After returning home from HerbFest with a flat full of herbs, I needed to figure out what to do with them. (I guess most people would figure out what to do with the herbs before buying them, huh?) I had been wanting to build a patio off of our screened porch, but all those herbs gave me an even better idea–I’d put in a kitchen herb garden instead. A kitchen herb garden would get much more use than a patio–we barely even use our porch.
Of course, there’s a reason I have my veggies growing in raised beds–our soil is awful. It’s heavy red clay, so compact that it’s hard to even get a shovel in it. I spent a lot of time trying to research planting an herb garden in clay soil, but I could only find bits and pieces of information in many different places (and a lot of it was conflicting information too).
Although herbs do best in poor quality soil, that soil needs to be poor quality and well-draining. Our red clay is definitely not well-draining, so we needed to do something to amend it. First, we pulled up the sod. My husband attempted to break up the soil underneath the sod with a spade, but it was so hard that he ended up using a pick axe. Once he had finished tilling, he added a 50/50 mix of coarse sand and peat to improve drainage and mixed it with the original red clay soil. Many guides to putting in a garden instruct you to remove 18 inches of soil and replace it with topsoil, but since herb gardens thrive in poor conditions, we simply mixed coarse sand and peat with the first 6 inches of soil (which was broken up to make mixing easier). We’ll see if we regret this shortcut in the coming months!
We put in a stepping stone path and I planted my herbs after the soil was ready to go. Remember, herbs do well in poor conditions, so they shouldn’t be fertilized–don’t add any fertilizer or compost to your herb garden! When it comes to mulch, I read a lot of different recommendations–some sites say to mulch herbs, others say not to. Because mulch ultimately breaks down and provides a garden nutrients, I didn’t want to go that route. At the same time, I didn’t want a big red clay eyesore right outside our kitchen window either (you can see what the garden looked like pre-gravel in the first photo). After reading this article on Dave’s Garden, I decided that instead of mulch, I’d use pebbles. Since the majority of herbs I’m growing are Mediterranean herbs, using gravel in the garden will replicate their native environment.
Do you have a separate herb garden or do you grow your herbs with everything else? Do you have any tips for growing herbs in clay soil?