Direct sow means you can plant these herb seeds right into your garden so they’re close to your kitchen and easy to harvest. With direct sow herbs you don’t need to mess with indoor seed starting or transplanting! These direct sow herbs are great for beginners, small space gardeners, and DIYers alike.
What Does Direct Sow Mean?
As Melissa Norris explains in her new book, The Family Garden Plan:
“Direct sow is exactly what it sounds like; take the seed and directly so it into the soil in its permanent growing spot. …Seed starting or seedlings require you to plant the seeds in a greenhouse or indoors…and, when they’re young, transplant them outdoors to their final growing spot.”
You can learn more about The Family Garden Plan, or get your own copy from Thriftbooks.com.
There are benefits to starting seeds indoors and then transplanting them outside. For example:
- You can time the planting of the seedlings so that they are safer from certain kinds of plant eating bugs like cabbage moths and squash vine borers.
- You can choose only the strongest and healthiest seedlings to plant in the garden.
Having said that, however, some crops are just plain easier to grow up right where you plant the seed.
To get a jump on seed sowing, you can actually sow seeds into boxes even in the winter. This is especially helpful for herb seeds that require cold stratification. To learn more about this process, please visit our article “How to Grow Unusual Herbs“.
However you decide to grow your herbs, you may want to grab our free herbal worksheets below!
Why Direct Sow Your Seeds?
There are a lot of reasons to direct sow your herb seeds. Some of us don’t have the space for an indoor seed starting area, so direct sow is our only option, if we want to grow herbs from seed. There are other valid reasons, as well.
Avoid the Hassle
The best part about direct sowing seeds, in my opinion, is that you don’t have to worry about transplanting seedlings into the garden. I start a lot of seeds indoors ahead of when I plant them in the garden and it’s a lot like having another set of children in the house.
When you start seeds indoors, you have to remember water them and give them light/dark. THEN, you have to go through a process called hardening off before you can put them outside. THEN, you plant them in the garden.
If you direct sow your herbs seeds into the garden, the garden takes care of most the babying of the seedlings. You still have to watch that they stay evenly moist and protect them from unexpected frosts. However, it’s just easier and less messy to do all that outside in the garden, rather than in my house.
Avoid the Trauma
Another reason to direct sow your seeds in the garden is to avoid the trauma of transplanting for plants that can’t handle it well. In the vegetable world, garden peas and melons are a good example of that. They both have tender stems that can be damaged in transplanting, so it’s best to direct sow them into the garden.
In the herb world, borage and nasturtium are good examples of seedlings whose stems are fragile when transplanted. Both herbs will thrive much easier if direct sown into the garden.
Direct Sow Herbs
This list of direct sow herbs is by no means exhaustive but I hope it will help you get started making your garden plans for the year. If you’re new to herb gardening, or new to starting herbs from seed, pick just a few from this list to direct sow into your garden. Remember, there are many herbs you could plant this year but try to focus only on those that will grow well in your area and won’t overwhelm you.
Make friends with just a few herbs before you try to grow them all! After all, herbs have a lot to recommend them. As Melissa Norris writes in The Family Garden Plan,
“…herbs take up relatively little space, can be grown almost anywhere, and truly are some of the easiest plants to grow. Not to mention they have many uses from flavoring our food to gracing our natural medicine cabinets. Pardon me while I gush about them; you’ll soon be joining me.”
The Family Garden Plan has a whole section on herbs, including:
- perennial and annual herbs
- growing requirements of many common herbs
- advice on which herbs do well in containers
- how to harvest and use herbs
- an outline of several common wellness (healing) herbs for the garden
Several of the herbs from the following lists are included in Melissa’s section on herbs. The Family Garden also has a wealth of information on growing a wide variety of vegetables to feed your family this year. Cut out the grocery store as much as you can and plant your own family garden! Melissa’s book can help with that.
After Frost and Care of Seedlings
Just a little note: nearly all herbs should be direct sown in the garden AFTER ALL DANGER OF FROST HAS PASSED. This usually means that an herb is sown directly into the garden in spring.
Also, all seeds direct sown in the garden need to be kept evenly moist. All of the advice in this very fine article on growing the best cucumbers from from Tenth Acre Farm applies to direct sown herbs except:
- Item number five doesn’t really apply to the herbs on this list except maybe dill/fennel, tansy and elecampane.
- Number nine won’t be needed since herbs are often used to make bug-repelling sprays for other plants!
