When planning an herb garden, it is important to make sure your soil is optimal for the task. All plants require healthy soil in order to thrive, but herbs have some different requirements that other plants may not. Most importantly, herbs need soil with excellent drainage. You may need to improve the texture and structure of your soil to make sure the herbs get what they need. Here are some easy steps you can take to prepare your soil for an herb garden.
Step 1 - Have Your Soil Tested
Send a sample of your soil to a soil testing lab. Herbs prefer soil that is more alkaline to soil that is acidic. By finding out what type of soil you have, you can make adjustments. A soils pH levels can be increased by adding ground limestone to the soil. The results will also tell you what nutrients you soil needs in order to grow healthy plants.
Step 2 - Changing the Structure of Your Soil
You may have soil with poor drainage, or soil that does not retain enough moisture. In this case, it is best to add organic matter to the soil. For soil with poor drainage, you will need to add compost, gypsum, and coarse sand. The compost and gypsum will add nutrients, but will also attract worms which are natural aerators in soil. Other insects will also be attracted, and the are beneficial because they help break down minerals for better absorption by plants. The coarse sand, or even pea gravel, will create spaces between the bits of dirt allowing for more oxygen and more area for water to pass through. You can also add other organic matter, like grass clippings, sawdust, and straw to the soil. As they breakdown, they will release nutrients to the soil.
To help soil that does not retain water well, you will need to add compost. Compost will make the soil more dense, thereby helping it to hold water that would otherwise run off.
Step 3 - Fertilize
Having soil with adequate amounts of fertilizer will help plants by providing nutrients, but also helps them to fight off disease and pests. All organic fertilizers will benefit your soil, but keep in mind that they take longer to break down than inorganic fertilizer. When you use inorganic fertilizer, the nutrients are already there and can be immediately absorbed by plants.
Organic fertilizers include manure from various animals, dried blood, bone meal, kelp, and cotton seed meal. The non manure fertilizers provide the highest amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. When you fertilize, turn the the fertilizer into the soil well. You should plan to re-fertilize during the growing cycle, but apply it around the plants and work it into the soil. This is called a side dressing.
Step 4 - Mulch
Apply an organic mulch around your herbs once they are planted. Don't apply it right up to the herbs, but in the area around them. The mulch will break down and supply the herbs with more nutrients.