10 Essential Plants and Herbs to Grow in Your Garden

Herbs add flavor to soups, sauces, salads, omelets and pizza. Plus, many herbs have medicinal uses.

Cilantro and parsley love cool weather and can be sown directly in the garden in early spring. They grow quickly and self-seed, making them easy to keep fresh.

Sage is a hardy perennial in mild climates. Choose a variety like purple or variegated pineapple sage for added color to the herb garden.

1. Rosemary

Rosemary is a classic Mediterranean herb that adds flavor to recipes, aroma to spa and beauty products, and health-boosting nutrients. This evergreen plant also makes a good companion for vegetables. Its scent deters cabbage moths and other pests, so plant it near brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, turnips, and kohlrabi).

In the garden, rosemary grows best in well-drained soil that’s lightly fertilized. If planting in raised beds, mix 3 inches of Miracle-Gro(r) Garden Soil for Vegetables & Herbs into the top 6 to 8 inches of the bed. In containers, use a 1:1 mixture of garden soil and potting mix.

Rosemary is a perennial herb that’s evergreen in zones 7 and warmer, making it an excellent choice for a fragrant border or hedge. It’s also tolerant of salt spray, so it’s an excellent choice for coastal gardens.

2. Thyme

As a culinary herb, thyme is widely used in soups, stews and casseroles. It’s also a great plant to grow in your vegetable garden since it helps deter nematodes and other harmful insects.

Unlike most other herbs, thyme isn’t a heavy feeder and can be quite drought-tolerant once established. However, it is important to keep thyme watered when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Overwatering can lead to root rot.

Many varieties of thyme produce fragrant flowers that range from white to pink and lavender. These little blooms are a magnet for bees and other pollinators. Interplant flowering thyme with tomatoes, cabbage and other vegetables to help deter pests and encourage pollination.

3. Sage

According to this article from Horl, sage is an essential herb for gardeners because it is easy to grow and can attract pollinators while repelling many common pests. It also is a beautiful ornamental plant and looks attractive when planted among flowering plants and perennials in the garden.

Seeds germinate slowly, so consider starting the seeds indoors in late winter or early spring. Plant them 1/8 inch deep in moist soil or a quality seed-starting mix. Keep the mixture consistently moist but not waterlogged until germination occurs, which can take up to six weeks.

Perennial sage can also be propagated from cuttings. Cut three-inch pieces from the tips of stems and root them in vermiculite or sand. Harvest sage leaves as needed during the growing season. They’ll have the best flavor if harvested before the plant flowers, and can be dried for use throughout the year.

4. Dill

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is both a herb and a spice, and its leafy greens are light and bracing when added to soup and salads. It goes well with root vegetables like carrots and fennel; summer vegetables like cucumbers, corn, and zucchini; and rich creamy bases such as mayonnaise and sour cream.

It’s easy to find fresh dill in bunches in the produce or herb aisle at the grocery store, though it tends to wilt fairly quickly. Look for bunches with fresh-looking stems.

Dried dill weed and dill seed are also available in the spice section, and both can be used to flavor foods. If you can’t find fresh dill, tarragon, which has a similar licorice flavor, or parsley should work in a pinch. Neither has the same zing as dill, but they are still delicious in Mediterranean dishes like fish dressed with lemon and olive oil or spinach wrapped in flaky phyllo dough.

5. Basil

Basil is a favorite among gardeners for its rich, savory flavor in salads and pasta dishes. There are many cultivars to choose from, including green and ruffled leaves as well as purple, red, or variegated varieties.

Basil attracts the Praying Mantis insect, a predator that eats many of the pests that can destroy herbs. Growing this herb along with other perennial (plants that return year after year) and annual (flowering and producing seed in one season) herbs in the garden helps to create a balanced ecosystem that keeps everything healthy.