- Of course, the eleventh item on Amy’s list only applies to cucumbers, but the reward of harvesting is equally wonderful with herb.
Easy Direct Sow Culinary Herbs
Culinary herbs are those commonly used in cooking, though you may notice that many culinary herbs are also useful in the medicine chest. We’ve divided these lists into direct sow culinary herbs (both easy and a little tricky) and direct sow wellness herbs (both easy and a little tricky).
If an herb needs a special note, I include it after it’s name. I’ve linked several articles on the name of some herbs that will instruct you further on how to successfully plant them.
- Cilantro – direct sow in the cooler part of summer
- Dill and Fennel (both seed and Florence bulb fennel) – these have the same growth habit and reseed easily. Plants that will reseed on their own do the work of planting for you after the first year!
- Sunflower – direct sow in their shells in spring
- Lovage – direct sow fresh seeds in summer before intense heat. Lovage can be used like celery and reseeds easily.
“Advanced” Culinary Herbs
These culinary herbs require a bit more work when direct sowing but they’re not impossible to work with. If you’ve grown herbs from seed before, you can handle these.
- Nasturtium – be sure to pre-soak the seeds for better germination
- Lemon Balm – these seeds can be slow to germinate, so don’t let them dry out while you wait
- Cayenne – this is a pepper and does require a bit of babying, especially when young.
- Rosemary – grow from seed with care but behaves like an annual in a growing zone below 8. Consider direct sow in containers, if your areas has cold winters.
- Breadseed Poppy – these need light to germinate, so lightly press the seed into the soil and keep evenly moist. They need cold stratification so you can direct sow in fall, if your area has cool winters. Poppies will re-seed.
- Oregano and Marjoram – these seeds can also be slow to germinate and are an example of herbs that are easier to root from stem cuttings, rather than grow from seed.
Several herbs are very easy to propagate from cuttings or layering. However, that should NOT discourage you from trying to grow them from seed if you want to!
Easy Wellness Direct Sow Herbs
“Wellness” is the new term for “Medicinal” or “Healing” herbs. These herbs are helpful for boosting health and wellness. Always be sure to consult with your medical care provider if you are ill.
Also, be sure to get quality herbal education from reputable sources like The Herbal Academy below. I’ve taken several of their classes and would be happy to answer questions about the quality. Feel free to leave a comment on this post and I’ll get back to you.
- Borage – grows readily and reseeds just as readily
- Bee balm, aka Monarda
- Horehound (Viola odorata)
“Advanced” Direct Sow Herbs
Again, these herbs require a little more maintenance that just “tossing them in the ground”, but they’re nothing you can’t handle.
- Chamomile (annual) – these seeds need light to germinate (like the breadseed poppies), so lightly press them into the soil and keep evenly damp. This plant reseeds easily! Please note that perennial chamomile can simply be divided in spring.
- Lavender – These are often billed as difficult to grow from seed but I’ve had weird success with it! Be sure to give your seeds cold stratification and plant once ALL-ALL-ALL danger of frost has passed.
- Comfrey – as needs cold stratification, but otherwise grows well.
- Echinacea – same as above
*A Special Note about Horehound
Horehoundwill grow readily if direct sown in late spring and it reseeds easily. However, please not that once the seed is set on stem, the seed pods begin to dry and become prickly. This makes harvesting leaves for use and seeds for saving particularly challenging – painful, even. It’s still worth growing, but plan your leaf harvest before the plant sets seed, and/or keep seeding branches clipped.
Weird Direct Sow Herbs
So, these three have a few special attributes about them as regards “direct sowing”. Let me show you…
- Horseradish – You can grow this herb from seed, but it’s easier to divide roots in spring and take root cuttings 1/2 inch thick and six inches long. Plant vertically in the soil about two inches deep. The principle of direct sow applies to this, though; you’re just using root cuttings instead of seed. Plant them where you want them because horseradish is prolific.
- Elecampane – Divide the roots in spring or autumn as you would with horseradish. However, remember that you only harvest 2-3 year old elecampane roots for use.
- Tansy – direct sow spring and expect lots of gorgeous vertical growth. Tansy is a good example of a direct sow herb that is NOT suitable for indoor container growing.
Herbal Seed Resources
While you wait for your copy of The Family Garden to arrive in the mail, you may want to do a little more research into herbs for the garden. Here’s a list that might be helpful to you.