How to Grow Annual Herbs

Growing annual herbs

Find out how to grow annual herbs including basil, coriander and parsley, for harvests through to autumn.

Annual and short-lived, tender perennial herbs, including basil, coriander and parsley, are easy to grow from seed, quick to establish and produce large crops. Many can be grown on a sunny windowsill indoors, or outside in containers or in the ground.

Discover six essential perennial herbs to grow.

The trick is to sow your annual herbs little and often, or successionally. If you sow seeds every three to four weeks from early spring, you could be picking handfuls of fresh herbs until autumn.

Find out how to pick herbs.

The following herbs can be sown successionally through spring and summer - here's how to grow them. 

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Basil, Ocimum basilicum

Sow basil from January to April, in a propagator or heated greenhouse. Use 9cm pots or multi-cell trays - basil has a long tap root. Sow direct outside from May. Basil likes warm, sunny conditions and rich, well-drained soil. Water plants before noon so the soil dries quickly. Pinch out the tips for bushy plants and to stop flowers developing.

Recommended varieties and harvesting

‘Sweet Genovese’, a typical green basil, ‘Purple Ruffles’, which has aniseed and cinnamon flavours and grows well in semi-shade, and ‘Cinnamon’, which has a warm, spicy flavour and is perfect in fruit salads and stir-fries. Add leaves to summer salads, pasta dishes and home-made pestos.

Leaves are ready to harvest after around six weeks. They're best picked young and torn, rather than cut.

Chervil, Anthriscus cerefolium

Chervil is best grown in semi-shade to stop it from flowering too readily, and thrives in a light, moist soil. Grow in pots or multi-cell trays in a cold greenhouse from late winter, or sow directly outside from early spring. Pinch out flowers to encourage leafy growth. A summer sowing will provide fresh leaves throughout winter, but cover plants with a cloche in autumn for protection.

Recommended varieties and harvesting

There are no specific named varieties to try. Leaves are ready to harvest six weeks after sowing. Use leaves in soups and chicken or fish dishes.

Coriander, Coriandrum sativum

Coriander seed can be slow to germinate, so you can gently crush it before sowing, to help it along. Like basil, it has a long tap root, so either sow direct in late spring or use multi-cell trays, to avoid damaging the roots. Coriander bolts easily, so it’s worth sowing every three or four weeks if you plan to use a lot of it.

Harvesting and varieties

Varieties to try include ‘Calypso’, which is slow to bolt, ‘Confetti’, which has finely-divided leaves and Eastern European variety, ‘Chechnya’.

Leaves should be ready to harvest six to eight weeks after sowing. The leaves and stems can be used in salads, curries and stews, while the toasted and ground seeds are a favourite in Indian curries.

Dill, Anethum graveolens

Dill is too tall for a kitchen windowsill, so grow it outside, with support. Sow seed direct outside in late spring, or raise in pots in the greenhouse from late winter. Don't plant near fennel as the plants can cross pollinate, resulting in poor flavour the second year. Dill thrives in well-drained, light soil and partial shade. Keep plants well watered to prevent bolting.

Harvesting and varieties

Varieties to try include vigorous and bushy ‘Tetra’, strongly flavoured ‘Herkules’ and compact ‘Diana’.

Leaves are ready to harvest around eight weeks after sowing. The seeds can also be eaten, although they have a sharper flavour than the delicate leaves. Add leaves to fish dishes.

Flat leaf parsley, Petroselinum crispum var. neopolitanum

Flat leaf parsley has a stronger flavour than curled varieties, which are usually used a garnish. Sow direct outside in late spring, or in a heated propagator indoors, from late winter. Flat leaf parsley thrives in a rich, damp soil in partial shade, so dig in organic matter before sowing.

Varieties and harvesting

Varieties of parsley to try include ‘Italian Giant’, which is tall and vigorous, and 'Laura', which has a particularly intense flavour.

Harvest around three months after sowing and keep picking to prevent the leaves from going coarse. Use to make parsley sauce and add to dishes to bring out the flavour of other herbs.

Summer savory, Satureja hortensis

Summer savory seeds are very small and need light to germinate, so sow in pots indoors from early spring, to aid germination. Don't cover the seeds. Plant outside in light, well drained soil once all risk of frost has passed, in a sunny, sheltered spot.

Harvesting

Leaves are ready to harvest eight weeks after sowing. Pick regularly to help plants keep their shape and stop them becoming leggy. The flavour is quite strong, so add the leaves sparingly if you’ve not used them before.
If you sow seeds every three to four weeks from early spring, you could be picking handfuls of fresh herbs until autumn.

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