Growing Herbs in Florida

Kate Mitchell

November 2, 2023

Why Grow Herbs?

A raised garden bed filled with a range of bright green herbs

Growing your own culinary herbs is a great way to add fresh flavor to your kitchen each time you cook. Making marinara? Head outside and grab a few fresh basil leaves. Fancy fresh mint tea? All the leaves you need are right there in your herb garden!

Many popular herbs are easy to grow and make a great beginner gardening project. They're also a good choice for kids to grow as, once the plant is established, the leaves can be harvested and used as you need them. On top of all that, you will enjoy their beautiful aromas whenever you go outside.

Sometimes the terms 'herb' and 'spice' are used interchangeably. But did you know that the two are actually different? Herbs are from the green part of the plant - usually the leaves, but also sometimes blossoms or stems. Examples include oregano, basil and mint. Spices, on the other hand, come from the seeds, bark, berries, fruits or buds of the plant. These include cinnamon, cumin and paprika.

Some plants yield both herbs and spices! For example, the coriander plant's leaves are used as an herb - cilantro - and coriander seeds can be used, whole or ground, as a spice. Today we're going to pick out some easy-to-grow plants to get you started with your culinary herb garden.

How to Plant Herbs

A tray of plant pots with compost and seedlings

It's a good idea to plant your herbs in a convenient spot so you can access them easily while cooking. Basil, sage, thyme, chives, and many others will happily grow on a sunny windowsill. Or you could locate your herb garden right outside the kitchen door.

You can grow herbs in containers on a porch or patio, in raised beds, or mingled with flowers. If you already have a vegetable garden, many herbs make excellent companion plants, attracting butterflies and beneficial insects and sometimes repelling bugs that might do some damage. Wilson's Garden Center has some suggestions for companion planting with herbs here.

As with all plants, it's a good idea to start by checking the soil and water needs of whatever you want to grow. Most herbs will benefit from the addition of a slow-release fertilizer.

Put plants with similar water needs close together. If growing herbs in a container, make sure it has plenty of drainage holes. If you're companion planting with vegetables, remember to keep annual herbs in one area so they won't be disturbed when you prepare the ground for the next season.

Propagation

A bottle containing a plant cutting beginning to sprout roots

The easiest way to get started is to purchase herb plants from a garden center or order them online. Depending on your requirements you will usually need only one plant of each type of herb you plan to grow.

If the plant you want is not easily available, another option is to start your herbs from seed. Check the back of the seed packet for the planting depth. Many herbs have tiny seeds which just need to be pressed into the soil and covered up. You can do this directly into the garden or in containers.

If you go for containers, using a seed-starting mix rather than garden soil can help your seedlings to get started. When the root system is established and the plant has several leaves you can transfer it outside if you wish, being careful to water frequently until established.

Some herbs can be successfully started from cuttings. The Soil Association has more information here. The basic procedure is to snip off a stem from a well-grown plant, leave it in water in a sunny place until it forms roots, then plant in compost. This works well with woody herbs like oregano, basil or sage.

Alternatively, herbs with multiple stems growing from the ground can be propagated by division. It is possible to start herbs like lemon balm, mint and chives from division. This is done by carefully digging up the plant and cutting it with a clean knife, or using your hands to divide it into clumps. Each clump must have both stems and roots for it to keep growing.

Herbs to Grow in Central Florida

Basil

A person holding a potted basil plant with lots of leaves

Basil is commonly used in Italian and Asian cuisine. A wide range of varieties exists, each with subtly different flavors. This fresh herb grows well in the warm climate of Florida. It needs soil with adequate drainage and plenty of sun, although a little shade in the afternoon can help protect it from the heat.

Basil is easy to propagate from cuttings. Most varieties are annual, although some act as perennials in Florida. If left to flower, you can later collect the seeds to use in future years. This plant may also self-seed. However, flowering can affect the flavor of the leaves, so you may wish to pinch the flowers off as they form. This allows more energy to go into leaf formation. The leaves themselves can be harvested as required by pinching them off the stem. Regular harvesting will encourage further leafy growth.

