Add some flavor to the coming months with this summer herb garden checklist. Image: Alexander Raths/Shutterstock

Summer is here and that doesn’t just mean more vibrancy in your weekend routine. It can also mean more vibrancy on your plate. Growing herbs is a snap in the summertime. With a little bit of planning and an afternoon in the dirt, you can create a summer herb garden that will transform your cooking (and drinking!) in the coming months. We’ve built this summer herb garden checklist to get you started.

This guide is for people who want to choose small herbs from their local nursery or home improvement store. Growing plants from seed is a more intensive process, so do your homework on getting your new garden to sprout if you choose that route.

The tools you’ll need to kick off your summer herb garden are pretty simple. Image: Westend61/Getty Images

Your summer herb garden checklist

Now, let’s get down to brass tacks. Here are the things you’ll need to bring your summer herb garden to life.

Must-haves

  • A place to plant (more on that later)
  • Herbs (more on that later, too)
  • Garden or potting soil, depending on your planting location
  • A small hand shovel
  • Pruning shears or scissors
  • A hose or watering can

Optional items

  • Gloves (they can keep you from that dreaded dirt-under-fingernail situation)
  • A small garden fork
  • Rocks for drainage
  • Compost or manure to enrich your soil

You can put your herbs directly in the ground, in planting beds or in pots. Image: Westend61/Getty Images

How to start your summer herb garden

When you’re starting your summer herb garden, there are a couple of key decisions you need to make: where you’re going to grow your garden and what you’re going to plant in it.

Location

Where do you want to plant your herbs? Generally, they’ll need about six hours of sunlight each day, so make sure you’re picking an amply sunny spot. It’s also important that the soil can drain, so steer clear of any areas where puddles hang out after it rains.

If you have space in your backyard and want to pop your herbs right in the ground, feel free! Just make sure you break up the soil before you plant them (you can do this with a garden fork or by moving the soil around with your hand shovel) and consider adding additional compost or manure to give them extra nutrients to get the strongest start.

Alternately, you can put your herbs in a planter box (you can find a DIY here) or pots. Consider layering compost or manure in the soil to give our herbs some extra goodness to help them thrive.

Pots are one of the easiest options, and they’re also one of the best. When you put your herbs in pots, you can move them around if they need more or less sun. And you could even move them indoors if you want to preserve your summer herb garden through the winter months.

If you choose pots, make sure they have drainage at the bottom. And consider layering some rock in the bottom of each pot to support drainage and ensure your herbs roots don’t end up sitting in a puddle.

Pruning and harvesting your herbs properly can keep them flavorful. Image: natalia bulatova/Shutterstock

Herbs

Not all herbs are created equal. Some, like mint and rosemary, would probably thrive even if you forgot all about them. Others require more care and more specific growing environments. We’ve rounded up a few of the easiest, best options to add to your summer herb garden.

  • Basil: Basil likes full sun and needs to be watered every two or three days. With that, it will thrive and take all your Italian dishes — and even your lemonade — to the next level. Once your basil plant is six inches tall, don’t forget to prune it. Pinch off the top leaves to encourage it to get bushy and make sure you remove any flowers when they appear.
  • Cilantro: Now that you’ve got your Italian cooking covered, add some flavor to Mexican and Asian dishes with fresh cilantro. (Bonus, it’s super healthy, too.) Cilantro likes lots of sun. Water it when its soil is dry to the touch. Once it’s six inches tall, you can start harvesting. Take the outside leaves first. Use scissors or shears so you don’t tug on the plant, causing uprooting. Again, pinch off flowers as they appear.
  • Dill: The bright flavor of dill makes it ideal for summer. Give it plenty of sun and keep the soil evenly moist. Doing this will also prevent it from going to seed and taking over its neighboring herbs. You can harvest just the leaves or the entire stem (it’s great if you’re making your own pickles). Pinch off any flowers.
  • Mint: Another lovely lemonade addition, mint is super simple to grow. It wants sun, too, and evenly moist (but not wet!) soil. If flowers appear, bet you can guess what to do with them.
  • Rosemary: Rosemary is another one that you can grow in your sleep — and add to lemonade. It’s originally from the Mediterranean, so it actually prefers some dryness. Let its soil dry between watering. Harvest it by trimming the top few inches of each sprig. Pinch off any flowers.
  • Thyme: Take a wide range of dishes up a notch with thyme. It’s a lot like rosemary in that it likes sun and dry soil, so let it dry completely before you give it more moisture. If any of its branches bloom, cut them back.

Why am I removing all these flowers?

You probably noticed that we advise that you remove flowers from all of your herbs. Are we just haters of beauty? No, but we’ve experienced first-hand how flowering can change an herb’s flavor and growth. When your plant flowers, it diverts all of its energy there. That means slower growth and less flavorful leaves. When you remove the flowers, you encourage it to keep growing and stay flavorful.

With this handy guide, you’re ready to start your own summer herb garden. And, when the weather cools, don’t worry. You can keep adding fresh flavor to your dishes by moving your herbs indoors.