Fertilizer for herbs

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Fertilizer for herbs can significantly improve the health of your plants. Whether you’re using homemade compost or a packaged organic fertilizer, it’s important to make sure your herb plants have the nutrients they need to thrive. Quality herb fertilizer is like a good multivitamin for your garden!

Fertilizer for herbs planted in the ground is most often a top-dressing of homemade compost applied each spring and fall. Fertilizer for herbs planted in containers is generally an application of granular or liquid organic fertilizer about once a month.

Each type of fertilizer for herb plants has its own unique characteristics and methods of use. There’s a lot that goes into keeping your herb plants happy and fed! Read on to learn all about fertilizer for herbs.

The best fertilizer for herbs

Herbs that have grown in containers (either indoors or outdoors) require routine applications of organic fertilizer. The method and frequency of application vary by product. Here are some of the best fertilizers for herbs:

For later: Planter Pot Upgrades for Your Herb Garden

Herbs grown outdoors in the garden soil are best fed with homemade compost twice a year. Compost is applied as fertilizer through “top-dressing”. This means that a 1″-2″ layer of compost is placed on the soil around the plant as a nutrient-rich organic mulch. Top-dressing perennial herbs with compost is generally done in early spring and early fall. Annual herbs can be top-dressed with compost after they are planted.

Link: How to Make Homemade Compost for Fertilizing Your Outdoor Herb Garden

“Some gardeners become terribly timid at transplanting time – digging a small hole, squeezing in the seedling and pushing a few crumbs of soil over the roots – and miss the opportunity to get some organic matter into the ground. In preparation for transplanting, we always have a bucket of “good stuff” on hand: sifted compost and/or very old manure, sometimes mixed with damp peat moss and usually whitened with some bone meal.”

Herbs: The Complete Gardener’s Guide, by Patrick Lima
Fertilizer for herb gardens - image of tulsi - holy basil in herb garden

About fertilizer for herbs

Herb plants do not need significant amounts of fertilizer. Plants in the ground may benefit from a surface application of homemade compost. Targeted applications of nutrients can be done following a proper laboratory soil test as long as recommendations are followed. Your existing garden soil may already contain the right amounts (in the right ratios) of all the nutrients your herb plants need.

Because herb plants grown in the ground don’t generally require prepackaged fertilizer, most fertilizer for herbs is designed for use in container gardens. Herbs grown in pots are removed from the soil food web ecosystem which works to replenish soil nutrients on a regular basis. Because nature is unable to replenish nutrients, we have to add them in the form of organic fertilizer.

Organic fertilizer for herbs is generally sold as either a liquid or as a granular solid. The liquid herb fertilizers are concentrates meant to be diluted prior to feeding. Generally, you’ll put a small bit of the liquid into the routine water for the plant on a scheduled basis. The granular fertilizers also tend to recommend a feeding schedule, but all you have to do is sprinkle the grains on the soil surface (no mixing required). Powdered-format fertilizer for herbs is becoming less common due to the dust and the mixing it requires.

Always follow the application instructions from the manufacturer of the fertilizer. Read the package and make sure not to over-feed your plants. More fertilizer is not better, and can even be harmful. Follow the instructions for the formulation you’re using and err on the side of under-feeding. Overfeeding can “burn” herbs and/or cause their overall health to deteriorate.

Even mild overfeeding isn’t desirable as it dilutes the flavour of your herbs. Heavily-fed herbs may grow very big and bushy, but they won’t be as aromatic or tasty as healthier plants. Coddling herbs with too much plant food means they never have to step up and produce the lovely tastes and smells by which we’ve come to know them by. They’ll be pale imitations of plants that have had to be a little more independent. Just remember overfed herb plants = bland-tasting herbs.

Best practices for feeding your herb garden

The best fertilizers for herbs contain a full range of essential plant nutrients (including micronutrients). The best liquid herb fertilizers are carefully formulated to provide essential nutrients without burning the plants. Great granular herb garden fertilizer options are controlled-release formulas applied to the soil where they can slowly release nutrients over time. Always follow the instructions on the packet/from the manufacturer!

And remember, there’s a reason compost is called “garden gold“!

Time to get growing!

All about the best fertilizer for herb plants
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Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a Master Gardener and founder of the gardening website Home for the Harvest. She has been featured by Better Homes & Gardens, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Mother Earth News, and the National Garden Bureau. Mary Jane lives with her family in the Okanagan Valley.