Basil grows well in containers, too. Like most herbs, it enjoys full sun and fertile soil. If you prefer to grow it with dill, cilantro, or parsley, be sure to group them together in containers because they have similar water and temperature needs. To propagate basil from leaf cuttings, simply cut a stem right above two new leaves, place the stem in an inch of clean, filtered water and watch it grow.

6. Oregano

Oregano is one of the most popular herbs in cooking and is a staple at pizzerias. This flavor powerhouse thrives in drier conditions than most other culinary herbs and is easy to grow in the garden or in containers.

Origanum syriacum, or wild oregano, is an extremely vigorous perennial herb that is hardy in warm regions and can be grown as a hardy annual in cooler areas. It produces spiky clusters of white or pink flowers that attract bees and butterflies.

Oregano is a Mediterranean plant and needs full sun and well-draining soil. Water oregano deeply but rarely — letting the soil remain wet for too long will reduce the herb’s health and vigor. This is especially important during the hottest parts of summer, when oregano may begin to produce purplish flower spikes that are ready to go to seed and stop producing leaves.

7. Marjoram

The sweeter cousin to oregano, marjoram is a staple of the Herbes de Provence mix and other savory herb blends. It is an easy-to-grow culinary herb that pairs well with parsley, thyme, and bay for soups and stews.

Like other sun-loving herbs, marjoram performs best with regular watering. It will also benefit from amending the native soil with a few inches of aged compost or rich organic matter prior to planting seeds, seedlings, or cuttings.

This herb is usually treated as an annual in cold winter areas but does overwinter well in containers. When allowed to flower, it produces pretty purple or pink blooms that attract honeybees, bumblebees, and other pollinators. Keep an eye out for powdery mildew, a fungal disease that can affect marjoram in hot and humid conditions. Prune off infected foliage to control the disease and avoid spore spread.

8. Mint

For the longest growing season, sow herb seeds indoors up to 45 days before your region’s last frost date. Some herbs are annuals, some are biennials and a few are perennials.

Herbs in the mint family, also called the Lamiaceae family, grow best with cooler weather and less moisture in the soil. Members of this family include dill, cilantro and parsley, as well as anise hyssop, lemon balm and summer and winter savory.

While technically a perennial, lavender won’t thrive outdoors year-round in climates below Zone 9. Grow it in a container that can be brought inside during the winter to keep it alive and productive. Lemon verbena grows well in most soils, but a light compost application and proper drainage are important. The soil should have a pH between 6.5 and 7.0, so a soil test is recommended (WVU’s free soil testing service). Add organic matter if needed to improve clay soils.

9. French Tarragon

This is a herb that chefs value, especially for its unique flavor. It is essential for bearnaise and other sauces, and it gives green goddess dressing its distinctive color and flavor. Like other culinary herbs, it is easy to grow in the garden under certain manageable conditions. Plant in a sunny, sheltered spot with rich, well-drained soil, and add horticultural grit to improve drainage. French tarragon can be difficult to propagate because it doesn’t reliably set seed.

It may need to be divided every 3-4 years. During the winter, protect plants with a cloche or frost cloth. Harvest tarragon leaves regularly to promote bushier growth and more leafy harvests. Dried tarragon leaves lose flavor, so it is best to use fresh. To propagate plants from cuttings, cut stems just below a node and dip them into rooting hormone in warm, moist potting soil.

10. Parsley

Parsley (Petrosilenum crispum) is an easy-to-grow, flavorful herb that adds depth to cooking. It is rich in vitamins C and A, iron, calcium, folic acid, potassium, and antioxidants. It is also said to freshen breath and cleanse the skin. It is a biennial that spends the first year growing leaves and then flowers and sets seed in its second year. Because of this, most gardeners treat it as an annual herb and sow seeds each spring.

It likes a loose, well-draining potting mix formulated for herbs and thrives in nutrient-rich soils. A layer of organic mulch helps conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Parsley plants are prone to fungal diseases such as septoria leaf spot, blights, and powdery mildew, so good air circulation is important, especially when growing them indoors. It is also a host plant for black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.