Real men get their hands dirty. Not only will growing your own herbs save you a couple bucks, but there’s also a lot of research highlighting the stress-lowering, mood-improving benefits of gardening. And while the evidence is only anecdotal, one look at your green thumb will convince a lot of women you’re boyfriend/marriage/one-nighter material.
More good news: It requires very little time and money to establish and cultivate a tasty herb garden. A quick hardware-store run, 10 minutes of work, and a few weeks of watering is pretty much the extent of your duties.
START WITH SEEDLINGS
Growing herbs from seeds can be tricky. You have to worry about proper sowing and spacing, and those little guys are touchier before they take root. On the other hand, seedlings—toddler versions of grownup plants—are hardier and come pre-packed in soil, ready to be potted. Basil, dwarf varieties of dill, and upright rosemary are all easy herbs for greenhorns, says Leanne Lindsay, a master gardener, arborist, and owner of Michigan-based Curb Appeal Landscape Design.
NOT ANY DIRT WILL DO
Lindsay suggests buying a potting soil that includes vermiculite, a mineral substance that holds moisture and so helps your plants stay hydrated. She also recommends mixing in a little 12-12-12 fertilizer. Those numbers refer to the fertilizer’s nitrogen, phosphorous, and sodium ratios. Your herbs need those nutrients to grow big and strong (and tasty). Opt for clay pots with saucers, which are cheap and super porous, so your plants can breathe.
WATER FREQUENTLY—BUT DON’T OVERDO IT
While a lot of houseplants can go a week or more between watering, your herbs may need a daily drink during the hot summer months, Lindsay says. On the other hand, she says most novice gardeners over-water. She recommends jamming a finger an inch deep in your plant’s soil. If it feels moist, don’t water. “The top of the soil will always feel dry, so you need to get in there,” she says.
GET RID OF THE FLOWERS
If you want your herbs for decoration, then by all means let them blossom. But if you want herbs for your kitchen, Lindsay says you need to pinch off all flowers and their buds, which suck up your plant’s energy. The delicious edible parts will grow more quickly if the flowers are removed, she says.
PICK FROM THE TOP
When it comes to basil, you want to snack on the smaller leaves toward the top of the plant stalks. While it may seem intuitive to let those grow while feeding on the big guys toward the bottom, those large, developed leaves are like solar panels; they absorb a lot of sun and power your plant’s growth, so you want to leave them alone.
HOW TO HANDLE THE END OF SUMMER
The first fall frost will toast your dill and basil, Lindsay says. Keep an eye on the weather, and harvest everything you can eat from those plants before the temp plummets. She recommends bagging and freezing dill. With your basil, chop it up and add some water, then freeze the mixture in ice cube trays. Lindsay says you can pull these out and add them to the dishes you cook in winter. Rosemary, on the other hand, can survive indoors during the cold season. “Bring it inside and keep it on a sunny window ledge,” she says.