Preparing Soil for Your Herb Garden

Growing your own herbs is a very fulfilling and economical project that you can undertake. Herbs enhance the flavor of your meals as well as help reduce food cost by eliminating the need to purchase your herb supply at the supermarket. A successful herb garden comes from proper preparation of the soil that you will use for planting herbs. It is not as hard as you think, whether you decide to grow your garden in containers or a large garden.

Soil composition

The best garden soil to use is loam which is made up of a mixture of sand, silt, and clay. There are several ways for you to find out what kind of soil you have in your garden:

  1. One way is to moisten a pinch of soil and rub it between the thumb and index finger. If it feels gritty, then its sandy soil. If it feels slippery, its silt soil. Clay soil feels sticky.
  2. Mold a handful of moist soil into a ball. Sandy soil will fall apart easily, clay type will not. The higher the proportion of clay in the soil, the more you can actually give the ball of soil a polish  with your fingers.
  3. You can also determine the proportion of the soil by mixing some of the soil in a clear drink bottle and then shaking it. Allow it to sit for a while and settle. The soil will settle in layers, which will allow you to determine the proportions of silt, clay and organic matter in the soil. Clay will settle on top, followed by silt and sand. The ideal garden soil is a mixture of 20 percent clay, 40 percent silt, and 40 percent sand.

Note that sandy soil warms up quickly in spring, is light, easy to manage, and does not get waterlogged as much as the other two sediments. But because it is porous (hence the reduced water retention), it also does not retain nutrients well and dries up quickly, so the plant does not have much chance to utilize nutrient and water efficiently on it. Clay soil does not conduct heat well, and is difficult to turn or dig. Water retention is high, and aerating it may be difficult in wet weather. It can also because really hard during the dry season. The plus side is that clay retains good quantities of plant nutrients.

Good garden soil should also contain about 25% humus, which is organic material such as compost, manure, peat, or prepared mixes. Organic matter within the soil will bind water with the soil and provide beneficial organisms a means to loosen the soil and distribute nutrients.

You can make your own compost. Making your own compost is a great way to save money, time and provides you with a means to dispose of grass clippings, weeds, and other garden debris. Add the compost about a couple of inches on top of the soil and turn them over, mixing them in. This is important especially is you have garden soil that has not been cultivated for plant growth. You will need to make these amendments before you begin planting.

So what does my herb need?

Herbs do not survive well in soggy conditions, so you will need to make sure that you do not use soil that is too high in clay composition. If you do have soil with high clay composition, amend it with sand and organic matter.

If you have a garden that is sandy, you will need to treat it with organic matter as sandy soil drains too well (as stated before). Excessive water drainage can also leech lime and other minerals away from sandy soil. These minerals must be replenished from time to time.

  1. Turn the organic matter several inches down into existing soil during preparation. Turn the soil as much and as deep as possible for best results.
  2. Herbs also generally prefer an alkaline over acidic soil. You should make adjustments to this by supplementing your soil when necessary.
  3. Once you\’ve determined the type of soil composition you want to use, you should now pre-determine the area in your garden that you want to plant your herbs on. If you\’ve decided to do a container herb garden, then prepare your containers to make sure that the soil will get good drainage.
  4. Clean out the soil of any weeds if you\’re gardening outdoors. For container gardens, make sure that you choose soil that will reduce the likelihood of weeds growing on it. This is so that your herbs do not need to vie with another plant for nutrients. Less weed growth also means less pesticides used, which is always a plus.
  5. Once you\’ve planted your herbs, apply a layer of mulch (but not too much around the herbs itself) as this will provide nutrients to the soil and reduce weed growth.

More Reading:

The Veggie Harvest – Garden Soil Preparation

Growing Herbs at Home:

The Herb Gardener: Soil Considerations in Your Herb Garden