Bay Leaf

A wooden bowl full of long, dark green bay leaves

Bay leaves are widely used in Mediterranean cooking. This was one of the first herbs to be traded around the world and it is also popular in a range of worldwide cuisines. The bay leaf itself should not be eaten; rather, it is added to food during cooking then removed before serving. Bay leaves give food an aromatic, herbal flavor similar to oregano and thyme.

Bay leaves come from the bay laurel, a shrub that can reach up to 25 feet tall, although it is usually kept much shorter - up to around eight feet. In Central Florida, bay laurel can grow outdoors as long as it is placed in a sunny spot, preferably with some cold protection such as a wall. Young trees need frost protection but, once they are around a foot tall, they can survive a short, light frost. Bay laurel also grows well in containers.

Cilantro

Close up of a plant with small, intricate leaves

Cilantro is a love-it-or-hate-it herb: some people think it tastes like soap, while others love the flavor. It can brighten up scrambled eggs, stews or salads. You can add it to salsa, tacos or rice. If you're a cilantro lover, you may want to include this versatile herb in your herb garden.

Like basil, cilantro can grow in full sun, but does better with some shade in the afternoons. It grows up to a foot in height. If you want cilantro leaves, the best time to grow this plant in Florida is during fall and winter. This is because, in warm weather, the plant will flower quickly.

To get coriander seeds, though, you will need the plant to flower. You can collect the entire fruiting structure once it turns brown and leave it to dry. Then, extract the seeds and store them in an airtight container. They can be used whole or ground for cooking.

Dill

Bundles of feathery green dill on a tabletop

Dill has a distinctive flavor, well-known for its use in dill pickles! It works well with garlic and mint and can be used on fish or in potato salad. Dill grows well in Florida's climate. However, it is not easy to transplant, so it's easier to start from seed outside.

Dill grows best in full sun. It's an annual, but, if left to go to seed, it will self-seed and new plants will grow the following year. Both the seeds and the leaves can be used in cooking. Trim leaves as soon as the plant is established. To store, you can dry them, but the flavor is better if you put them in the freezer instead. To collect the seeds, cut down when the flowers turn brown and dry indoors before shaking out the seeds.

Even if you don't like dill for its culinary benefits, this plant can still be a wonderful addition to your garden as it is very popular with butterflies. The caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly can eat dill and other members of the apiaceae family such as parsley and carrot. Dill is therefore one of the plants chosen by this beautiful butterfly for laying eggs.

Lemon Balm

A plant with dark green, serrated leaves

Lemon balm, with its fruity, zesty, lemon-like flavor and fragrant scent, is part of the mint family. It adds a bright note to salads and works well on poultry and fish. It also makes a pleasant tea, either on its own or paired with mint. As this versatile herb is less frequently found dried in grocery stores, it's a great choice for your own herb garden.

Lemon balm grows best in full sun, in fertile, well-drained soil. In dry weather it needs plenty of water. This fragrant herb will grow up to three feet in height. Harvest leaves as needed. As a self-seeding annual, lemon balm will grow again the following year if the flowers are allowed to go to seed and left in place.

Lemon balm is also a good addition to a pollinator garden. It produces lots of nectar, and is therefore a favorite of bees. Lemon balm has been associated with bees since antiquity. It is part of the genus melissa, which means both 'honey' and 'bee' in Ancient Greek!

Mint

Close up of silvery green peppermint leaves

Mint is a classic culinary herb used in a wide variety of recipes and also as a tea. There are many different varieties with different flavors. Peppermint, apple mint and spearmint all grow well in Florida's warm, wet climate. In fact, it can spread very quickly, so it is a good idea to grow it in a container to keep it under control.

Mint can grow in full sun but does better with a little shade. It's such a prolific grower that you can pinch off new leaves as needed without harming the plant. Whole stems can be used to brew mint tea.

Like many other herbs, mint is also attractive to beneficial insects and makes a good addition to a pollinator garden.

Oregano

Close up of bright green leaves with tiny hairs

Oregano is a pungent, aromatic herb that brings an earthy, peppery flavor to your food. It's a common ingredient in Mexican, Italian, Turkish and Greek cuisine. You're likely to find it on your pizza!

A hardy perennial herb, oregano likes full sun and well-drained soil. It is easy to grow from seed or cuttings, and will be happy outside or in a container. Harvest by snipping off the leaves. The best flavor is obtained if this is done just as flower buds form.

