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How to grow a mini herb garden (and save money)

Home grown herbs: Follow these pointers to set up your own supply.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Adding pops of flavor to your food is all about using fresh herbs. And what better way to add fresh flavor to dishes (and save money) than with your own herb garden? 

It's not as hard as it sounds. All you need are the right pots, materials and a plan. So whether you're a home cook or a serious foodie -- if you're doubting your green thumbs, take heart. Growing flavorful herbs at home is within your reach.

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 sprig of thyme. Trekking through a garden bed for those items can be a drag, though. That's why you should grow your herbs in pots or planters. This way, they can be placed in convenient locations, like on your porch, deck or kitchen counter.

The material of your container can vary. Clay, wood, fabric 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.

So, while mason jars are pretty to look at, 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 even 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 better suited to strong sunlight.

Oregano (Greek)

This herb, not to be confused with marjoram, 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)

Flat-leaved parsley is the variety prefered, over curly, by chefs since it has more flavor. Parsley does best in most, 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 well, whereas garden soil does not. The former is lighter and porous, while the latter is dense and traps (or blocks) moisture inside containers.  

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.