Ready to plant your tea herbs? This page will guide you through everything you need to know to give your 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!
Don't worry if your gardening skills are a little rusty, or if you have no gardening experience at all. That's okay!
Some of the tastiest tea herbs thrive on what my Nana (my gardening guru) called "benign neglect". So you're not likely to kill them - unless you really try. ;-)
Am I suggesting that you stick your plants in the dirt, then leave them to their own devices? No. Just assuring you that growing your own herbal tea doesn't require a ton of time or an abundance of gardening know-how!
Do you live in a warm-weather region of the world? You're lucky! You can start your herb garden virtually any time of year.
For those of us who live in cold-weather climates, though, we have to wait until spring has set in for sure. (Those mid-April blizzards and ice storms can wreak havoc on a newly planted garden. Guess how I know!)
When is the right time to plant? When the ground is warm and dry and you're 99.9% sure there's no more ugly winter weather on the way.
Okay, that's a little vague, I know. So let's look at the specifics ...
If the soil is too cold when you plant - at best, your herbs won't grow very well. At worst, they'll die before they have a chance to take root.
The Right Temperature for Planting
Wait until the soil reaches at least 60° F (16° C) before planting heat-loving herbs like Lemon Verbena and Stevia. Warmer is better.
Mints, Bee Balm and other cold-tolerant herbs will be okay in soil that's 50° F (10° C) or warmer.
Sowing seeds in your garden? They're not likely to germinate until the ground temperature is 65°-70° F (18°-21° C) for 10 to 14 straight days.
How to Measure Your Soil Temperature
Sure, you can reach down and feel the soil. Or ... you can get an accurate reading with a soil thermometer.
I prefer to use a digital thermometer (as you saw in the photo above). But there's no need to go that techy if you don't want to. This simple thermometer is inexpensive and will do the trick, too:
Just stick the probe into your garden soil and measure the temperature below ground level - at least 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) deep. That's where your herbs' roots will be, so it must be warm enough down there to keep the roots from catching a chill.
Digging in soil that's too wet will ruin your soil's natural structure and turn your garden into a soggy mess. It gets even worse when your soil dries into hard clumps of gritty dirt.
How to Test the Moisture in Your Soil
How do you gauge whether your garden soil is too wet for planting? 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.
When the soil forms a loose ball that crumbles apart easily, it's just right!
There's one last thing to test before you begin working in your garden:
How does your soil drain?
Too-fast drainage allows water and nutrients to slip right through your herbs' roots before they can soak in what they need. Not good.
Too-slow drainage leaves the roots sitting in water, and root rot can set in. Also not good.
How to Test Soil Drainage
Once your garden soil is warm and dry enough to be worked:
10 to 15 minutes? That's what we gardeners - and our herbs - hope for!
As with everything else about growing an herb garden, there's really no magic to the planting part. Just keep a few basics in mind:
Make sure to set nursery-grown herbs (a/k/a "starter plants") in their new home at the same depth as they were in their original pot.
When starting your herbs from seed, be careful not to bury the seeds too deeply in the dirt. Herb seeds (most varieties, at least) need sunlight for germination. Simply scatter the seeds over the surface of your soil, then tamp them down gently 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 will keep weeds at bay, maintain an even soil temperature, and hold moisture in the soil.
Best 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:
When to Water
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 to 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 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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