Planting a Herb & Spice Garden in Santa Barbara


Grow Herbs and Spices All Year Long in Santa Barbara.

Last week our blog was unusually quiet because my wife and I went on a trip to Milwaukee to attend a conference. While we were there, we discovered an amazing store called The Spice House. Check out their website— The Spice House. They ship!

Herb Garden  - Rosemary


Although we relished the cool days and beautiful autumn leaves, the realization that fall would quickly turn to snow there made us realize how lucky we are to be designing and installing landscapes in  Santa Barbara. Reflecting on this special boon of the Santa Barbara climate causes us to decide that a blog on Santa Barbara herb gardens was in order.

How to Grow an Herb and Spice Garden

The first question is, what to plant? Consider these when planning an herb garden:

  • How much water will you invest?
  • What kind of light does your garden offer?
  • How much room do you have?
  • Do you want annuals or perennials?

Water Requirements for a Herb Garden

Santa Barbara is essentially a desert, so plant material that requires little water is the best choice for any garden you might plant. Be realistic about how much water you are willing and able to invest before planting.

Mediterranean herbs, such as lavender, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and sage require little water and, if well pruned, can perform all year. They require little in terms of water, so these plants are good choices even during the lean water years of drought. They are also the most commonly used herbs in cooking. Go for it!

How Much Light Exposure will a Herb Garden Need?

Santa Barbara Herb Garden - Thyme


When it comes to gardens, light is as central an issue as water. Again, the Mediterranean herbs listed above are the best choice if you have a garden that provides plentiful light. However, if you are limited on light, you might consider plant material such as ginger—you get wonderfully sweet smelling flowers, and then you can dig up the bulbs for fresh ginger root. Furthermore, many leafy herbs are a good choice for full or partial shade.

This includes:

  • Chives—onions all kinds
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Arugula
  • Chervil
  • Basil

If you are going to plant these in full or partial shade, make sure they well when you water them. Basil, for example, will turn black from too much water as well as too much sun. Moderation is key for these guys.

Pots vs Planter Beds

French Lavener In Snata Barbara Herb Garden

French Lavender

Many “do it yourself-ers” plant herb gardens in pots because they lack the room for large planter bed herb gardens. Although herbs, like any plant material, grow better in the ground than in pots, healthy herbs can be accomplished in pots. In fact, some herbs are actually better suited to pots than gardens.

Mint, for example, will send out volunteers—due to long roots called rhizomes—that cause it to spread and kill plant material in its path. Our best suggestion when dealing with mint is to keep it in a large pot well watered with moist soil. Another example of herbs that take over your garden is lemon grass. It can grow over five feet tall, and its stocks are thick. They can choke out other plants in their way.

Choices of Annuals or Perennials for Your Herb Garden

As the name suggests, annuals are plants that have a growing season and die back after one year. Perennials are the opposite. They can produce for many growing seasons. This distinction here in Santa Barbara is less clear because when well pruned, many plants, such as basil, that are usually classified as annuals can become perennials. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that plants such as basil will eventually go to seed and to be replaced.

The most important tip to help extend the life and health of your herbs is pruning. No matter what kind of herb you are growing, don’t be afraid to cut them back and use them. All herbs benefit from pruning, and in the case of herbs such as basil and parsley, the more you cut them back, the less likely they are to go to seed. Use them in salads, flower bouquets, or dry them for later. Just use them!


Ultimately, you just can’t go wrong with herbs in Santa Barbara landscapes. With a little research, you can find something to plant and grow all year long! It’s one of the perks of living on the central coast. Take advantage of it. And if you need any other help or advice with specialty gardens, our crew is always on call!

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