A Guide to Watering Herbs Correctly

watering can and herbs growing

By Erin Marissa Russell

Ready to learn all about how to water your herb garden so the plants are healthy and have a long life? Herb gardens are one of the most rewarding types of gardening you can do, because in addition to being beautiful, you can put the plants to use in all kinds of recipes. Homegrown herbs are a surefire way to upgrade your cooking instantly. 

However, growing an herb garden means grouping together many different varieties of plants, each of which may have different preferences when it comes to how much water they need and how frequently the water should be given. This diversity can make watering the herb garden a little bit tricky, which is why we’ve created this guide to help you keep your herbs hydrated so they’ll stay lush and green for as long as possible.

How to Water the Herb Garden (Whether Herbs Are Grown in Containers or in the Ground)

  • When you’re deciding which herbs to plant together in the outdoor garden bed or in containers, it may be tempting to group them depending on how they are used or based on what looks attractive. However, it’s best to group your herbs together for planting based on their water, sun, and soil needs. When herbs with similar care preferences are grown together, it will be easier to choose where in the garden to put them and to give them the best type of soil to help them thrive. 
  • When it comes to watering, there’s really no way to give plants growing next to one another different amounts of water or to water them at different frequencies, since they’ll share the same soil. Grouping your herbs so that those growing next to each other need the same amount of water is the only way to make sure all your plants get exactly what they need in terms of hydration. 
  • Some herbs are more fussy about how much water they get and how moist their soil is than others, so they need a bit of babying. Rosemary, thyme, and sage need their soil to be only slightly moist and to offer plenty of drainage. Keep the soil where mint, parsley, angelica, lovage, and chervil are growing more damp, as these plants need extra moisture. Herbs in the carrot family also require more moisture than others along with looser, deeper soil. These herbs include chervil, cilantro, dill, fennel, lovage, and parsley.
  • The best time to water your herb plants is in the morning, before the heat of the day sets in. One reason you should water plants in the morning is that more of the water you give your garden will be absorbed by the soil instead of lost to evaporation. It also reduces the risk of water that may splash onto the foliage of your plants getting heated by the sun and burning your plants, causing sunscald. 
  • When you’re giving your herbs water, always aim for the soil around their roots instead of watering over the top of the plants, getting their foliage wet. Your plants can only absorb water through their roots, so any that splashes onto the foliage will eventually be lost to evaporation. If the water on the leaves of your plants gets hot enough, it can burn the foliage, causing sunscald damage. Also, extra moisture around your plants can lead to harmful mildew or fungal diseases.
  • Make sure to give your plants plenty of water and to water deeply instead of hydrating them with more frequent light sprinklings. Deep watering keeps moisture available in the soil for longer and also encourages the development of strong root systems. Light sprinklings of water will evaporate more quickly, while deep waterings will last longer, so you won’t need to water your herbs as frequently. 
  • Although it should be your goal for the soil where your herbs are growing to dry out between waterings, you do not want to let the soil remain dry for so long that plants begin to wilt.
basil growing in container

Tips for Watering Herbs Growing in Containers

  • The containers you use for growing herbs (as well as any other type of plants) should come equipped with drainage holes so excess water can drip out of the container. If the drainage holes become clogged, you can use a toothpick or small twig to clear debris from the holes so the water can drip through freely.
  • When you water herbs that are growing in containers, there’s an easy way to make sure you’re giving the plants plenty of water. You should keep watering until the excess moisture starts to drip from the drainage holes of the container. Use a tray or dish underneath the container to catch the excess water. After the container has had a chance to drain completely into the tray or dish underneath, pour the excess moisture out into the sink or the outdoor garden. Standing water in the dish can become a breeding ground for insects.
  • Whether your container garden of herbs is located indoors or outdoors, wait for the soil in the containers to be dry before watering your plants again. You won’t be able to accurately determine how wet the soil is with a visual inspection, and it’s important to check the soil below the surface for moisture. Herbs growing in containers need their soil to remain moist half an inch under the surface. To check the moisture level of the soil, insert a finger into the soil up to the second joint. You will be able to feel whether the soil is still damp. If earth clings to the skin of your finger when you extract it from the soil, that also means that the soil is still moist. Wait until it is dry to water the herbs again. 
  • If you’re used to growing herbs in the garden bed, be aware that a container garden of herbs will need more water than you’re used to giving your plants. The increased need for water in container gardens happens because water evaporates more quickly from the small containers than it does from the soil. Herbs in containers that are kept outdoors will need even more water than those in indoor containers. Outdoor containers of herbs should be watered daily.
rosemary plant growing outside

Tips for Watering Herbs Growing in the Ground

  • Adding a layer of mulch to the surface of the soil around your herb plants can help with moisture retention and also help regulate the temperature of the soil. Just make sure to leave a little bit of space between the edge of the mulch and your herb plants so they do not touch. Mulch that touches your plants can encourage insect infestation. Organic mulches, such as pine straw, shredded bark, or compost, are the best options. 
  • Most herbs are more likely to have issues caused by overwatering than by underwatering, so make sure to choose a spot for your herb garden where the soil is a bit sandy if possible. The site where you will grow herbs should offer plenty of drainage. If you don’t have a spot with good enough drainage, you may wish to either amend your soil with sand to help water flow through it more freely or to consider choosing a container garden for your herbs instead. Installing a raised bed for your herbs is another way to provide them with plenty of drainage if the soil on your property does not drain well.
  • Whether your soil is a light sandy type or a heavier clay soil, your herb garden will benefit from the addition of organic material before you plant the herbs. Just add a layer of two or three inches of well rotted compost or fine pine bark, then mix it into the top six inches of soil to improve drainage and air circulation for clay soils or to boost water retention in sandy soils.
  • Herbs that are growing in the garden bed should be watered once per week, wetting the soil to a depth of eight inches.

Although an herb garden requires the gardener to group various different kinds of plants together, as you can see, with some planning you can simplify the care of your herb plants. By applying what you’ve learned in this article, you’ll be ready to care for an herb garden so your plants grow healthy and strong, whether they’re growing in the garden bed or in containers, indoors or outdoors.

Learn More About Correctly Watering Herbs










Leave a Comment