Ready to grow your own tea? This page will guide you through everything you need to know to give your new herbal tea garden a healthy start and keep it thriving through the growing season!
Note: A little pre-planning is key to success!
If you haven't thought about the best place to plant your herbs, which herbs will grow best in your area, how many plants or seeds to buy, etc. ... click on over to my Herb Garden Planning page. Then use the link at the bottom of that page to come right back here when you're ready!
Who doesn't love those first warm, sunny days of spring?!
After a long, cold winter, we all have the urge to head outside and start puttering in the yard. It's the perfect time to start your new herb garden, right? Maybe, maybe not.
Before you go digging and planting, there are a few things to think about:
When your soil's moisture, temperature and drainage are just right, then it's time to start your herbal tea garden!
Over-working soggy soil tends to break down the soil's structure. As it dries, the soil's natural air pockets compress, leaving hard clumps of dirt that air, nutrients and beneficial insects can't penetrate. In short: working too-wet soil creates a mess!
So, no matter how ready you are to start raking and weeding and digging and planting ... make sure your soil is ready, too!
Grab a handful of soil. Squeeze it. Then open your hand.
If your wad of soil is all gloppy and sticks together when you poke it with your finger, it's too wet to work with. Give your garden some time to dry out a bit. Then test again in a few days.
When the soil forms a loose ball that crumbles apart easily, it's ready to be worked!
Remember, your plant's roots will live 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) below the surface. So it should be warm enough down there to keep the roots from catching a chill.
How warm is "warm enough"? At least 60° F (16° C) is good. Warmer is better.
How to Measure Your Soil Temperature
I like to use a digital thermometer, as you saw in the photo above. But there's no need to go that tech-y if you don't want to.
This simple thermometer is inexpensive and will do the trick. Just stick the probe deep into the soil, and give it about 10 seconds to accurately register the temperature.
Herbs prefer soil that drains well.
Too-fast drainage allows water and nutrients to slip right through a plant's roots before they can soak in what they need. Not good.
Too-slow drainage leaves the plant sitting in water, and rot can set in. Also not good.
How to Test Soil Drainage
Grab a shovel, a timing device, and your watering hose. Then head out to your garden.
10 to 15 minutes? That's what we gardeners - and our herbs - hope for!
First things first. Should you grow your herbs from seeds or start with nursery-grown "starter" plants?
With only one exception (German chamomile), I recommend starting with nursery-grown plants instead of seeds.
German chamomile seeds germinate quickly and grow prolifically. One packet of seeds will give you more chamomile than you can imagine.
Other herbs are more of a challenge to start from seed because their germination rate is poor (I'm looking at you, stevia!). Or the seeds might not grow "true" to flavor (I'm looking at you, too, mints!).
All things considered, starter plants are the way to go. They're easy to find in local garden centers and from reputable nurseries online. Perfect for us (almost) instant gratification types!
Like we humans, it takes herbs a little time to adjust to new surroundings. To avoid the risk of transplant shock, give your herbs a few days to acclimate to the environment.
Leave them in their nursery pot, in a sheltered area, out of direct sunlight and wind. If the leaves look droopy, feel the soil. Is it dry? Spritz it with a little water.
Otherwise, just leave the plant alone. In a couple days, it'll be all perked up and ready to settle into its new home.
When transplanting nursery-grown herbs, take care not to plant them too deeply. They should sit at the same soil level as they were in their nursery pot.
When starting from seeds, remember that some herb seeds need sunlight for germination. Simply scatter the seeds over the surface of your soil, then gently tamp them down to assure there's good seed/soil contact.
As soon as your herb plants and seeds are in the ground, be sure to water them in.
For seeded areas, be extra-gentle with your hose or watering can. If you blast a full stream of water on the newly seeded area, you'll dislodge the seeds. So just give them a light sprinkle and call it good.
Nursery-started plants can be watered a little more aggressively. But you still want to avoid beating your little plants up or drowning them. Use a gentle spray with just enough water to settle the soil around the plant.
After that, water as needed to keep the soil uniformly damp - usually every day or two - until your herbs are well established and growing strong in your garden.
Congrats! Your plants and seeds are in the ground. You're officially a DIY Herbal Tea gardener!
Now, let's move on to the basics of maintaining your herb garden ...
One of the biggest mistakes many first-time herbal tea gardeners make is over-fertilizing their herbs.
When herbs are over-fed, they grow big, beautiful, bland-tasting leaves. Bland ingredients are definitely not what you want for your tea!
If your soil is on the "poor" side, work a bit of organic compost into your garden soil before you plant.
Beyond that, a weekly feeding of all-natural plant food (this is what I use), mixed at half strength, should be enough to help your herbs produce lots of wonderfully flavored tea.
Sorry, there's no way around it. Even container plants can pick up a stray weed every now and then. So weeding is a must!
Your herbs shouldn't have to compete with weeds for sunlight, water, nutrition and air circulation. Plus, a nicely tended garden space looks so pretty. So keep it tidy!
I'll admit it. I'm a lazy weeder. So mulch is my friend!
A 2-3 inch (5-7.5 cm) layer of mulch keeps weeds at bay, maintains an even soil temperature, and holds moisture in the soil.
Best mulch choices are:
The biggest problem with other mulches is that you have no idea what kind of yucky stuff is in them.
Recycled wood or rubber-based mulches might contain toxic chemicals from their "prior life". Plus, rubber stinks to high heaven in the hot sun. Blechh!
Landscape fabrics do a good job of reducing the need to weed. But some fabrics do contain chemicals. And, if the fabric isn't permeable enough, it prevents water and nutrients from getting through to your plants.
So my mulching caution is: Be absolutely certain that any mulch you use is permeable, organic and 100% chemical-free. You don't want potentially toxic stuff anywhere near your tea ingredients!
As you get to know each of your herbs personally, you'll begin to recognize their "Gimme a drink!" and "Enough, already!" signals.
Until then, here's a quick guide to their moisture preferences:
These herbs can tolerate a bit less watering:
How can you tell when your plants need water? Poke your finger into the soil. If it feels dry 2 inches (5 cm) below the surface, it's time to give your plants a drink.
The best time to water your herbs is in the morning, before the sun starts beating down on your garden.
Think of it like "breakfast" for your plants. Get them off to a good start with enough nice, cool moisture to sustain them through the heat of the day.
How Much Water?
A plant's roots naturally grow toward their moisture supply.
Daily, shallow watering results in weak, shallow roots. So water less often, giving your herbs a slow, thorough soaking each time. That'll help them grow a strong, deep root system.
Want to know how to plant and care for each herb in your tea garden? Check out these growing guides for my "Top 10 Favorite Tea Herbs"!
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