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5 easy steps to growing fresh herbs at home while you're in quarantine

Growing your own herb garden in your home or yard is a good project that also makes food taste better.

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Rosemary is one of the easiest herbs to grow, dry and use.

Taylor Martin/CNET

If you're spending plenty of time at home while under self-quarantine during this coronavirus outbreak, I have the perfect at-home project for you: Plant some herbs. They grow well indoors and outdoors, they're cheap to grow and it gives you -- and maybe the kids -- something to do other than endlessly scan the news and stare at Netflix (although here are other fun things you can do). 

Plus, a hit of fresh basil or rosemary on your pasta, poultry, roasted meats and veggies will punch up the flavor on any dish. Growing your own herbs isn't difficult. All that's required are proper materials, planting pots and a workable plan. 

And remember, if you can't or don't want to go to the store, you can order pretty much everything you need online. Here's what you need to do.

Step 1: Pick some pots

One huge appeal of a home-grown herb garden is it's always ready for action. Need to spice up that pasta or chicken roast? Just grab a few leaves of basil, sage or a sprig of thyme. With a pot, you can place your herbs in convenient locations, like on your porch, your deck or your kitchen counter. 

The material of your container can vary. Clay, wood, resin and metal are all options. What's most important is that it provides enough drainage. Any pot or planter you use must let excess water escape, which is why most planting container bottoms have holes in them.

Mason jars are pretty to look at, but they don't make the best herb gardens. Without proper drainage, your herbs will eventually experience root rot.

Pick a container that matches the size of the herbs you'll grow. Choose something too large and your plants will spend excess energy growing their roots. A cramped planter will cause your herbs to become root-bound (in other words, pot-bound). That'll hamper their nutrition, stress them or even kill them.  

Flat leaf parsley is easy to grow and has lots of flavor.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Step 2: Choose your herbs

If this is the first time you've tried growing herbs, start simple. Parsley, mint and basil are good options for pot-growing. They all tend to grow prolifically and don't mind frequent harvesting. Here are some examples of staple herb varieties and their characteristics.

Basil

Relatively easy to grow, basil prefers sunny locations. It also does best in rich soil that's well-watered.

Mint

With an aggressive growth rate, mint is best in its own container and above ground. It can handle shade but it's better suited to strong sunlight.

Oregano (Greek)

This herb has small and flavorful leaves. It requires full sunshine and lots of drainage. Greek oregano is also a tender perennial that you'll have to bring inside during winter months.

Parsley (flat-leaved)

Chefs prefer flat-leaved parsley over curly since it has more flavor. Parsley does best in moist, well-drained soil and can grow in partially shaded areas.

Thyme

This herb has heavily scented leaves and prefers less water. You do need to give thyme exposure to full sunlight and well-drained soil.

Rosemary

The resinous leaves of rosemary are highly aromatic. The herb requires cool climates with plenty of sun and moist (not wet) soil. It's also best to bring rosemary indoors for the winter. 

Step 3: Forget seeds, use starter plants

Unless you're an experienced gardener, use starter plants for your herbs. This will save you two to three weeks of grow time and increase your chances of a successful harvest.

Step 4: Get the right soil

When it's time to plant, use potting soil -- not garden soil. Potting soil drains water more effectively. The former is lighter and porous, while the latter is dense and traps (or blocks) moisture inside containers. If you don't have one, pick up a garden trowel. They're good digging holes, handling soil and removing weeds when necessary. 

Don't forget to water your herbs regularly.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Step 5: Care and harvesting

It takes constant, regular care for herbs to flourish. That means you must water them on a consistent schedule. You'll need to harvest them often, too, since this primes them for new growth. Just be sure to match any treatment of your herbs to their specific variety.  

Want to make watering your lawn easier? Here's CNET's guide to making your own automated lawn watering system.   

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