Starting From Scratch With an Herb Garden

For the Beginner Gardener

| February/March 1998

Buying Herb Plants

Question: I’d like to start an herb garden but don’t know where to get the plants. Where can I buy herbs?

Answer: There are many places to buy herbs. The big differences between shopping at one place or another have to do with variety, reliability, and service, not price. ­Wherever you buy them, herb plants are usually sold in small plastic pots and cost no more than a few dollars apiece.

Local garden centers and the garden shops at chain stores such as Kmart typically stock a limited assortment of popular herbs in spring along with vegetable seedlings and bedding plants. Parsley, chives, basil, sage, thyme, rosemary, lemon balm, lavender, peppermint or spearmint, and scented geraniums are some of the herbs you're likely to find at a garden center.

Although herb plants are usually healthy and attractive when they’re delivered to these stores, any leftovers that remain unsold after several weeks are likely to deteriorate as they outgrow their pots, tip over, dry out, and bake in the hot sun. To get good herbs from a garden center, stop by every week or two during the busy spring season and buy any plants you want as soon as you see them.

When choosing a plant from among a group of the same kind of herb (if the shop has several pots of lemon balm, say, and you want only one), look for one that’s bushy and full with lots of fresh-looking foliage. Avoid skinny, bare-stemmed plants whose bottom leaves have fallen off. Also, rub a leaf and sniff it. If it doesn’t smell at all or doesn’t smell right, the plant may have gotten mixed up or mislabeled; don’t buy it.

Nurseries that specialize in herbs and grow their own plants carry many more ­varieties than all-purpose garden centers, and they continue selling plants throughout the growing season, or even year-round, not just in spring. Instead of just one of each, an herb nursery might grow a dozen different thymes, a score of scented geraniums, and more kinds of mints, lavenders, and other herbs than you ever dreamed of.

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