Help! I Can’t Keep Herbs Alive.

“I can’t keep any herbs alive.  I’ve killed 3 basil plants and a thyme plant.  I’m also not really sure how to cut them to use them.  Do they grow after you cut them?  Please keep in mind I live in Arizona and have killed several cacti.  I guess I need major help.” Question from Denise of Mesa, Arizona

Answer: One of the most common killers of herbs (and cacti) is overwatering. These plants are prone to root rot if watered too much. Underwatering will also kill herbs quickly, especially if you live in a really arid climate, like Arizona.  Let me cover all the growing basics for basil and thyme, so you can determine where you may be going wrong.

Basil and Thyme Growing Conditions

Basil is a warm-season annual that will survive just one season, and thyme is a hardy perennial that should survive in the ground for years. Many herbs like these, including basil, French thyme, lavender, and sage, are the Mediterranean in origin and require full sun and well-drained soil with a neutral pH and moderate to low fertility. In very hot climates, like Arizona, you should provide your plants with shade in the early afternoon when the sun is highest and temperatures are hottest. Water in-ground plants deeply and allow them to get a bit dry between watering. If your garden soil is very dry, amend it with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend for better growing results. If you get poor leaf development, fertilize sparingly with a slow-release fertilizer.

If your plants are container-grown, choose large pots, which hold more water, and fill them with well-drained potting soil for organic gardening, like Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Make sure your pots have drainage holes and bottom saucers to catch water. When you water, water thoroughly until water runs from the bottom of the pot. Then let the soil become dry down to a 2-inch depth before watering again. (Just stick your finger in the soil until it feels lightly moist to a 2-inch depth; then water again.) This is most important for indoor herbs. Those growing outdoors will dry out a lot more quickly and should need daily water in your arid climate.

Please watch this video to learn more about growing herbs indoors.

Harvesting Herbs

Both basil and thyme are cut-and-come-again herbs that can be clipped for harvest over and over again. When harvesting leaves and stems, just be sure to leave enough behind for the plant to feed itself and rejuvenate. For further guidelines on how to harvest basil, please watch my video below.

Let me know if these tips help with your herb-growing success!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist


Plants are the lens Jessie views the world through because they’re all-sustaining. (“They feed, clothe, house and heal us. They produce the air we breathe and even make us smell pretty.”) She’s a garden writer and photographer with degrees in both horticulture and plant biology from Purdue and Michigan State Universities. Her degrees were bolstered by internships at Longwood Gardens and the American Horticultural Society. She has since worked for many horticultural institutions and companies and now manages communications for Sun Gro Horticulture, the parent company of Black Gold. Her joy is sharing all things green and lovely with her two daughters.

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