. Thin out your plants every few weeks or so, and transplant the extras into another pot or garden bed.

You can also use herb plants as “sacrificial lambs” to protect your other plants from pests. Simply plant them around the perimeter of your garden, and the pests will go for the herbs instead of your vegetables or flowers.

Crowded herbs in garden.

Mistake #9: Not Harvesting Regularly and Properly

Harvesting is one of the most enjoyable parts of herb gardening, but it’s important to do it correctly. Harvesting your herbs properly is vital if you want to use them fresh or dry them for later use. The best time to harvest most herbs is in the morning after the dew evaporates but before the sun gets too hot.

Cut the stems just above a set of leaves, and use sharp pruning shears, so you don’t damage the plant. You can also use a knife if necessary, but be careful not to cut yourself.

Drying your herbs is a great way to preserve them for later use, and it’s pretty easy. You can air-dry them by tying the stems and hanging them upside down in a cool, dark place. You can also dry them in the oven on a low setting or in a dehydrator. Once they’re dry, store them in an airtight container away from sunlight.

hand harvesting dill.

The Bottom Line

When first diving into herbs, accidental missteps happen easily. But with insight into proper lighting conditions, soil needs, watering frequency, pruning technique, pest prevention, and careful harvesting, your patch can transform quickly from a struggle to bountiful.

Simply avoiding oversights like faded plants begging for appropriate sunny spots or brittle yellow specimens showing underwatering symptoms will make a remarkable difference. Similarly, learning ideal pruning promotion methods compared to haphazard hacking clears up the chaos. Just a little care pays you back tenfold in thriving, gratifying growth!

Soon that first flawless harvest, vivid green landscape, and lack of wilted casualties will have made the learning worth it many times over. Then not only will you reap herbs galore for kitchen endeavors but also the pride of overcoming rookie mistakes. So embrace the problem-solving, gather gardening know-how through resources like this around every herb’s needs, adapt as you observe…then get ready to truly enjoy cultivating your own fresh flavor!

Happy gardening!

My signature. A drawing of me sitting with a cup of coffee and a rosemary topiary next to me.

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