Most herbs are tough and more resistant to disease than other garden plants. They aren’t particularly fussy about the soil they grow in but will certainly do best in fast-draining soil with organic matter dug into it. Unless you grow your herbs indoors in pots, you will find that they do best during the spring and summer months.
It is a well-known fact that most herbs need at least six hours of direct sunlight every day if they are to thrive. But not all herbs need bright sunlight, and not all herbs need direct sunlight to grow. Some do well in semi-shaded areas, and there are others that love the shade.
How much sunlight do herbs need to grow?
This is one of those questions that is akin to how long is a piece of string! The amount of sunlight that herbs need to grow varies depending on the specific herb.
Also, it’s important to realize that too much direct sunlight can also be harmful to some herbs. It causes them to wilt, dry out, or even burn.
Jill MacKenzie and Shirley Mah Kooyman from the University of Minnesota Extension point out that while most herbs require at least six hours of full sun daily, many prefer to get sun all day. Also, when sunlight is stronger, the oils that create taste and smell become more intense.
When growing herbs indoors, they say it’s vital to ensure they get the best light available. In winter, they will need about 12 hours of artificial fluorescent lighting for good growth.
Holly Shimizu, executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., is an expert on herb gardens. She tackles the topic of creating a herb garden in the shade, highlighting the fact that it’s important to factor in the intensity of the summer sun.
The best way to do this is to provide shade and keep them well-watered.
She says that while there are regional differences, most herbs will grow in the sun in the north. But in southern areas, they generally need protection from intense sunlight.
She also says that it’s important to understand the terminology we use to describe the different levels of sunlight. Here are some suggestions based on definitions from horticulturists.
How to assess the intensity and duration of the shade
Partial shade or light shade means that an area gets at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. But at least four of these should be in the morning when the sun isn’t too intense.
Dappled or filtered shade means that some sunlight is blocked out by structures or large trees. Full or dense shade means there is no direct sunlight at all.
She says that very few plants will thrive in dense shade without reflected sunlight. So, when we talk about shade-loving herbs, these are plants that will grow well in dappled shade, not full shade.
What herbs can you grow with little sunlight?
Some of our most popular herbs can be grown with very little sunlight – some with less than others. Examples include mint, parsley, cilantro, chives, lemon balm, and thyme, all of which do well in partial shade.
Mint is a culinary herb that grows well in semi-shade and even better in shady areas. If not controlled, it can take over a garden bed very quickly, so is also a good option to grow in a container on a shady patio or even indoors.
Lemon balm grows in similar light conditions to mint, from partial to dappled shade. Parsley also grows well in partial shade, particularly in the shade of larger plants, as does cilantro (coriander) and Mitsuba, Japanese wild parsley.
Chives are a hardy herb that will grow in a variety of light conditions, including partial shade. Even though thyme prefers full sun, it can still grow in partial shade, though it may not be as robust as it would be in brighter sunlight.
Holly Shimizu suggests a few less obvious herbs that are suitable for shade gardens. These include angelica, chervil, and wild ginger.
Stone mint is another option. Found growing wild on stony outcrops in the east of North America, you can use its leaves to make a flavorful tea.
Another possibility is sweet woodruff, which makes a lovely herbal ground cover. It’s happiest in shady areas where the soil is rich and moist.
Can herbs survive in indirect sunlight?
Many herbs can survive in indirect sunlight, but there are many more that really only do well if they are grown in full sun.
For example, herbs like basil and oregano prefer full sun and may struggle in locations that receive less than six hours of direct sunlight per day.
If you’re growing herbs indoors, placing them near a bright window or using grow lights can help provide enough light to keep them healthy and growing well. You may also need to rotate them every now and then to ensure they receive enough light on all sides.
What to consider when planting herbs?
Planning any garden thoroughly, including a herb garden, is the key to success. Start by deciding what you want to grow and then where you can accommodate sufficient space for your undertaking.
Consider the mature size of each herb and plan accordingly. Some herbs, like basil and tomatoes, can grow quite large and need plenty of space, while others, like chives, can be planted closer together.
We’ve been talking about the relevance of sunlight, and this is a vital consideration when deciding where to site a new vegetable garden. You’ve learned that most herbs prefer full sun for at least six hours a day.
But you also need to consider the amount of sunlight the location receives throughout the day when choosing where to plant your herbs. As we said in the intro, the soil isn’t a vital factor, but herbs do best in well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter.
Like sunlight, different herbs have different temperature requirements. Some prefer cool weather, while others thrive in warmer temperatures, so be sure to choose herbs that are well-suited to your local climate and season.
They are also going to need consistent moisture to grow well, but they don’t like to be overwatered. You will need to water them deeply but infrequently, allowing the soil to dry out slightly between watering.
Companion planting is another important and often overlooked consideration. Certain herbs can be planted together to help repel pests, attract beneficial insects, and improve soil health.
Your herbs will also need regular maintenance to stay healthy and productive. This includes pruning, fertilizing, and keeping an eye out for pests and diseases.
Quick care tip for growing herbs
Regular harvesting of herbs will not only provide you with fresh herbs for meals, but it will also encourage the plant to produce more leaves. Be sure to only harvest up to one-third of the plant at a time, and avoid cutting into the woody parts of the stem.
Growing herbs is rewarding whether you have a dedicated herb garden or grow them individually in pots. So, it’s worthwhile paying attention to the light conditions different herbs prefer.
Above all else, you need to consider this when you plan your herb garden or decide where to position herbs indoors.