Ask Evan: Help! My Herb Garden is Dying! What am I Doing Wrong?

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Every week I answer a question from a Good Food listener. You can email me a question to, leave one on Facebook or add one in the comments section here. This week’s came from Callie:

I have a patio for the first time in a long time so I attempted to grow a balcony herb garden. My parsley and rosemary are thriving, but my Mint, Sage, Thyme, and Basil are just barely living. I want to start over with those four plants but I am wondering when I should do it because of winter and such. Also, any advice for making those plants live? I know the Mint is having a hard time because I planted it in too small of a pot, the others I’m not sure what happened!

Parsley, rosemary, mint, sage, thyme, basil.  A great list of herbs that each have particular growing requirements.
First rule is not to combine herbs that need more water (parsley, mint, basil) with those that like to be dry (rosemary, sage, thyme). Rosemary, sage and thyme are “woody” herbs.  They are perennials that can take a while to acclimate but once settled in, should live a very long life.  However, you have to remember that they come from a relatively dry climate and don’t like to be babied.  Don’t ever let the plants get bone dry but don’t overwater either.  Water until the excess runs out the draining holes, then wait until the soil is dry-ish. To check if it’s time to water again stick your finger into the soil up to your second knuckle. If the soil is dry at your fingertip then it’s time to water. Prune your herbs by using them.  If they start to get leggy then prune the straggly bits and hang them to dry in the kitchen.

Annuals, like parsley, and basil will have to be seeded each year.  I tend to succession plant seeds (plant a new container every 2 weeks or so) in spring so that I’ll have an abundance  as I start to use the herbs.  Mint is another animal entirely.  These more tender herbs have higher water content so need to be watered more frequently than the woody herbs. While parsley and basil have shallow roots and can be grown in fairly tight quarters, mint grows by running so it benefits from a slightly larger circumference container.  My mint comes back after the frost of colder weather.