Cutting oregano back to about a third of its size in late spring will cause it to grow back more bushy. Like lemon balm, oregano is a butterfly garden staple, as its small purple flowers contain lots of nectar. It's a favorite food of the black swallowtail, and the large blue lays eggs on it.

Parsley

A parsley plant with frilly green leaves

Parsley is another favorite herb and is often used as a garnish on a wide variety of dishes. Its clean, peppery taste makes it suitable for anything from soup to salad to stew.

Technically a biennial herb, parsley prefers cooler weather and is best grown as a cool-season annual in Florida. Plant during fall or winter and enjoy a fresh harvest of parsley leaves through spring, when it will flower, go to seed, and die. Parsley is best used fresh, so harvest a few leaves or a bunch at a time, as required.

It can be tricky to grow parsley from seed and it can take up to three weeks to germinate, but potted plants are usually available to purchase. Another possibility is to take cuttings at the end of winter, place them in water until roots form, and grow parsley indoors in a container during the summer heat.

Rosemary

A hand holding cut sprigs of rosemary

Rosemary has a pungent, bittersweet, pine-like flavor. It is a popular addition to a range of recipes, including potatoes, grains, meats and stews. The plant itself is an attractive evergreen shrub with small purplish flowers that bloom in winter and spring.

Rosemary thrives in Florida's warm weather. It is hardy in South Florida but will need protection from freezing weather in Central and North Florida. It is drought-tolerant and needs soil to be kept fairly dry. It is tricky to grow rosemary from seed or cuttings, so it's best to purchase this woody perennial from a garden center.

Some gardeners like to trim rosemary into fun topiary shapes! It's also a good plant to grow if you live near the beach. The name 'rosemary' comes from the Latin for 'dew of the sea', and rosemary plants are indeed tolerant of light salt spray.

Sage

Close up of long, curled green leaves

Sage has an earthy, warm, slightly peppery taste. It goes well with turkey - sage and onion stuffing, anyone? - and also makes a great complement to squash and other vegetables.

Like rosemary, sage is a woody perennial. It needs plenty of sunlight and adequate water. However, be sure that the soil is not too moist. Sage will grow 12-24 inches tall. Its attractive silvery leaves make it a popular choice for landscape beds as well as herb gardens.

Sage can be purchased as transplants from a garden center, but it's also easy to grow from seed or cuttings any time from fall through spring.

Tarragon

Tarragon has a light licorice flavor - subtle enough that even those who dislike licorice itself can still enjoy this herb. It is a common ingredient in French cooking and is also used in Russian cuisine.

If you want to grow tarragon in Florida, it's a good idea to choose Mexican tarragon. This has a similar flavor to the more common herb French tarragon, but is much easier to grow in Florida's warm, humid climate.

Also known as Mexican marigold, Mexican tarragon has a profusion of pretty, bright yellow flowers. Plant in full sun, starting from seed or transplanting young plants. Either way, use plenty of water until the plant is established. Sprigs of tarragon can be harvested as needed and the edible flowers can even be used to brighten up a salad!

Although in cooler climates Mexican tarragon behaves as an annual, it is likely to survive Florida's mild winters. It may die back in a hard freeze, but usually recovers in spring.

Thyme

A carpet of plants with green leaves arranged large to small

Thyme has a pungent, spicy flavor that has been described as both sweet and savory! Thyme is used with meats, soups and vegetables. It can even be used in batters and doughs when baking.

As with most herbs, thyme needs plenty of sun and well-drained soil. It can be grown in the ground or in containers. This common herb comes in a range of varieties. Some grow up to eight inches tall, while others, such as creeping thyme, work as ground cover, for example in the gaps between paving stones.

Thyme leaves can be harvested as required and, if you wish, dried or frozen for future use. The tiny white flowers are edible too and have their own subtle flavor. Most varieties of thyme are evergreen perennials.

Potted plants on a windowsill

We hope these suggestions will help you get started with growing your own herbs! If you'd like more help planning out your herb garden, or if you have any other landscaping needs, don't hesitate to get in touch with your friendly local experts at LawnMore Gainesville.

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